LONDON – Senator John McCain is a genuine American hero. He was a brave airman, with a fine war record. Unlike the so-called “chicken hawks” who avoided service in the Vietnam War themselves but could barely wait to send young Americans into Iraq to fight, McCain’s life is not at odds with his politics. In the Senate, while supporting President Bush’s war of choice in Iraq, he has been prepared to stand up for his independent judgment on issues such as campaign finance reform and climate change.
So when, as a presidential candidate, McCain said that, if elected, he would seek to work with Democrats and independents, and that he would search for consensus, it was easy to believe him. After all, this is exactly how he had behaved as a senator. There seemed every chance that he would apply this approach to the choice of his running mate. His friend Senator Joseph Lieberman, a former Democrat and a hawk on the Iraq war, appeared to be the most likely pick.
We know what happened. With his campaign apparently dead in the water, McCain reached out all right – to the right-wing fundamentalists in his own party. Governor Sarah Palin strode onto the national stage, rhetorical guns blazing.
Whatever else you say about the governor’s views, no one could call the choice of the “hockey mom” from Alaska a bold bid for consensus. She was chosen, to borrow the commentators’ jargon, to energize the party base, which comprises hard-liners suspicious of McCain’s lack of enthusiasm for the causes that fire them up, such as creationism and a ban on abortion.