There's no better example yet of John McCain's sudden inability to work his beloved national press like the mess that is the Sarah Palin pick. It's actually hard to remember now that John McCain used to be the coziest man in Washington with the political press corps. Just like it's hard to remember now when "experience" was the McCain campaign's primary selling point, but whatever. You know what happened—McCain was supposed to pick his buddy Joe Lieberman, or lightweight right-wing Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, and then suddenly he's introducing this charming Sarah Palin woman. The move was supposed to signal "maverick," but as allegations of ethical misdeeds and family drama painfully leaked out over a long holiday weekend, it became apparent that the pick was so maverick-y as to be positively outside the bounds of logic. So don't listen to people who say the media is beating up on Sarah Palin over some private family matters—they're beating up on McCain for acting like an idiotic political novice. It seemed so simple, at first. A young woman governor, beloved in her ultimate frontier state. You pull soccer moms, right-wing Christians, maybe a couple disgruntled Hillary voters, and independent Westerners. She even had a bit of energy cred! But when McCain runs as the "experience" candidate and ridicules Obama's lack of foreign policy experience and seriousness and then defends Palin by saying her foreign policy experience is that her state is close to Russia it causes the "serious"-minded commentators to take notice of the only sort of political malfeasance they genuinely can't abide: violating your own message. As Michael Kinsley puts it:
How could anyone truly believe that Barack Obama's background and job history are inadequate experience for a president and simultaneously believe that Sarah Palin's background and job history are perfectly adequate? It's possible to believe one or the other. But both? Simply not possible. John McCain has been-what's the word?-lying.Even Cambell Brown abused poor GOP strategist Tucker Bounds on the experience question, leaving him sputtering and useless: And all that was before the baby debacle! At which point the story became even worse for McCain. Even as people rushed to defend Sarah Palin and her daughter and castigate the filthy internet that forces people to pay attention to terrible scandals, the larger, more important question became the worst of all media questions: what did you know and when did you know it? McCain knew Bristol Palin was pregnant, Republicans insisted. But suddenly stories were all-but-implying that McCain's campaign—the campaign of serious grown-ups—basically Googled Palin a couple weeks ago and decided she looked clean enough for the job. As John Dickerson puts it, Republicans are not being complimentary when they quietly call McCain "reckless." Of course the press continuing to turn on McCain (how twisted they must've been originally that the turn has taken nearly five straight years!) always has the possibility of ending up a net positive for McCain. And they shore up the Christian Right by nominating a woman who has spent a year now demonstrating an unstinting commitment to her pro-life values (if not quite aiding the principle of abstinence education). But even if America decides they genuinely like this rural-accented exurban mother, the ones wavering between the candidates may still come to decide that this was not an example of good decision-making on the part of the cranky old man.