I’m currently reading Nixonland, Rick Perlstein’s brilliant cultural history of the United States through the lens of the rise and fall and rise again of Richard Nixon (I don’t know yet if he gets to the final fall). Perlstein documents how Nixon invented and refined a particularly effective politics of resentment — a kind of right-wing populism that harnessed suspicion of and anger towards “eggheads,” “elitists,” and of course the nattering nabobs of negativity.
In thinking about McCain’s preposterous VP selection, it strikes me that Sarah Palin is in one sense a perfect reflection of that politics. Palin is the kind of choice that appeals to people who are contemptuous of the very idea of expertise, political or otherwise.
Unfortunately this isn’t merely a symbolic issue. McCain has, from an actuarial point of view, about a 15% chance of dying of natural causes between 2009 and 2012. In addition to the strictly medical risk that he’ll die in office, a man of his age and health history (the kind of damage he endured as a POW often has severe long-term health consequences that manifest themselves decades later) has a significantly non-trivial chance of suffering some sort of incapacitating medical event over the next few years.
The notion that there’s perhaps a one in four or five chance that, if McCain is elected, Palin, who apparently knows almost literally nothing about foreign policy, will end up in command of the world’s most powerful military ought to give anyone who doesn’t buy into charmingly idiotic Hollywood fantasies about how neat it would be if Everyman (or woman) became president through a wacky series of coincidences considerable pause.
A couple of other notes on Palin.
(1) Apparently she’s been outside the United States twice: She visited Ireland, and she took a trip to Germany and Kuwait in 2007 to visit members of the Alaska National Guard. Note that this isn’t two foreign trips while governor: it’s two international trips in her entire life. If nothing else, Canada should be outraged.
(2) She was a beauty pageant contestant while in college, and finished second in the Miss Alaska pageant. This is exactly the kind of detail that endears her to Outer Wingnuttia, including professional feminist (cough) contrarian Camille Paglia, who will no doubt soon be committing crimes against the English language while addressing this topic on an internet site near you.