Why is it that John McCain picked Sarah Palin? The answer lies in how George W. Bush won the presidency. President Bush jumped on a wave of conservative ire aimed at the Democratic Party and President Clinton on the heels of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. By driving a convincing message that he would realize the conservative agenda, Bush energized the huge electoral machine of right wing moralists. This shifted the field to the right, and required VP Gore to play a more moderate game than he would have otherwise played, and it just did not ring true to anyone. Bush didn’t really play to the moderates, except to be some sort of compassionate conservative.
McCain argues that he is a moderate, and so he should have played to them. Instead, he tried to play President Bush’s game of driving to the right after the primary was won. The New York Times recently had an article that compares the campaigns to the faux campaigns found in the last two seasons of West Wing. In that series, at one point it is argued that the Republican candidate (Vinick) could wiin ALL fifty states by expanding the moderate base of his party. This is what McCain could have tried to do, but it is not what he did. Instead, he attempted to play to both bases, and he argued neither convincingly. By bringing in Sarah Palin he alienated the center. And it wasn’t enough to sooth the right.
There was no way that George Bush’s strategy would work for John McCain. McCain is also the victim of bad timing, with regard to the economy, an issue about which the public as blamed the Republicans nearly exclusively. Barack Obama, merely has to mention the economy and McCain’s ratings drop. That is vaguely reminiscient of President Clinton’s old slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Were it only the economy, perhaps McCain could have survived. However, the War on Terror also looms like an albatross around the neck of Republicans. People are sick of it. Finally.
And so, before Democrats start to crow too loudly, one should point out that neither of these two problems, the economy or our current geopolitical environment, are simple problems, and both will require serious consideration and absense of hubris to repair.