Tropical storm Sarah


Say goodbye to Gutav. But say hello to Sarah, who has been upgraded to a tropical storm.

When a  presidential candidate chooses a running mate, he reveals something important about himself. The VP announcement is the first golden opportunity for the electorate to assess the candidate's thinking, and the process by which he makes decisions that could substantively affect the nation.

Yet, at such a crucial juncture, who did John McCain come up with? Sarah Palin, who is so problematical that the McCain campaign had to spend most of Labor Day releasing odd little factoids about her, while being forced to defend her on several other fronts. In the words of one McCain spokesman (and he actually said this), "We are going to flush the toilet," which strikes me as a distinctly unflattering way of saying that the Palin nomination has not yet passed the sniff test.

Let us count the ways.

1. Everybody seems focused on the news that Palin's teenage daughter is pregnant, and I'll get to that in a moment. More important is the fact that Palin is not nearly the mold-breaking "reformer" that she was initially portrayed to be. And frankly, yours truly and many of my press colleagues fueled that false portrayal on Friday, in the immediate wake of her ascendence, when we mentioned that Palin, as governor of Alaska, had canceled the infamous "bridge to nowhere," the federal pork project that would have made travel easier for the 50 inhabitants of an Alaskan island. That was a misleading characterization, and many of us repeated the shorthand because we were writing quickly on Friday morning while trying to dash for the airport. This is what I get for giving the McCain camp the benefit of the doubt while on deadline. But now, with the benefit of research time, here's the bottom line:

In Palin's first address as running mate, on Friday afternoon, she lied.

While extolling her bridge-canceling decision, she claimed that "I told Congress, 'Thanks, but no thanks' on that bridge to nowhere. 'If our state wanted a bridge,' I said, 'we'd build it ourselves.'"

That's not what happened. She never told Congress 'thanks, but no thanks." She actually supported the pork project - one of those federal earmarks - and changed her mind only when the project became a political embarrassment, and only when it became clear that the feds weren't going to provide the promised money. She then canceled the project, only because she couldn't pay the whole tab out of the state kitty.

Her own words tell the tale. When she was asked by the Anchorage newspaper, in October 2006, whether she still backed the bridge project, she replied: "Yes. I would like to see Alaska's infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later. The window is now - while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist." In translation, she was saying that the federal money for the bridge needed to be locked in as soon as possible, because a Democratic victory in the '06 congressional elections one month later would seriously weaken the Republican congressional delegation's "position to assist."

Those remarks were consistent with her previous cheerleading for the bridge project, as expressed two months earlier in another Alaska newspaper: "We need to come to the defense of southeast

Alaska when proposals are on the table like the bridge, and not allow the spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative."

And her past stance on the bridge is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg; contrary to her "reformer" image, Palin has long demonstrated a desire to feed at the federal trough. As recently as six years ago, when she was the mayor of 7000 small-town citizens, she employed a lobbying firm that brought back $8 million in federally earmarked projects. And as recently as March of this year, gubernatorial aide John Katz wrote in an Alaskan newspaper that Palin still supports 31 federal projects, and that she ideally would support many more, if not for the "unwanted" public attention.

By the way, is there not a fundamental contradiction between Palin's oft-stated conservative credo about "reigning in government growth" - and her longstanding support for extracting the maximum amount of federal government pork? Certainly so, but that's a common Republican disconnect.

2. Here's my favorite Palin tidbit. It turns out that during the mid-‘90s, she was a member of the Alaskan Independence Party (the AIP insists this is so; the McCain camp insists otherwise), and, earlier this year, she delivered a welcoming address to the party, via video, urging its members to “keep up the good work.” That’s quite a laudatory greeting - considering the fact that one of the party tenets is that Alaskans should have the right to vote on whether to secede from the United States and form an independent republic.

And here's a particularly inspiring quote from AIP founder Joe Vogler: "I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America and her damned institutions."

Read that second sentence again, and just imagine what the Republicans would be saying right now, on the talk shows and on Fox and online, if a Democratic veep nominee had associated in this manner with a party founded on such an unAmerican credo. But you know the answer to that one already.

3. The Bristol Palin pregnancy. Yes, it's a private mattter. But, again, just imagine what the Republicans would be saying right now, on the talk shows and on Fox and online, if a female Democratic nominee's daughter was found to be in the same condition (with the announcement carefully leaked during Gustav, to minimize attention). More to the point, just imagine what the religious right would be saying at this moment. Some variation of this:

"We are concerned, once again, about the Democrats' lack of family values. The scourge of premarital underage sexual activity has long undermined the nation's morality. We are concerned about a candidate who clearly has been unable to teach and enforce these crucial values in her own home, and we question whether her failures now qualify her to cconvey those values to the nation."

Moreover, it turns out that Palin is a longtime supporter of abstinence-until-marriage education in the schools. Which means that, again, if a female Democratic nominee had that same stance on her resume, the GOP/religious right reaction would also include something like this: "We also find it necessary to point out the disconnect between what the candidate says in public, and the bad example that candidate sets in her private life."

But, of course, the GOP and the religious right have said no such things about Palin, thereby demonstrating that ideological fealty reigns supreme.

4. It turns out that Palin has hired a private attorney - someone in private practice, to be paid out of state funds - to get her lawyered up for the state-sanctioned probe into whether she abused her power in connection with the firing of the state public safety commissioner. I won't recount all the allegations here. Suffice it to say that the probe will be ongoing through the autumn campaign, providing the McCain campaign with all kinds of unwanted distractions. Conveniently, the lawyer's stalling tactics will probably result in a postponement of the probe's findings until after the election. That timing issue will also be part of the ongoing coverage.

5. It turns out, as reported today, that the McCain vetting team did minimal work on Palin until the eleventh hour - McCain was actually focused on his friend Joe Lieberman, until he was vetoed by the religious right - and now the McCain team has dispatched a post-vetting, damage-control spin team to Alaska. Late yesterday, the McCain camp was saying that this was no big deal, just a routine move. Then they said, OK, we are doing some more vetting. Presumably, McCain and his team would perform better during an international crisis at three a.m. - or maybe not, since they had months to do this selection the right way.

6. You know how the religious right typically refers to the Founding Fathers as devout Christians who sought to promote a Christian nation? It turns out that Palin shares that misperception as well. In July 2006, the conservative Eagle Forum asked her in a questionnaire, "Are you offended by the phrase 'Under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?" Palin replied: "Not on your life. If it was good enough for the Founding Fathers, it's good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance."

It would help to have a vice president who knows the basics of American history. "Under God" was not the work of the Founding Fathers. Nor was the pledge; it was written 100 years after the Founding Fathers, and the author was a socialist. As for "Under God," it was added to the pledge via congressional 1954.

7. And, on the issue of Palin's dearth of national security knowledge and experience, this morning we had GOP spinmeister Mary Matalin laboring to defend her on CNN. Matalin said that Americans should not worry. She explained that, "in time of war," McCain would get all kinds of advice from generals and national security advisors and intelligence analysts, and that Palin would be fine because she "knows the right policies." Which means, in translation, that even Matalin can't mask the fact that Palin knows squat. (Speaking of squat, a few days ago the Palin camp sought to list all the foreign countries that Palin has visited: Germany, Kuwait, and Ireland. Now it turns out that the Ireland visit consisted of staying on the plane while it was refueled.)

Perhaps Matalin should have been asked whether she's still feeling "a tingle up my spine" about the excitement of Palin's candidacy, as she put it last Friday. Or perhaps the Republicans might be better advised to hunker down, in the hopes that this tropical storm may soon pass.