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Joe Conason
Joe Conason
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Sarah the Scapegoat


Writing a post-mortem for John McCain's presidential candidacy would be premature. But if and when that moment comes next week, toxic staff infection will be listed as a primary cause of death.

Rarely has any national campaign suffered from the combination of oafish incompetence and transparent malice displayed by the little coterie of operatives who surround the Republican nominee. They continue to damage his reputation and theirs, even as they attempt to escape blame for the campaign's declining prospects.

Now these geniuses seem to think they can offload the responsibility for their mistakes onto Sarah Palin, which would be like Doctor Frankenstein trying to blame everything on the poor monster. Of course, Frankenstein possessed too much character and decency to evade responsibility for the chaos he created. But the McCain inner circle seems unburdened by those qualities.

Recent polls indicate that Gov. Palin has turned into an albatross for the Republicans — both because of her erratic performance and the obvious questions that her nomination raised about Sen. McCain's judgment. She has done nothing to expand the ticket's appeal beyond the most ardent partisan base. Female Democrats, who were supposed to be attracted to a woman as vice president, dislike her intensely. Her behavior on the stump, where she regurgitates whatever cheesy material the campaign feeds her, has repelled independent voters, too.

In short, the brilliant Palin maneuver of late August hasn't worked out so well for campaign manager Rick Davis and chief strategist Steve Schmidt come late October. The response in the latest round of leaked whispers is to trash her.

Tensions between the McCain and Palin camps broke out over the weekend in angry sniping, as the Alaska governor tried to fend off the attacks she anticipated from her erstwhile admirers. After her advisers complained to reporters that the campaign had mishandled her ever since the Republican convention, the McCain advisers struck back in harsh personal terms.

Nameless McCain sources complained to and CNN that she is selfishly "playing for her own future" as a party leader and potential presidential candidate.

Depicting her as the Eve Harrington of the G.O.P., the sources said she "does not have relationships of trust with any of us, her family, or anyone else" and "sees herself as the beginning and end of all wisdom." Repeatedly, they berated her as a "diva."

Presumably Gov. Palin is capable of defending herself against these insults, but there is something awfully obnoxious about the way she is being treated by her former patrons — and their assumption that somehow we will believe it is all her fault.

Very inconveniently for the McCain crew, an extraordinary article appeared in the New York Times magazine on Oct. 26 that explained exactly how the Palin choice came to be made and by whom. It was Schmidt and Davis, in collaboration with speechwriter Mark Salter, who picked her over a host of more qualified candidates, following a superficial investigation of her background, knowledge, official conduct and temperament. The three insiders then presented her to a smitten, impetuous Sen. McCain.

When Gov. Palin's convention debut drew rave reviews and auspicious polls, the McCain advisers naturally took credit. "Game on!" bellowed Schmidt, as the political tide temporarily seemed to turn.

Once a protégé of Karl Rove, Schmidt brushed off any questions about Gov. Palin's resume with practiced belligerence. "Her selection came after a six-month-long, rigorous vetting process where her extraordinary credentials and exceptionalism became clear," he fibbed. And as far as he was concerned, every Palin skeptic was simply a sexist pig, "This vetting controversy is a faux media scandal designed to destroy the first female Republican nominee for vice president of the United States who has never been a part of the old boys' network that has come to dominate the news establishment in this country."

Well, what could be more sexist than whispering "diva" to describe her now? It is a synonym for a term that rhymes with witch, as Barbara Bush might put it, and no stereotype is more poisonous to women in politics. Oink, oink.

Setting up the running mate as scapegoat during the final week is bad form as well as bad faith. Every campaign is a test of character — and win or lose, the handlers of Mr. McCain have failed.

Joe Conason writes for the New York Observer ( To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



4 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... If the choice of Mrs. Palin could stand as an example of presidential prowess, it was good for the country to have been so revealing of the core thinking, and the militant anti liberal bent of the grass roots republican... What ever she seemed to them, to me she was only a Pat Robertson in panties, an ideologue, and a demogog... That line about a pit bull in lipstick was incredibly insulting toward all those women who put life on hold, and all on the line, to see that their children get a physical fitness experience; and -made me think it was written by a misogynist, or perhaps, a homosexual with a grudge. She was not prepared to stand for office, let alone hold the office she stood for... She was always flying in on a wing and a prayer... She was always playing to the base, and doing nothing to make the base more accepting of the whole, or the whole more accepting of the base... I would not care in the least what a person's religious beliefs were, if they would understand that regardless of belief, the government has to work for people, all people; and the willingness to let belief, or predjudice guide them, or ride their dicisions, one way or the other, makes that leadership unacceptible... There is a measure of trust essential between the government and the governed, and religion has sabotaged that trust... Rightly or wrongly, the necessity of government to defend rights and freedom will always put it at odds with people of religion who abandon the whole notion of rights for a higher reward....People not given to belief cannot give up their future to religious authority, nor seek authority to advance their religion, so the conflict is inevitable, but is not welcome... Mrs. Palin did not bring any medicine to the pain becoming daily more acute in this land... Instead; she ripped open a wound, and ground dirt into it... She showed to America a characature of religious people... She used her children for political advancement, -had one too late in life, left them unguarded in their most vulnerable age, and sent one off to war without a tear to make gain by it... I wouldn't want that person for my sister, my wife, my neighbor, or for the vice president of the country.... I am ashamed of her, ashamed for her, just as I am ashamed of all the religious nuts who can't seem to divide the necessities of life from the mysteries of religion... Many liberals are liberal out of a deep moral sense, and a love of God in their fellow man... Religion has always pointed everyone in different directions, and for that reason there are denominations... The essential divisions we all have must be set aside to get through to tomorrow together... Mrs. Palin was, and is, a divisive figure, and why that could not have been recognized before the fact is wonder... Religious division is not ever going to be a national winner for the republicans. Division is not ever going to be a winner for America... Government has got to be able to stand alone, with justice, and with equality -so as to not raise the ire of God or humanity; but still working for all, saints and sinners alike... We have had enough of division... Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Thu Oct 30, 2008 5:01 AM
Mr Sweeney is consistently the most informative and impressive commentor in these pages. You should run for office, Mr. Sweney, or maybe you're too principled and intelligent for this country. Your comments are always so to the point.
Comment: #2
Posted by: michael nola
Fri Oct 31, 2008 8:21 PM
Damn ... I guess Alaska became all that it has become, in spite of her, if you listen to the Nit Wits posted above.
Comment: #3
Posted by: USMCMOE
Sat Nov 1, 2008 2:35 PM
Does this 'James A. Sweeney' have a job, or does he simply post specious nonsense to various blogs all over the internet all day? Maybe he's one of those without a job, who don't want a job and who is waiting for some of that money Obama will take from those who do work and give to him.
Comment: #4
Posted by: USMCMOE
Sun Nov 2, 2008 7:40 AM
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