Hit by two hurricanes

Gustav costs Republicans a day but Sarah could cost a candidacy

There’s nothing like a pair of hurricanes to shake things up. Hurricane Gustav clipped a day from the Republican National Convention, and Hurricane Sarah (as in Palin) threatened to make the remainder largely irrelevant.

John McCain’s bold gamble on Palin as his running mate has had two huge impacts: It’s energized the party’s ultra-conservative base, and it’s called into serious question his judgment and whether he adequately vetted the 44-year-old governor of Alaska.

Palin was immediately controversial. Politicos in both parties wondered how a 72-year-old man with a history of melanoma could put such an inexperienced person just a heartbeat from the presidency—especially when McCain’s main line of attack on Barack Obama was the latter’s supposed inexperience. The choice suggests McCain knew he couldn’t win without energizing the party’s base, and this was the trade-off.

There was also Palin’s not-so-subtle suggestion that disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters should vote for her simply because she’s a woman, despite her almost complete disagreement with Clinton’s positions. Many women were insulted, understandably so.

Now comes news that Palin’s 17-year-old unmarried daughter is pregnant. It’s a major distraction from the campaign send-off Republicans were hoping to have, but it’s just the beginning. There’s much more to learn about this candidate, beginning with the truth of the so-called “troopergate” scandal that a special prosecutor is investigating.

The media are having a feeding frenzy. To some extent this helps the Republicans by creating a distraction from the party’s dismal record of the past eight years. Obama has wisely put the pregnancy off limits, and Democrats, if they’re smart, will stay out of it. Palin is a right-wing ideologue, but she’s also what she claims to be, a “hockey mom” and a working wife with family problems, and she appeals to many voters’ emotions.

To the extent Obama’s campaign challenges Palin, it should be on matters of experience and policy only, not family values. This election is about much more than the personal life of the governor of Alaska.