Palin sacrificed to McCain’s ego

It’s a measure of John McCain’s cynicism that he’s made me feel sorry for Sarah Palin.

At least as I write, the day before the vice presidential debate, I feel sorry for the veep manque. Should her shockingly shallow Mukluk Queen persona turn out to be an act meant to lower voters’ expectations, should she smite Joe Biden hip and thigh, I’ll cancel.

Right now, though? She’s the kind of politician, the kind of person, I’d love to see exposed, shamed and sent back to Mooseville in disgrace. So widely has she been splayed on the altar of McCain’s ambition, though, that I’m simultaneously sympathetic toward her and deeply frightened of the Arizona senator for having no more concern for his country than to name this half-bright hockey housewife as his potential replacement.

That’s how she should be viewed: as president. Vice-presidenting is like golf: Some people are better at it than others, but anybody can do it well enough to play. One man who held the job, FDR veep John “Cactus Jack” Garner, famously adjudged the office “not worth a bucket of warm piss.”

Here’s an exercise that will give you chills, though: Point your favorite search engine at “life expectancy 72-year-old male.”

Give or take a few percentage points, you’ll find that there’s one chance in three your hypothetical male won’t live eight years. If he’s had recurring skin cancer and, say, endured hardship and deprivation for a significant period, his chances fall.

Eight years, of course, is the length of two presidential terms. Say it with me: President Palin.

To be sure, a McCain victory looks less likely than it did two weeks ago. If early-autumn polls were infallible, though, we’d be talking about John Kerry’s re-election bid. If McCain does win, he’ll have about as much chance at a second term as George W. Bush has at a third. The landscape is so honeycombed with Bush-dug pitfalls that his successor figures to have the shortest honeymoon since Britney Spears'.

It could happen, though. And since it could, both McCain’s health and Palin’s ignorance (not her inexperience, which is fixable, but her evident disregard for views other than her own, her choice to remain uninformed) are legitimate topics.

The clincher for me—I was already convinced, but this buffed my conviction to a high shine—was Palin’s now famous non-response when CBS’s Katie Couric asked her what newspapers and magazines she read. It was literally breathtaking, a pathetic display of ignorance so deep it must be regarded as willful.

No room for a transcript here, but Palin stalled. She tried to deflect. When Couric persisted, she blurted, “I’ve read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media.”

“What specifically?”

“Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years . . . We have vast sources of information.”

It was worse than it looks here; you can find it on YouTube.

I don’t think I’m leaping too far to reach this conclusion: The woman could not dredge from her memory the name of a single news source. She could have said anything—The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, “Well, I get my local information from the Anchorage Daily News.” She blanked.

If she read a newspaper even occasionally, if she tossed an unopened TIME out with the trash once a week, if she perused the Mat Su Valley Frontiersman to clip “Andy Capp” for the First Dude, she’d at least have that name in her mind.

She doesn’t. She didn’t.

Help us, Jesus, and forgive your servant John McCain.