10/05/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Pistol Packin' Mama: The Republicans' New Campaign Song

When we choose a leader, we look for several things: trust, level-headedness, courage, decency, intelligence, economic smarts, and a certain comfort level. Most of us agree that it is hard to get that all rolled up into one person. We do agree, however, that we try to get as close as we can to the right combination. Most people also agree that we certainly have not had the right combination during the last eight years.

So, how to evaluate John McCain's idiosyncratic choice for the person who would succeed him in the event of illness or death? Was it craven? A low court bow to the right- wing religious groups? If so, then the selection of Sarah Palin was hardly courageous. A leader does not kiss the ring of any group, or at least, should not, though it has happened before. (Bush and Cheney kissed and hugged a lot with big oil.) Was it impulsive and devil-may-care? Then it is not a levelheaded choice. Gov. Palin represents a philosophy that believes: in teaching creationism in school; in suing the government to remove polar bears from the endangered species act; that climate change is not affected by man-made actions; that drilling for oil has no consequences; and that opposes a woman's right to choose even in the case of rape or incest. These beliefs are not widely recognized as scientific or mainstream.

There are many women in the Republican Party who were appropriate middle-of-the-road experienced choices. So it was a throw-away choice, especially in terms of familiarity with and knowledge of foreign policy and the economy. Senator McCain preaches concern for energy and the environment but wrote it out of his copybook with his vice presidential pick.

Was this an intelligent or reassuring choice? Does the choice tell us that the Republican presidential nominee puts the experience of his successor first, or politics? Was this an attempt to seduce the Hillary voters to his ticket with a woman veep candidate? Or a potential draw for blue-collar voters? Many of these gambits have been tried before. It is not new to use vice presidential nominees as attack dogs or to bring in a certain following. So the tactics are nothing original. The question is: Do these tactics work at such a serious time, with an aging candidate throwing the bouquet to a number 2 so out of the mainstream?

Instead of real energy proposals and economic focus, the Republicans blame "the media" for all their trials and tribulations and lack of concrete direction. Blaming the media is a standard practice. Which media? The grocery store check out line? Or the TV and radio ranters? Or the real journalists who do all the digging in records, votes, and past histories? They are no more all alike than a roomful of angels and demons. Pejorative generalizations do not apply. Richard Nixon used "the media" most famously. Now McCain, who used to woo journalists, is whining that he and Gov. Palin are not getting the right treatment from that same disparate group.

There is not a president that does not rage against his coverage from time to time, fairly or unfairly. But let us remember the famous enjoiner by another president, Thomas Jefferson. He said, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter." Jefferson made many comments on the critical necessity for a free press without censorship. "Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it." No matter how annoying and vitriolic the tabloids can be, we have the choice of not buying them. We can turn off the ranters. Real journalism serves the function of finding out what the government does not want us to know. And that journalism, awkward as it is, creates our stability and freedom.

The senator has made his selection. Now it is up to us to decide whether Senator McCain's choice was sensible and intelligent or just cynical.

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