All of the commentators who have suggested with reasonably straight faces in recent days that the McCain campaign may have erred in refusing to let “Sarah Palin be Sarah Palin,” might want to take a gander at what happened forty years ago when Alabama governor and American Independent party presidential candidate George C. Wallace held a press conference to introduce General Curtis LeMay as his running mate. Wallace’s advisors had actually persuaded him to pick former Kentucky governor A. B. “Happy” Chandler, who as Commissioner of Baseball back in 1947, had presided over the relatively orderly integration of America’s pastime and then, as governor, had done his best to assure Kentucky’s peaceful compliance with the Brown decision. As Dan Carter reports in his terrific book on Wallace, the governor’s aide, Seymour Trammel, had argued that Chandler’s reputation as a moderate would strengthen the ticket because what with the KKK, the John Birch Society, and the White Citizens Council, Wallace already had the backing of “all the nuts in the country.” With Chandler on board, Trammel reasoned, “we could get some decent people—you working one side of the street and he working the other.”
Not surprisingly, such impeccable logic was completely lost on the crazies among Wallace’s supporters—that’s to say damn near all of ’em— who set up such a howl that he turned to LeMay. This move met with the warm, even moist, approval of the great mass of the Wallace loonies, including the gazillionaire oil man Bunker Hunt, who promptly rewarded LeMay with a thank-you gift of $1,000,000.
This love and largesse was showered on a man whose military record, mind you, was distinguished by his plan as commander of the Strategic Air Command, to hit the Soviet Union with our entire nuclear stockpile and his subsequent insistence on a similar response during the Cuban missile crisis, during the course of which he berated a group of senators for their “restraint,” explaining “The whole idea is to kill the bastards. At the end of the war, if there are two Americans left alive and one Russian, we win.” (Not for nothing had Stanley Kubrick used “Bombs Away!” LeMay as the model for shoot-first-worry-about-casualties–later General Buck Turgidson in the Cold War film spoof, Dr. Strangelove.
Wallace’s team had spent a grueling and totally frustrating night before the October 3, 1968 official press conference rollout of LeMay, trying to keep the general off topics nuclear, but the governor had promised his number two guy free rein to discuss defense issues, by God, discuss ‘em he did. Bemoaning a national “phobia” about nuclear war, he allowed, “I think there are many times when it would be most efficient to use nuclear weapons. However, the public opinion in this country and throughout the world throw up their hands in horror when you mention nuclear weapons, just because of the propaganda that's been fed to them." Sensing that he had shocked even the jaded reporters in the crowd, LeMay tried to reassure them by bringing them up to speed on conditions in the Bikini Atoll where some twenty nuclear weapons had been tested: "The fish are all back in the lagoons; the coconut trees are growing coconuts; the guava bushes have fruit on them; the birds are back. As a matter of fact, everything is about the same except the land crabs. They get minerals from the soil, I guess, through their shells, and the land crabs were a little bit 'hot' * and there's a little question about whether you should eat a land crab or not."
Suffice it to say, not many in the audience had much appetite left at that point, least of all a supremely agitated Wallace, who clearly thought he might have to choke LeMay in order to get him away from the microphones. In the aftermath of the affair, the campaign assigned three aides to bird-dog the General’s every move and utterance, but despite a 20 percent showing at the end of September, in the wake of the LeMay fiasco, northern supporters, women in particular, deserted in droves, and a month later Wallace captured only 13.5 percent of the vote, with more than half of his total coming from the old Confederacy.
Although Sarah Palin may not have scared as many people as badly as LeMay (and, in my opinion, not nearly as many or as badly as she should have), there are some parallels here. Like Wallace, McCain’s choice of a running mate was dictated by the most extreme of his potential supporters, rather than his obvious need to reach out to voters of a more mainstream stripe. In essence, reversing Seymour Trammel’s argument for pairing Wallace with the more moderate Happy Chandler, McCain’s advisers persuaded him he didn’t have enough “nuts” solidly on his side.
In this sense, Palin embodies the single greatest burden the McCain camp has had to bear not just in the contest for his party’s nomination but throughout a general election campaign where he has had to devote overwhelming amounts of time, energy, and precious resources to selling himself to his own party rather than wooing more of the Independents who were his veritable life’s blood during several key primaries.
In point of fact, his incessant preaching to what should have already been the choir has made it all the harder to persuade those nearer the middle that he is really who they once thought he was.
Herein lies the basis for my admittedly hopeful skepticism of Sarah Palin’s supposedly glowing prospects for 2012. Palin can juice up The Religious Right and other fellow-traveling ideological hardliners so easily because Sarah’s all about certitude, the kind that comes from the absolute conviction that you already know and understand everything you will ever need to. If you want to rally your base, she’s definitely your girl, but as her plummeting fortunes in poll after poll suggest, she’s far better at leading the home crowd in a few cheers than anything else. Even if others could somehow get past her totally misplaced self-confidence and her propensity to make her appalling ignorance a point of pride, Palin has shown no real interest in--or capacity for--reaching out to anyone residing in that still very considerable expanse lying to the left of the also considerable expanse of Rush Limbaugh. Organized, militant minorities have carried the day more than once in American politics, but unless things get so bad that brown shirts and jackboots have come into style by 2012, I don’t think I’d want to run for president knowing I could truly count only on folks who want their kids taught Genesis instead of science and care less about what goes on at the U.N. than how people make whoopee in their own bedrooms.
Ever-indulgent readers, I know the Ol’ Bloviator has misled you way too many times to expect you to trust him, but he honestly believes he has finally solved the “comments” problem by cutting back drastically on his “junk filter.” Although most of the 1,800+ postings he found in the junk pile were exactly where they belonged, he has painstakingly rescued all valid but still victimized posts and put them where they belonged. If you can see your way clear to give it one more shot, I’d sure like to see what you think. Y.V.O.S. , The O.B.