I donít know about you, but Iím having a hard time keeping up. The swirl of rumor and counter-rumor about poor Sarah Palin means that the mediaís scandal machine has been put into overdrive. But now Iím beginning to think that the machine may have been overloaded and is now beginning to choke and sputter and overheat and perhaps ó a fellow can dream, canít he? ó will break down entirely. The problem is that the media panicked. Doubtless because of their fear that Governor Palin will prove too popular and therefore cause the defeat of their darling, Barack Obama, they threw her private life and character open to every wild internet rumor or journalistic speculation so precipitately that we had scarcely met her before finding ourselves forced to choose between regarding her as a sort of boreal Lucrezia Borgia or rejecting the whole scandal narrative completely.
Thatís clearly going to be a problem for the scandal mongers. When, as she did last night at the convention, Mrs Palin appears in public as herself, her obviously decent and engaging personality simply makes the media uproar, which yesterday reached fortissimo, fall silent. Her popularity with the people who know her best appears so genuine and her record in office so unassailable that all the scandal talk is bound to appear what it is: just media chatter. Not that the scandal machine is irretrievably broken, of course. Its importance to the media and the way the media see themselves ó and us ó is too great for that. They may have to take it in for an overhaul, but it will soon be back on the road again and running at a less frenetic pace to build a scandal narrative for McCain-Palin in the same way it did for Bush-Cheney.
In that case, you may remember, it conjured up out of nothing ó or nothing but paranoiac and hate-filled conjecture ó the "lies" of the Bush administration which, once they were established as truth, even though they were themselves the only lies, became the instrument by which the administration had taken us to war in Iraq and therefore caused the needless deaths of 4000-odd Americans and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. A scandal, I think youíll agree ó and so scandalous a scandal that the fact that it was an entirely bogus one with no foundation in fact seems never to have troubled the conscience (if any) of the media whose interest has always been best served by scandal, wherever it can be found or, if not found, manufactured.
The longer-running and possibly more effective choice of scandal narrative for McCain-Palin ó and one that has also had a good workout with Bush-Cheney ó is likely to concern brain-power. She will be portrayed as a ditz and he an incompetent for choosing her without proper "vetting." Thatís already the direction the attempted sex-scandals are taking. Without getting into the sex part, E.J. Dionne in The New Republic led the way by essaying a ludicrous comparison between the Alaska hockey mom and Harriet Miers. "Palin is, if anything, less qualified for the vice presidency (and the presidency) than Miers was for the [Supreme] court," he wrote. "But there is one big difference: Palin passes all the right-wing litmus tests, which means she is unlikely to suffer Miersí fate." Is it possible that Mr Dionne really doesnít know that the law is a learned profession and that, therefore, "experience" and competence there mean something quite different from what they do in politics? A judge, and particularly a Supreme Court justice, must be a scholar; a politician need not be and, if he or she occupies an executive office, is probably better off not being. Legal scholarship is essential to what Supreme Court justices do, but it is of little help can be a hindrance to those who spend their days making executive decisions about what must and must not be done now to keep the government functioning, to safeguard the nationís security and to pursue the national interest.
Thatís why all those who were chanting "Zero" at last nightís convention had a point. Thatís why Rudy Giuliani was right to note that "she already has more executive experience than the entire Democratic ticket." The relevant experience for a leader is leadership, not the kind of lucubration and second-guessing that lawyers and journalists and academics, like Mr Dionne, are so practised at. But Barack Obama has, for lack of anything else to recommend him, fallen back upon the professorial view that sheer cognitive megawattage ó or, as he keeps modestly putting it, "judgment" ó is the only thing that matters in politics, as in life. It sure has got the intellectual ťlites on his side, but they would have been on his side in any case. And, in the words of Paul Begala ó a man who now affects to wonder if Senator McCain is "out of his mind" for picking Governor Palin ó "we cannot win with egg-heads and African-Americans." Oh yeah, I think theyíre scared of Sarah Palin.