The Magazine

The Bonfire of the Hypocrisies

The nomination that launched a thousand attacks.

Sep 22, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 02 • By TOD LINDBERG
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Historians looking back on these tumultuous times will no doubt argue over the precise date on which the Age of Palin began. Her speech at the Republican National Convention on September 3 certainly catapulted her to national renown. But there is a good case to be made for her introductory appearance in Dayton, Ohio, five days before.

It's all there: You have the same poise and panache Palin exhibited at the convention. You have the self-assurance of a champion high-school athlete who went on to bigger and better things (unlike in the gloomy Democratic, Bruce Springsteen version of life, in which it's all downhill after your Glory Days). There's the ability to deliver a barb with a smile. And above all, that day inaugurated arguably the most incoherent and blubbering partisan response to a candidate in the history of American politics--against which the charms of the candidate stood out even more clearly.

Let's get this straight: Your party has just nominated for president a fellow who has been elected exactly once to the United States Senate, in an uncompetitive race, following a garden-variety stint in a state legislature. And your response to the GOP nominee's choice for vice president--someone who has been elected once as governor following a stint as a small town mayor--is to decry the lack of experience? Nobody ever said Barack Obama was unqualified for the No. 2 spot on the ticket.

Had Hillary Clinton won the nomination and selected Obama as her running mate--which, being a savvy politician, she would certainly have done, in order to fire up his 18 million primary supporters--Obama would have been perfectly positioned. Either he would be preparing himself as vice president for his run for the Oval Office eight years hence. Or he would be experienced and tested in a national campaign that he would never be held responsible for losing, with a fundraising base beyond the imagination of Croesus. Instead, it's McCain-Palin with the wind at their backs, and Palin who is being prepared as the outstanding future prospect for her party.

Now, you might think it hypocritical to criticize the inexperience of a vice presidential nominee who has similar experience to your presidential nominee, but that's just a failure of the imagination. Indeed, hypocrisy was the strange charge Democrats decided to make against McCain and Palin: Having run against Obama all summer for his lack of experience and accomplishment, how dare John McCain pick as his running mate someone with (ahem) experience comparable to that of the Democratic candidate for president McCain had been criticizing?

Well, maybe because it is not a sign of the strength of a candidate at the top of a ticket to need the experience of Joe Biden (or Dick Cheney) in order to allay concerns that he's not quite up to some aspects of the job. And, contrariwise, it is a sign of strength at the top when the nominee can look to the future and make a priority of party-building. Does anybody think that if Obama loses, he will have left his party in a stronger position by advancing the prospects of Joe Biden? Fortunately for Democrats, at least they've got Hillary in the wings.

But these weren't the only hypocrisies in the air. Remember reading the discussions of Vice President Al Gore's parenting skills in all the papers the day after his teenage son got busted for dope at high school? No? That would be because Gore called around to all the papers (including the Washington Times, where I was editorial page editor at the time) and asked us not to publish it, kids being kids and being owed some privacy. The newspapers didn't. That was then: Given a preposterous Internet rumor that Sarah Palin was never pregnant with her four-month-old baby but faked it to cover up for her daughter, Bristol was fair game. This was a judgment shared among Democrats and, coincidentally, the media (the same ones who were also all over the John Edwards love-child story, remember?).

And so Democrats started pointing at the stunning "hypocrisy" of McCain putting Palin on the ticket in spite of her pregnant daughter. Shouldn't all the GOP talk about family values and abstinence education have disqualified Palin? Because, after all, Bristol is getting married and keeping the baby, and if that isn't a sure disqualification for someone's mother for the vice presidency, what is?

Plus, Sarah Palin, we've been informed endlessly, is a hypocrite with a capital H. In all the obvious ways, such as being opposed to women's rights while still having a career. Democrats have been at the forefront of cheering women on to break supposed glass ceilings, but only the right kind of women, which you can be pretty sure a Republican woman isn't.