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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Who Vetted Palin?

Yesterday, Republicans put politics aside and decided to push back their convention in response to Hurricane Gustav. People in stupid hats, wearing buttons with goofy sayings, and whooping it up would be unseemly. Yesterday, as Gustav hit land near New Orleans, was not the time for politics. We can imagine solemn GOPers burning candles and praying, putting America first with all their little hearts.

Except they weren't.

Even as Republican John McCain sharply scaled back his party's national convention here out of concern over Hurricane Gustav, the parties and receptions for delegates and donors continued.

On Sunday night, for instance, delegates from Southern states were entertained by rock musician Sammy Hagar at a corporate-sponsored party at a Minneapolis nightclub. Scheduled for Wednesday: a Charlie Daniels Band concert to raise money for an entertainment industry advocacy group.

Many also attended a lobbyist group's -- the American Trucking Associations' -- shindig featuring Hookers and Blow. That's not an extra fun smorgasborg, that's the name of a local band. It's an unfortunate name, given recent GOP scandals, but there ya go.

So the party, although unofficial, went on. And that should surprise no one. The decision to put politics aside was in itself a political decision. Party conventions went on during a lot more disastrous crises. In fact, this is the first time in American history that outside events have changed the schedule of a major party's convention.

But the Ghost of Republican Disasters Past was threatening to haunt the Xcel Energy Center. In the end, any decision regarding a political event must logically be a political decision. In their defense, the Republicans couldn't actually put politics aside -- that would be impossible.

But the party's back on tonight. Gustav turned out to be an average hurricane, not the ghost of Katrina come to haunt the Republican convention. It's safe for the righties to come out from under their beds, put on straw boaters, and accuse everyone who's not sufficiently Republican of hating America. That's what they do when they aren't trying to get you to wet your pants in fear.

So on the convention goes, as if there were ever any doubt it would. The BS factory's gears will turn and the media spotlight will burn just as brightly as it would've anyway. War, terrorism, 9/11, a POW of the Viet Cong, "everyone freak out!" with a side of drill, drill, drill. The message isn't hard to predict.

But hovering over this political convention is the shadow cast by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. This was an astonishingly awful choice that's being shown as more astonishingly awful by the hour. It may have been the worst weekend of Palin's life, exacerbated by being extended an extra day. The Governor of Alaska, seemingly unexamined by Team McCain, was examined by the media. And it wasn't pretty.

This is by no means comprehensive, but the short list of Palin problems are that she's an abstinence-only education advocate with a pregnant teenage daughter, she was for the "Bridge to Nowhere" before she was against it, she's under an ethics investigation at home and will probably be deposed right before the elections, she backed Ron Paul, and she also backed Obama's energy plan (that link's a Google cache, the original article -- from the State of Alaska's website -- has been scrubbed).

As I say, that's the short list. There's a longer one here and, frankly, I think it's a little padded. Some of these aren't so much scandalous as typically Republican (she supports Creationism and denies global warming, for example). Still, there are more scandals and reversals worth mentioning, but I'm not interested in repeating a laundry list of problems with Sarah Palin.

No, my purpose is to ask (and hopefully answer) how the hell this disastrous decision was made. And the answer is simple, if confusing when put into a single sentence. Sarah Palin both was and wasn't vetted.

It turns out that Team McCain didn't vet Palin at all. McClatchy Newspapers asked around and found that people who would likely have been contacted in a typical vetting process weren't contacted.

They spoke to two of Palin's neighbors, a former US attorney for Alaska, a former Speaker of the Alaskan House, and the man at the heart of the aforementioned ethics investigation -- none had been contacted by the McCain campaign. In fact, according to the former Speaker, they didn't seem to have contacted anyone:

Republican Gail Phillips, a former speaker of the Alaska House, said that she was shocked by McCain's selection of Palin and told her husband, Walt, "This can't be happening because his advance team didn't come to Alaska to check her out." She said she would've heard had someone been poking around.

"We're not a very big state," Phillips said. "People I talk to would've heard something."

But, as I said, Sarah Palin both was and wasn't vetted. Team McCain didn't investigate her, but farmed that job out -- to religious crazies James Dobson and Tony Perkins, among others. Max Blumenthal reports that the vetting process was outsourced to the Council for National Policy -- a religious right group founded by end-of-days nut Tim LaHaye. These were the people who investigated Sarah Palin, not anyone who knew what the hell they were doing. In fact, it's seems likely that they were the ones who chose her. Or, at least, included her in a list of acceptable candidates.

After the Palin announcement was made, James Dobson -- who had previously said he wouldn't vote for McCain "under any circumstances" -- declared that McCain had suddenly become acceptable.

"If flip-flopping is a sin, then I am a sinner," Dobson said. Writing for TIME, Michael Scherer noted, "The announcement comes just hours after McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. Palin has been widely cheered by conservative activists for her pro-life views and conservative governance record."

Here's what I think happened. You could argue that it's speculation, but given the facts, I'd say it was more accurately described as deduction. McCain was down and he rightly predicted that following the Democratic Convention, he'd be way down -- Obama now stands at 50%, with advantages on several issues. Coming from a statistical tie, this isn't so much of a bounce as a launch. McCain needed every vote he could get, so he made a trip to the special interests well.

The special interests, in the form of the religious nuts, demanded that they either choose the candidate or limit the choices. McCain agreed. The nuts vetted Palin for ideological purity, not political viability, and McCain got stuck hugging this anvil as Obama's poll numbers rose. The ideologically insane, being insane, had made an insane choice. And McCain, being a fool, went with it. That the crazies chose a crazy seems to be a complete surprise to him.

So there's what McCain's experience gets him. That's how good his judgement is. He allowed himself to be saddled with an ideologically correct political lightweight with a pretty damned crazy past. That's what McCain thought would be the best thing for America -- to delegate the responsibility of choosing a running mate to a bunch of Bible-drunk morons with loud mouths and few brains.

Those are the sort of choices McCain would likely make as president -- really, really bad ones. The "McSame" label becomes even more apt. Not only is McCain Bush's political twin, but he shares his inability to recognize a completely boneheaded idea.

Sarah Palin is McCain's version of a good idea. Remember that in November.