John McCain

Silence of the Wolves

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A trivial yet telling anecdote from the Sarah Palin Wars that have riven this country asunder: My wife updated her Facebook status with a throwaway line about how stay-at-home First Dude Todd Palin is a "dreamboat," and immediately multiple friends jumped down her throat, because that just ain't funny.

Here's one thing to remember during this made-for-Camille-Paglia and largely substance-free news cycle, aside from the fact that it cements Tim Cavanaugh as a seer for his December 2002 reason piece about "the long, happy life of America's anti-defamation industry": Every minute spent on debating Sarah Palin's feminist cred (and/or sexist treatment by evil liberals and the MSM) is a minute that A) reinforces her ability to woo sexism-despising ex-Hillary Clinton voters, as strange as that may sound to us non-Hillary supporters; and B) allows John McCain the luxury of not having to talk about his policies. Because if there's one minefield even bigger than Palin's unvetted record in the North to the Future State, it's McCain's many smoking-hot policy disagreements with whole chunks of the fragile coalition he requires to become the nation's 44th president.

On the last night of the Republican Convention, the night that was supposed to be about the top of the ticket, multiple speakers (many of them female) said a version of "I was here to talk about John McCain, but instead let's just talk some more about that Sarah Palin kid!" Sure, that was a sensible response to a crowd more synched with the Barracuda than with Bully Boy II, but it also made it that much easier to fall back on the Great Man (plus Great Woman) value-proposition of McCain's candidacy. Focus on the James Stockdale-like storyline, and you don't even have to utter the words "campaign finance reform," a once-"transcendent" issue that in 2001 McCain said "affects everything: the tax code, the military, Medicare, Social Security, gambling–you name it," yet by 2008 his own party platform, as Jacob Sullum flagged this morning, now opposes.

You didn't have to go looking in St. Paul to find Republicans who claimed that McCain-Feingold would have been a dealbreaker, if it wasn't for X (War on Terror, Supreme Court appointments, etc.). Ditto for immigration restrictionists, T.R.-ophobes, Gang of 14-haters, and probably any number of Republican subspecies. McCain's challenge with them is to just not talk about this stuff very much, then change the subject. He's a Great Man! And look–some MSNBC arugula-muncher just dissed our Small Town Values!

And with that, McCain will largely try to run out the clock, and hold onto the Palin bounce. But lest ye despair over the Shallowness of Our Politics or whatnot, remember this: There still is one very significant difference between the two candidates (meaning: not just energy policy, where both candidates will magically wean us off furriner-oil while creating X million "green jobs" by 2025) that McCain still wants to talk about, even if there, too, he has some constituents to not offend. That issue is Iraq, and the broader questions of the Middle East, the War on Terror, and foreign policy overall. We will yet get an election on substance before the gong strikes midnight.