Now that the fractional governor, Sarah Palin, has been exposed for all—even the gullible—to see (something I repeatedly maintained would happen), I think it is time to examine two uncomfortable details from the 2008 campaign that I shall never get over and that perhaps changed the nature of our politics for generations.
Number one: On October 4, 2008, Ms. Palin, a candidate for Vice President of the United States, said this about Barack Obama:
This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America. We see America as the greatest force for good in this world. If we can be that beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy and can live in a country that would allow intolerance in the equal rights that again our military men and women fight for and die for all of us. Our opponent though, is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.
The Associated Press reported at the time:
The Republican campaign, falling behind Obama in polls, plans to make attacks on Obama’s character a centerpiece of presidential candidate John McCain’s message with a month remaining before Election Day.
But the attacks on Barack Obama were more than just desperate, last-minute campaign tactics. They turned out to be a glimpse into the post-election future, as the Republican Party and its extremist allies conspired to demean, delegitimate, and destroy the presidency of Barack Hussein Obama.
And, oddly, I don’t completely or even largely blame Sarah Palin for the initial unprecedented attack—and suggesting that Barack Obama sympathized with terrorists “who would target their own country” is unprecedented as far as I’m concerned— on a political opponent who was aspiring to be President of the United States.
I blame people like Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace, not to mention John McCain, who ultimately picked her.
Which leads me to the number two detail about the 2008 presidential campaign:
Steve Schmidt was the top campaign strategist for John McCain and Nicolle Wallace was a senior advisor. Today, you can see them both frequently on cable television. Three years ago they were essentially Palin’s “handlers” after she was chosen for VP, and both of them came to find out that she was, essentially, unfit for the office she was seeking.
Ms. Wallace just confessed to Time magazine (in a stunningly strange interview that lacked proper follow-up questions) the following about the inspiration for a VP character in her latest book of fiction:
The idea of a mentally ill vice president who suffers in complete isolation was obviously sparked by the behaviors I witnessed by Sarah Palin. What if somebody who was ill-equipped for the office were to ascend to the presidency or vice presidency? What would they do? How long would it take for people to figure it out? I became consumed by this question.
Wallace went on to suggest that like the character in her book, Palin was in a “troubled state of confusion, despair and helplessness,” and,
Palin vacillated between extraordinary highs on the campaign stage — she ignited more enthusiasm than our side had seen at any other point — to debilitating lows. She was often withdrawn, uncommunicative and incapable of performing even the most basic tasks required of her job as McCain’s running mate…
There certainly were discussions — not for long because of the arc the campaign took — but certainly there were discussions about whether, if they were to win, it would be appropriate for her to be sworn in.
Now, Steve Schmidt, who don’t forget was running John McCain’s campaign, was asked about Nicolle Wallace’s remarks and this is what he told Lawrence O’Donnell Thursday night:
…during the campaign after the economy collapsed we were essentially out of it. We were never closer than six or seven points again. But if the question is, did all of us, you know, a bunch of us, who had been around the West Wing of the White House, did we see behavior that we found deeply troubling? And the answer to that question is, yes, we did. Uh, did we talk about it? Uh, yes, we did. You know, was there, you know, legal considerations? No, there were not. But did we talk about a pattern of behavior that we found troubling during the campaign? Of course we did.
Now, forget, if you can, how cold-dead frightening are the admissions by Wallace and Schmidt. Let’s go back to Palin’s appalling and unprecedented remarks about Barack Obama. They were made on October 4. And remember that Schmidt referenced the economic collapse of 2008, asserting that after the collapse, “we were essentially out of it.” When did that collapse happen? September 15, 2008.
So, we have Sarah Palin making her famous “palling around with terrorists” remark after Schmidt recognized that the campaign was doomed, and after he and Nicolle Wallace recognized that Palin’s behavior was, in the words of Schmidt, “deeply troubling,” and in the words of Wallace merited discussions about whether “it would be appropriate for her to be sworn in.”
Those aren’t my words. Those aren’t the words of any Obama supporter. Those are the words of those closest to John McCain and his campaign in 2008.
Let the cynicism sink in. Let it penetrate your brain like WD-40.
These disgusting people were using Sarah Palin to trash Obama in unthinkable and country-dividing ways, even when they knew the race was lost, when they knew that their vice presidential candidate was profoundly and dangerously flawed. For his part, to this day John McCain defends his decision to unleash the quit-in-a-fit governor on the rest of the country.
Just a few days after the 2008 election, when the anti-Palin stories were trickling out from “anonymous” campaign staffers, I wrote a column for the Joplin Globe, partly defending Sarah Palin on the basis of her obvious ordinariness:
Ms. Palin’s naiveté included the fact that she did not understand how her Republican handlers used her; how they cynically chose her to appeal to women; how they disgracefully structured her stump speeches to question Barack Obama’s patriotism; and how they finally discarded her when she failed to convince a majority of the electorate to take her seriously as a candidate.
While she deserves part of the blame for such crass cynicism, the real culprits were the Republican Svengalis who, confident in their own ability to hoodwink the electorate one more time, plucked her from her Alaskan nest, knowing she could not fly.
I have little doubt that she honestly believed in what she was doing. That’s what makes it so sad and pathetic to watch her fellow Republicans cut her up and now suggest to the world that the whole Palin phenomenon was founded on a lie.
Using her anti-elitist persona as a hook to attract similarly lowbrow voters, the campaign insisted she was nevertheless qualified to be commander in chief. Turns out that presenting her as merely “common folk” wasn’t just a phony campaign tactic. Ms. Palin was as common as advertised, but she was uncommonly unfit to lead the free world.
That was November, 2008, and Ms. Palin, of course, has since learned a thing or two about how to manipulate those anti-elitist types for her own financial gain. But much of the fault for what Sarah Palin did—and continues to do—to our politics, lies with people like Nicolle Wallace and Steve Schmidt and John McCain, who were willing to use the ‘ill-equipped” “pit bull” Palin to jump-start the prejudices and fears of part of the American electorate in order to win an election and achieve power.
And as the 2012 general election season approaches, those prejudices and fears will be stoked once again, and the campaign to come—largely because of what happened in 2008—will feature a cyclone of cynicism which will likely blow away what’s left of our political civility.