When my son was a toddler, and old reruns of the long-running Western series, Gunsmoke, would come on TV, (with James Arness in the starring role), he would scamper into the living room and yell, "The Daddy Show is on! The Daddy Show is on!"
To his two-year old mind, the 6'4" Marshall Matt Dillon, with his craggy face and calm, masculine manner, WAS his daddy, who also stands six-four BEFORE he pulls on his cowboy boots and puts on his hat. (He'll kill me for saying this, but he also reminds me of Gary Cooper in High Noon, and Gregory Peck in The Big Country, other tall cowboys with a calm and quiet demeanor, who remain true to themselves and don't feel the need to prove anything to anybody).
To say I married into an alpha-male family is an understatement. My husband and one of his brothers are Vietnam combat vets, and the other brother retired from the army at the rank of brigadier general. And all our sons have done combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When my brother-in-law "got his star"--or, got promoted to general--we were treated to an interesting perspective on the world of high-ranking military officers. The wives were competitive. There was a serious pecking-order between "one-stars," "two-stars," and so on. A three-star spouse, say, might demand better housing if she thought a one-star had a nicer kitchen.
This is no joke in the rarefied world of high-ranking military brass. In one case, when a one-star made base commander and was transferred to a base that was short on housing, they were forced to live in a "colonel's house." This didn't go over well with his spouse, who felt it was beneath their station, that he had earned the right to better housing, and that they could not do the extensive entertaining that he--as base commander--was required to do in such a small house.
That said, the truth is also that, over time, you just get used to certain privileges.
For example, whenever my brother-in-law wanted to visit one of his sons wherever they were stationed, the base had to be notified in advance. He arrived with a driver in a car flying the distinctive red flag with the single star signifying the importance of his rank, and he was greeted by a base entourage. He never went anywhere without the people around him snapping to salute.
Now, John McCain, as the son and grandson of navy admirals, is extremely familiar with this kind of deference. All his life, he knew the privilege of his family rank. In fact, it is highly doubtful that he would have ever gained admission into the Naval Academy with his spotty high school academic record, had he not been admiral-born and bred.
John McCain was not only accustomed to the best in base housing as he was growing up, but he was also used to the unqualified respect that was automatically afforded his family within the navy ranks.
In all fairness to McCain, this definitely worked against him when his Vietnamese captors discovered his identity. On the one hand, they gave him medical treatment he might not have had, because of his father's rank, but they also offered him a chance to get out early, purely as a propaganda device. He refused, but it must be stated here that ALL the POWs were offered chances to go home early, if they did such things as denounce their government on-camera and so on. Nearly all of them refused.
When McCain first brought the dazzling Sarah Palin on-board his campaign, to all the media hoopla and hurrahs, I had the same sinking sensation and despair-flirting reaction as most Democrats. I was afraid we were about to be flim-flammed again, as has happened so many times with the Rove Machine, and that the easily-distracted American public would get mesmerized yet again by smooth talk and fairy dust while a Democratic candidate ten times better qualified would go down in defeat AGAIN.
But almost immediately, as I was crying in my beer, my moderate-Republican-turned-Obama-supporter husband said, "Just wait."
I accused him of not knowing what the hell he was talking about, when he said simply, "Just wait. She's going to keep getting more and more attention; she's going to keep drawing the cameras away from him. Eventually, his ego is not going to be able to stand it. It's just a matter of time before he pushes her to the rear of the campaign and takes center stage again."
I muttered something about how McCain doesn't care about ANYTHING but getting elected, and if it means his new Trophy Nominee gets the B-roll coverage, then so be it.
But my enigmatic husband merely gave me one of those I'm-so-sorry-you're-not-as-smart-as-me smiles and said, "Ahh, but you forget CINDY McCain. Her husband's status is HER status. The more he gets overshadowed by the NEW trophy wife, the more she's going to resent it. It's just a matter of time before she begins to bitch about it."
I was quiet at that, remembering about three-star wives competing with one-star wives and four-star wives lording it over them ALL.
A couple weeks went by.
Then I read about how, when McCain and Palin appear together, he hops up on stage and starts to talk, but SHE'S still down at the rope line drinking in the adoration of her fans, and that when HE tries to talk, he gets drowned out by chants of SA-RAH! SA-RAH!
Few days later, I read how, when he appeared for the first time without her, the crowds were so anemic that they had to wind the event down early. How the campaign was seriously considering the old Bush/Rove tactic of packing the venues with invitation-only partisan hacks, who then appear on the evening news to be simply common people who happen to adore their guy.
And then, in this Sunday's New York Times, I saw my husband vindicated, in Frank Rich's seminal op-ed, "The Palin-Whatshisname Ticket."
Opening paragraph, Rich urges us to take seriously the scenario of a Palin presidency, and states, flat-out:
"...the 2008 edition of John McCain is too weak to serve as America's chief executive. This unmentionable truth, more than race, is now the real elephant in the room of this election...
"...A McCain victory on Election Day will usher in a Palin presidency, with McCain serving as a transitional front man, an even weaker Bush to her Cheney."
"The ambitious Palin and the ruthless forces she represents know it, too. You can almost see them smacking their lips in anticipation, whether they're wearing lipstick or not."
Rich points out the "coincidence" that, in her convention speech allusion to Harry Truman, Palin "just happened to alight on a Democrat who ascended to the presidency when an ailing president died in office."
He concludes by saying:
Obama's one break last week was the McCain camp's indication that it's likely to minimize its candidate's solo appearances by joining him at the hip with Palin. There's a political price to be paid for this blatant admission that he needs her to draw crowds. McCain's conspicuous subservience to his younger running mate's hard-right ideology and his dependence on her electioneering energy raise the question of who has the power in this relationship and who is in charge. A strong and independent woman or the older ward who would be bobbing in a golf cart without her? The more voters see that McCain will be the figurehead for a Palin presidency, the more they are likely to demand stepped-up vetting of the rigidly scripted heir apparent.
"Before our eyes," he goes on to say, "McCain is turning over the keys to his administration to ideologues and a running mate to Bush's right."
As I read the article, the word "impotence" came to mind. I actually looked it up, and found the predominant definition to be, "lacking in power."
My old college thesaurus, after mentioning such cringe-worthy words as "emasculating" and "castrating," put this word up as the antonym, or complete opposite, of "impotence"--
And if this all seems a little dramatic or over the top, let me draw your attention to two powerhouse pieces that also appeared yesterday, one in the New York Times, "Once Elected, Plain Hired Friends and Lashed Out at Foes," and one in the Washington Post, "As Mayor of Wasilla, Palin Cut Own Duties, Left Trail of Bad Blood."
Both articles paint a chilling portrait of a Dick Cheney in high heels (only a better shot). But the big difference between Palin and Cheney is not their far-right-wing philosophies, which are the same, but the fact that Palin is so adept at USING CHARM to disarm her opponents.
Nobody likes Voldemort -- I mean, Dick Cheney. But everybody just loooooves that pretty Sarah Palin with the special-needs baby on her hip and shotgun in the other arm. She moves swiftly to use that charm and beauty to seduce the public into falling in love with her, then, once in power, she moves in for the kill. As the Times put it:
But an examination of her swift rise and record as mayor of Wasilla and then governor finds that her visceral style and penchant for attacking critics -- she sometimes calls local opponents 'haters' -- contrasts with her carefully crafted public image.
Throughout her political career, she has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance, according to a review of public records and interviews with 60 Republican and Democratic legislators and local officials.
Both articles detail incidents where even mild complaints resulted in firings, and when public outcry would prevent her from firing who she wanted to, she extracted revenge through budget cuts and other punishing acts.
Once in power, Palin cuts off media access to her administrations and then moves to shroud everything her office does in secrecy, using a trick that should be familiar to all Bush White House-watchers -- conducting government business on private e-mail accounts to circumvent subpoenas of public records.
And, like our current president, the lady don't sweat the small stuff. Rather than steep herself in the important issues facing her government, she relies on a close-knit group of supportive aides to do all the hard work--boiling everything down to soundbite-level arguments that can fit, literally, on index cards--and then memorizes them in time for public appearances or debates.
She also hides from legislators, refusing to take calls, refusing to meet with them, and provoking such frustration that some of them took to wearing "Where's Sarah?" buttons to the State House.
According to the Times:
The administration's e-mail correspondence reveals a siege-like atmosphere. Top aides keep score, demean enemies and gloat over successes. Even some who helped engineer her rise have felt her wrath.
And, in another eerie resemblance to our current administration, Palin has a habit of appointing old high school buddies and other loyal friends to important and high-paying positions of state, such as one loyal friend who was made secretary of the Dept. of Agriculture in Alaska because, as a child, she had always been fond of cows.
As the Washington Post put it:
Palin's replacements included a public works director who lacked engineering experience but was married to a top aide to a former Republican governor, and she made a former state GOP lawyer city attorney, according to the Daily News. Langill, the former councilwoman, said the new hires fit Palin's management style.
'Sarah always did and still does surround herself with people she gets along well with,' she said. 'They protect her, and that's what she needs. She has surrounded herself with people who would not allow others to disagree with Sarah. Either you were in favor of everything Sarah was doing or had a black mark by your name.'
To think that Sarah Palin was a giggly schoolgirl caught completely off-guard by a phone call from John McCain putting her in the running for VP is to completely underestimate this woman of towering ambition and powerful political skills. You can bet that, from their first meeting, she was seducing him, saying exactly what she thought he wanted to hear, stroking his ego, preparing him to need her.
Now that he has taken her into his political bed, she has snuck in under cover of darkness, sliced off his manhood, and raced off to throw it out the window, positioning herself for the Oval Office -- if not soon after he's elected and succumbs to heart disease or melanoma or whatever else is likely to shorten his life -- then in 2012.
Sarah Palin is now the power of the Republican ticket.
And while I and most of my progressive buddies were in panic-mode over the Bobbittizing of John McCain, my alpha-male husband was sitting quietly, saying, "Just wait."
Even if John McCain does not see what has happened to him, you can bet his wife is figuring it out.
And she's not going to stand for a colonel's house, so to speak, when she's got the White House in mind.
In Frank Rich's op-ed, he seems to make the case that the Obama campaign needs to take the Palin threat more seriously.
I think they have--but not in the way he thinks they should.
By turning the focus--and the hot spotlight--off of Sarah Palin and on to John McCain, Obama is doing two things at once:
First, he's reminding America that it is, after all, John McCain who is this year's Republican candidate for president, and therefore, his opponent...
And second, by focusing on McCain, Obama is, in effect, pointing out what a weak and powerless candidate McCain really is.
Once McCain realizes what happened to him while he was sleeping, he will move to push Palin to the back of the room, because his ego won't tolerate such a loss of power.
But it will, by then, be too late.
As far as Palin is concerned, my Political Adviser husband does not anticipate a big future for her in national politics. He thinks she's gone too far, too fast, and that her star will fade along with McCain's, especially when most of the thinking public realizes how shallow her depth of knowledge really is.
I hope he's right.
In the meantime, keep watching, but with a discerning eye.
Things may not always be what they seem.