National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: The Palin Caper

American presidential politics went from the sublime to the ridiculous within little more than 12 hours last week.

Being in the Denver stadium filled with over 80,000 supporters of Democratic Presidential Nominee Sen. Barack Obama last Thursday night, this writer experienced the palpable shared sense of a great moment in time, and the strongest, most refreshing rekindling of the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King in the 40 years since his death.

Obama was forceful, eloquent, and not strident but firmly resolved to lead the nation back on the path it abandoned in the years following Dr. King’s assassination, toward a nation dedicated to economic justice at home and strong, enlightened leadership abroad.

Culminating the four-day Democratic convention that included stellar and memorable speeches by all its principals, from Sen. Ted Kennedy, Michelle Obama and Sen. Mark Warner, to Bill and Hillary Clinton, Obama towered over those accomplishments with his own, resounding indictment of a third Bush administration that the candidacy of his Republican adversary, Sen. John McCain, represents.

He spelled out his own agenda for doing things so profoundly differently, and wrapped up 45 minutes of remarks, which veritably flew by, by a stirring evocation of Dr. King on the anniversary of his 1962 “I Have a Dream” speech that unleashed the epochal civil rights and social justice avalanche of the 1960s.

His speech ratcheted up the hopes and aspirations of America’s less privileged, and of everyone who internalized the vision from the 1960s in proper connection with the nation’s founding principles, with the realization that such just and moral ideals could actually be realized in the next president of the U.S.

One could almost feel the succor and hope that radiated out of that stadium to every downtrodden man, woman and child on the planet. It was sublime.

The next morning came the ridiculous. The story broke that the advisors to McCain had convinced him to name first-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, out of all the Republican leaders in the land, as the one most qualified to lead the United States of America in the event of his absence.

The phenomenal cynicism, abject hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of the McCain advisors who foisted this decision on him are the real culprits in all this, far more than the simple, if right wing, “hockey mom” plucked out of Alaska. McCain’s handlers were brazenly willing to subordinate the national interest to a hoped for tactical advantage for their candidate and party.

The move was so extraordinary, and laced with risk, that it had to have been made out of desperation, based on closely-held private polling results. It is not the kind of move made from a position of strength.

The script that Republican mouthpieces, from the top to the bottom of the food chain, were ordered to read from has been narrowly focused on deflecting obvious questions about Palin’s lack of experience by turning them around against Obama.

In some cases, they’re spiced up with comments like those from McCain’s wife, suggesting that Palin has more national security experience than Obama because she’s been the governor, albeit less than two years, of a state located in proximity to the most desolate regions of Russia.

While a claim like that is laughable for its absurdity, it has been rendered effective by the GOP’s discipline in sticking with the script to turn all questions to Obama’s far from comparable lack of experience.

The issues are not about Palin’s family or personal life. There are serious issues about her abuse of power while in office that remain under official investigation.

But it’s mostly about how, by choosing her, McCain’s handlers reverted to a sophomoric stunt regarding the dead-serious matter of finding a qualified stand-in, if needed, to lead the entire nation in a dangerous world.

Some in the media are beginning to resist the Republican “switcheroo” tactics, insisting issue is Palin’s qualifications, or lack thereof, plain and simple. Obama is not the issue. Palin is.

Indicative of GOP thuggish enforcement of its tactic, when a CNN reporter pushed a GOP spokesman on Palin’s qualifications, she got the GOP so pissed it pulled McCain off an interview with Larry King.

That kind of sheer bullying in the effort to deflect and obfuscate the truth should enrage those in the media, much less the American public in general.