Sarah Palin – Secret Socialist?

While we’re on the subject of Sarah Palin, there’s an interesting article in the Washington Post today, which examines the thinking in the McCain camp ahead of his choice of Palin as his running mate. There’s nothing terribly surprising – McCain needed someone who would bolster the “maverick” credentials of the ticket while at the same time appealing to the Republican base, and Palin appeared to fit the bill. What’s perhaps more revealing are the reasons he didn’t pick Joe Lieberman, who, in retrospect, might have helped make the race a bit closer. Lieberman’s liberal position on social issues, particularly abortion, were too hard to sell to the GOP faithful, despite the appeal they might have held for the wider electorate.

McCain’s real problem was that he was the candidate of a party that was hopelessly out of touch with the sentiment of the nation. He was fighting two battles – one to convince the GOP rank and file to come out and campaign for him, and one to persuade the nation that he was fit to be President. Unfortunately (for him, not for us) winning the former doomed him to defeat in the latter, since, almost by definition, someone who was acceptable to Republican activists was never going to appeal to normal people. Palin was just the icing on the cake, a clear message that McCain cared more for placating the wingnuts in his party than selecting a running mate who had even a modicum of competence.

Optimistic conservatives may argue that Palin has the potential to be a 21st century version of Barry Goldwater, who, despite his crushing defeat in the 1964 Presidential election is widely seen as the architect of the conservative takeover of the Republican Party, a process that gave us Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bushes Sr & Jr.

This ignores two important points. Firstly, the GOP in Goldwater’s day was run by a relatively liberal East-coast establishment, whereas the Republicans today are so far down the neoconservative rabbit-hole that there is no room for a further move to the right. Secondly, while Goldwater certainly ticked conservative boxes with his militarism, belief in small government and hostility to civil rights, his libertarian support for abortion and gay rights, anathema to present-day Republicans, provided some counterbalance.

Anyone hoping that Sarah Palin will reinvigorate the conservative cause is likely to be severely disappointed. If her time on the national stage is to have any long-lasting effect, other than providing stand-up comedians with an almost inexhaustible source of material, it will be to prove that the Republican Party must escape from the clutches of the extreme right if it ever hopes to win back the White House. Palin may go down in history as the woman who put the final nail in the coffin of the Republican Party as we know it, and in so doing shifted the whole of US politics to the left. Who knows? Maybe that was her secret plan all along.

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