McCain Owes Sarah Some Straight Talk

Where’s John McCain’s honor when we need it?

We’ll find out tonight, when the Arizona Republican appears on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. In the week since the election, Mr. McCain’s campaign team has leaked some nasty stuff about Sarah Palin. These leaks are personal, and they speak more to the character of Mr. McCain and the leakers than they do to Mrs. Palin. So it will be telling if Mr. McCain stands up for his partner and says how offended he has been by what some of his staffers have done to her.

Two weeks or so before the campaign was over, the first round of McCain campaign rumors alleged that Mrs. Palin was a “whack job,” and characterized her clothes-shopping as “hillbillies looting Neiman-Marcus from coast to coast.” More recently, she has been alleged to know as little about geography as Barack Obama knows about the number of states in the union (at one point, he put it at 57).

The unmistakable message here has nothing to do with Africa, the North American Free Trade Agreement or bathrobes. It is the campaign team’s cry, “It’s not our fault. How could we ever win with this woman on the ticket?”

The first point to make here is the most obvious: This is the language of losers.

[McCain Owes Sarah Some Straight Talk] Associated Press

This whole display calls to mind those embarrassing codas to each episode of “The Apprentice,” when the losing team would sit before Donald Trump in the boardroom and then start blaming everyone but themselves for their failures. The apparent eagerness of Team McCain to indulge in this kind of fingerpointing is similarly unprofessional, and it raises an interesting question.

We are asked to believe that Mrs. Palin was not ready for a national campaign. On what evidence from any part of this election are we to conclude that anyone on the McCain campaign team was ready for a national campaign?

Let’s stipulate that Mrs. Palin was not perfect. Regardless whose idea the Katie Couric interview was, it went badly and left some damage. The phone call she took from a comedian pretending to be French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy didn’t help. Neither did her assignment as campaign attack dog, the traditional role for any vice presidential candidate.

Yet there are other, more salient points. In the treatment of Mrs. Palin by some of the McCain staff, there is the clear whiff of condescension. That’s something a sitting American governor might understandably find hard to stomach coming from a bunch of young professional Republicans who have never themselves run for office.

Ultimately, of course, this will all pass. And if Mrs. Palin goes back and continues to do a good job as governor of Alaska, these attacks will likely only reinforce her outside-the-Beltway credentials to rank-and-file Republicans.

Let’s remember too that the only time Mr. McCain surged ahead — in the polls, in the volunteers, in the mojo — was when he picked Mrs. Palin. Before that he and his staff had been flying solo, and they were losing. When the contest returned to the top of the ticket, as presidential campaigns inevitably do, Mr. McCain and his team drove their lead into the ground.

It wasn’t Mrs. Palin who dramatically flew to Washington promising a legislative answer to the most important economic issue of our day — and then, in the words of a New York Times campaign profile, “came off more like a stymied bystander than a leader who could make a difference.”

And what does it say when the campaign team of a man who has spent decades in the U.S. Senate cannot agree on (much less present) a coherent answer to why he should be elected president of the United States — except that he’s not Barack Obama?

In Mr. McCain’s moving concession speech, he wished “godspeed to the man who was my former opponent and will be my president.” He asked his fellow Americans to join him in helping President-elect Obama bridge our differences and build a better, more hopeful nation.

It will be instructive to see whether Mr. McCain will now extend the same level of graciousness to Mrs. Palin that he has to Mr. Obama, by giving a public slapdown to the very public smears emanating from his own campaign team. We have no idea what Mr. McCain will do when he sits down with Mr. Leno tonight.

But there’s no doubt what a man of honor would do.

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