6 SEPTEMBER 2008, Page 20

What possessed McCain to take a punt on Palin?

Rod Liddle says that the appointment of an inexperienced, gun-toting former beauty queen as his running mate may well be John McCain’s undoing Ah, just when you pro-Republican monkeys were beginning to think that John McCain was looking a pretty good bet, he goes and chooses a backwoods polar-bear-strangling Britney Spears manqué as a running mate — a woman who appears to believe that the earth was created precisely 4,004 years ago and who, in earlier times, found the Republican Party inclined at far too shallow an angle to the right. A sort of Alaskan version of Pauline Hanson, except with a better embonpoint. These desolate wide open spaces full of biting things and stinging things always seem to push people toward the reflexive and unforgiving political right; cities, by contrast, tilt towards the left. Except Jerusalem, obviously.

Sarah Palin must have seemed, initially, heaven sent. Deprived of the right to choose his mate Joe Lieberman, McCain and his people will have sat themselves down and made a checklist of stuff their candidate was lacking but which might be provided by a congenial running mate. Youth and beauty, for starters. Also, a bit of vigorous, libertarian, unreconstructed stop-whining-you-pussies visceral anti-intellectual right-wingness to cheer the party faithful (not to mention John Birch, if he’s watching from above). Also, someone with a cervix, if possible, to haul in those disappointed Hillary groupies. Someone clearly not a part of the Washington elite. And suddenly McCain remembered some babe (to use Rush Limbaugh’s description of the woman) he’d met at a convention some place. Governor, or something, of the — now, where was it — the Aleutian Islands? She seemed pretty feisty, pretty in your face and, uh, pretty pretty. What about her? And so Sarah Palin was bussed in to meet the McCain family on 27 August, had her first one on one meeting with the presidential candidate the following morning and kaboom, the babe’s on the ticket. Cynical, it’s been called — but also self-destructive, which is more to the point. Of course we vetted her, the McCain team insist, as stuff first started to trickle out and then came in a wonderful flood. No you didn’t, guys. No you didn’t.

The fact that her 17-year-old daughter is five months with child and yet, horror, unmarried, won’t matter very much. She intends to marry the father, for a start — and the fact that she is having the child at all will commend her to the pro-life lobby, even before they start getting gooey about the marriage. But there will be other salacious stuff to come out about Ms Palin’s large family (five kids in all, since you ask), I would guess — they are Donald Rumsfeld’s known-unknowns. I don’t think it matters too much that Ms Palin’s hubby was once done for driving while under the influence of drink: a nation which still reveres the Kennedys will cope with that notion happily enough. These are the first notable things to leak out of the capacious Palin closet and about which McCain apparently had no idea. You sort of suspect that come November, if she lasts that long, they will be of fleeting consequence.

Palin was born in the state of Idaho — which is pretty distant, geographically and philosophically, from the centre of American politics. But Sarah was driven to ever greater extremes, studying in Honolulu and ending up making a name for herself in the wastes of Alaska. She won a beauty pageant there in 1984 (which involved pouting and stripping off a bit, and playing the flute). And later she became mayor of Wasilla, Alaska — an old fur-trapping town of about 5,000 souls.

Alaska is a very right-wing state. Especially on the issue of ecological conservation, immigration, gun law, freedom of the individual, and so on. There are comparatively liberal parts of the state, just as there are probably comparatively liberal parts of Saudi Arabia and North Korea. Wasilla — a foul agglomeration of shopping malls and gravel dumps — is not among them, believe me. It’s stuck out in the middle of Alaska proper — not clinging to the state’s temperate and gen tle southern panhandle where most sensible people live and where you will find the state capital, the comparatively liberal Juneau. It’s only a few years ago that Wasilla demanded the site of the capital be moved from Juneau to its own shabby environs and in a statewide ballot lost the battle, quite narrowly.

It was in Wasilla that Sarah’s husband Todd joined the Alaskan Independence Party, which has as its ultimate goal secession from the left-wing, nannying, Zionist Occupation Government which resides in Washington DC. The Alaskan separatists object to government interference, immigrants, restrictions on their rights to bear arms and shoot whatever animals they consider fit to be shot, welfare, Darwinian theories of evolution and so on. They considered, for a while, demanding to be united with Canada — but not Canada in its present form, God forbid. Only Canada once the eastern, socialistic and frog-friendly quadrant has been sloughed off somehow. Whatever way you look at it, the Alaskan Independence Party — which has been reasonably successful within the state — is what we might call an extremist libertarian party. The Republican party’s vicepresidential candidate addressed this party’s conference in 2006 and supported its profoundly un-American aims.

You sort of wonder what they discussed, John and Sarah, at that first meeting on 28 August. Foreign affairs? Palin has absolutely no track record there whatsoever. It has been suggested that she will be very good at foreign affairs because Alaska is so near to Russia, just a short hop across the Bering Strait. So she must know what it’s like there. Cold, snowy, lots of bears, etc. Brilliant. The advantage which John McCain held over Barack Obama in terms of experience and worldliness is, at the very best, somewhat diluted by the revelation that his running mate is a complete and utter ingénue whose previous attitude to foreigners has been one of peremptory hostility.

I’d better get down to the bookies sharpish. I put a pony on McCain to become president six months ago; it seemed to me, for mainly the wrong reasons, that he could not fail. But we underestimate American politicians, their magnificent ability to wring chaos from the most promising of situations. Ms Palin will give the hacks a story a week, I would guess — and none of them will be very good for John McCain.