John McCain is taking his lumps for the decision to make Sarah Palin his running mate. The Washington Post said its endorsement of Barack Obama was simplified by McCain’s “irresponsible selection” of Palin “who is not ready to be president.” The New York Times declared that McCain’s choice of someone “so evidently unfit for the office was a final act of opportunism and bad judgment that eclipsed the accomplishments of 26 years in Congress.” The Chicago Tribune dismissed Palin simply as “not prepared to step in at a moment’s notice” to serve as president. The Des Moines Register regretted that McCain “burdened his ticket and potentially the country with an individual utterly unqualified to ascend to the presidency.”
But why jump all over McCain for choosing Palin and ignore the part played in the decision by journalists who enthusiatically pushed the McCain camp to select Palin? An article in the Oct. 27 New Yorker by Jane Mayer, “The Insiders: How John McCain came to pick Sarah Palin,” was studded with observations like these, many of them by conservative pundits after meeting her for the first time:
“A mix between Annie Oakley and Joan of Arc;” “she’s got real star quality;” “ fantastic;” “she could be both an effective vice-presidential candidate and an effective president;” “this lady is something special. She connects. She’s genuine;” “She was striking….magnetism that comes through much more strongly when you are in the same room;” “She was exceptionally pretty;” ”a real honey.”
No one was more enthusiastic or pushed harder to get Palin on the ticket than William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and New York Times op-ed columnist. Mayer’s piece depicted Kristol as gushing over Palin and having virtually a schoolboy crush on her. Mayer quoted him on Fox as referring to Palin as “my hearthrob” and wondering if he “can make it through the next three months without her on the ticket.”
Most striking about Mayer’s picture of how conservative journalists fell for Palin at first sight is how it was so much about style rather than substance. They were charmed by her, and then uncritically made charm and good looks proxies for qualifications for the White House. By so doing, and urging McCain to put Palin on the ticket, they did a disservice to conservatism and to McCain.
When the votes are counted, if as expected, the McCain-Palin ticket crashes, will Kristol and his right-wing cohorts own up to their part in the outcome? My guess is that their fingers will point at the economy, and it may well be the culprit. But the economy did not persuade John McCain to select a grievously under-qualified person to run with him. Kristol & Co. in the right-wing press had a big hand in that choice and they should be candid with the public about it.