Sunday, November 02, 2008

Why Sarah Palin, why Dan Quayle?

A basic question I've asked, as you may as well: why is it that the Republicans have twice foisted on the nation two VP candidates who are physically attractive idiots? Sarah Palin is cut from the same mold as Dan Quayle, except that - just as Bush II made Bush I look good, so now I have to defend Quayle from this comparison even before I get to make it. Quayle was clearly an unworthy dim-wit, like Palin, but he was also in the Senate for 8 years before his nomination, and before that 2 terms in the House. And before that, 6 years in various state offices. Yes, yes, this is how far we've fallen, that Quayle is a heavyweight compared to the ignorant tabloid train-wreck of Sarah Palin.

But, for those who are too young to remember, the nation was stricken with great fear when Bush nominated Quayle in '88. There appeared to be no reason for it. Dukakis was a disastrous candidate - who nonetheless did what you're supposed to do, and nominated a true heavyweight as his #2 - Lloyd Bentsen (a Texas Democrat, in the House from 1948-1955 and Senate from 1971). There just seemed to be no reason to give us a terrible VP candidate, who we knew at the time would be part of the winning ticket.

The theory at the time, which I basically held until Palin's arrival, was that Bush has such low-self-esteem that he needed someone even wimpier, and more losery, that himself. It made sense at the time because Bush was a pretty bad candidate (and president).

But now we have a repeat. It's the same pattern, no? Except that McCain doesn't strike me as having low self-esteem. Quite the opposite really. So what gives?

Well, here's my theory/prediction and a number of other people (who I can't find right now to link to) seem to support this. The pattern is the same, but not the pattern I first thought it was. To complete the picture, though, we need to add another strange VP choice: Richard Nixon in 1952.

Republican Party Low Self Esteem

While I know all about the internal weaknesses of the Democratic party (made less so after 8 horrific years under Bush II), the GOP has long suffered from it's own chasm between the moderates and the wacko-fringe. All three GOP candidates in our study share the common denominator of being from the moderate wing of the GOP. McCain we know about (he almost switched in 2002), and Bush was a classic Northeastern Republican. Eisenhower was not really much of a partisan of any stripe, and his views on many things seem to fit comfortably in the Democratic party of today.

All three men needed to shore up support on their right flank, and as such, their VPs were selected because they were all fire-breathing conservatives. Nixon was chosen by committee - which shows you that 'smoke filled room' decisions were as fraught with 'identity politics' as the primaries today. But Quayle, like Palin, while unknown to most of America, was a darling of the wacko right.

But here's the Styx kicker: the other common denominator among Nixon-Quayle-Palin is that they were all obvious lightweights. Bush I was a smart guy, Eisenhower as well - they had no respect for their VPs; but these men (and the '52 committee by extension) had no respect for the lunatic fringe - they just needed the loonies to come out and vote. So by choosing a *purposeful* lightweight, these moderate Republicans would get the conservative votes while simultaneously having an ineffectual conservative VP.

That's my theory. But Ike was a robust 62 at election and Bush I 64. McCain is a cancer-surviving 72. The risk taken by the previous two moderates pales in comparison to the selfish risk of McCain.

First pic from here, second from here. Backpost finished 2009-12-07.

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