Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Is Palin the next Peter Fitzgerald?

Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is having her access to the public strictly controlled by GOP operatives.

She has given one lone interview since becoming a nationally-known political figure (People magazine), and totally skipped the rounds of weekend public affairs-oriented talk shows two days ago where a serious candidate would have been expected to tout herself and running mate John McCain.

HER CAMPAIGN APPEARANCES are in places where the conservative faithful are going to defer to her judgment (or lack thereof). She’s not going to be sent anywhere where people might actually question her qualifications (McCain himself will have to make those appearances).

Thus far, she is scheduled to give one television interview (on Thursday, to ABC News), and Republican officials are making it known that they are in no hurry to give Palin uncontrolled public exposure.

As McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told one of those weekend talk shows that Palin would have been expected to do (on Fox News Channel), Palin would not put herself before “a cycle of piranhas called the news media” until people started showing the kind of deference deemed acceptable by the Palin/McCain campaign.

“Until we feel like the news media is going to treat her with some level of respect and deference, I think it would be foolhardy to put her out in that kind of environment,” Davis told Fox News.

IN SHORT, THE relatively inexperienced politico (20 months as Alaska governor and a stint as a mayor of a town of about 5,000 people) is not going to be put into situations where she can be questioned by people who will actually know what they are talking about and where her inexperience will shine brightly.

She will only be sent to crowds who will refuse to accept that the empress has no clothes, so to speak. Palin is going to be put forth before people who will believe her when she says her eight years as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, is relevant experience. Trust me. I have covered enough municipal government at small town and suburban levels to know that no small-city or village mayor does anything even remotely close to being relevant to be qualified for the U.S. presidency.

I’d go so far as to say the only mayors in this country who can claim to have any relevant experience if they wanted to seek the presidency (or even the V-P slot) would be Michael Bloomberg, Antonio Villaraigosa and our very own Richard M. Daley.

Only those three cities are large enough to provide the depth of experience that might make their officeholder remotely qualified to be president (and personally, I wouldn’t vote for any of those three to be president. I have other objections to all of them, although I doubt Daley would ever want to move to Washington).

PALIN IS GOING to have her image created by Republican political operatives, many of whom will be taking their orders directly from John McCain. They want us to think of Palin as that mooseburger-eating mom (who probably hunted, killed and cooked the moose herself) who drives her kids to hockey practice, when she’s not running the 49th state to join the Union.

What they don’t want is her making a public appearance before a group that would have enough knowledge to shoot holes in their fairy-tale version of the Palin story.

As it was, the Palin story took the equivalent of a shotgun blast when it became public knowledge that her teenage daughter was pregnant. The last thing the Republicans want is for Palin to become damaged goods that drags down the McCain campaign.

For as it is, the reality of the Republican National Convention is that John McCain got skunked by his running mate. A rookie politico from Alaska caught the imagination of a segment of the U.S. population in a way that the veteran Senator from Arizona who likes to talk about his days as a P.O.W. during the Vietnam War will never do.

WITHOUT PALIN, McCAIN gets beaten badly by Democratic opponent Barack Obama. With her politically pristine storyline somewhat intact, perhaps she can get enough of those social conservatives who like the idea of a rural person (even one from Alaska) to make the campaign competitive on Election Day.

It’s McCain’s only chance to win. And it could work.

I know. Because I remember the way it worked in Illinois back in 1998.

That was the year that former Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (the one-time political darling who ticked off just enough of her followers to become damaged goods) decided she wanted a second term in office.

DESPITE THE CONTROVERSIES that killed off all of her support outside of Chicago proper, she still came close to winning a second term. But Peter Fitzgerald got the Republican nomination to run against her. By using his own personal wealth, he was able to put together an adequate campaign structure.

And by isolating his public appearances, he was able to keep reality from intruding on the political fantasies held by people who desperately wanted to dump Moseley-Braun.

In Fitzgerald’s case, his willingness to follow his own lead rather than that of party leaders was balanced out by a personality that could be less than friendly at times. He wasn’t that glad-handling political natural who was comfortable in crowds.

Also, the Fitzgerald personal life story of wealth and privilege (his family owned a bank in the Chicago suburbs, and when they sold it, they became major stockholders. They were wealthy enough to not have to work for a living) was not the kind that many could identify with. Peter Fitzgerald was wealthy enough that he could look down on John McCain for owning “only” seven homes.

IF THAT VERY real aspect of the Fitzgerald story had gotten out to the Republican faithful in rural parts of Illinois, it could have made them inclined to think that neither party had a candidate worth voting for. They could have stayed home in significant enough numbers that Moseley-Braun’s Chicago support could have been enough to win re-election.

Instead, Fitzgerald made limited appearances, rarely took questions and NEVER deviated from the script – which entailed reminding socially conservative voters that he supported their positions on issues such as abortion.

In fact, I can remember one press conference in Chicago where an activist who wrote for a conservative newsletter tried questioning Fitzgerald on an issue related to the banking industry. His irate tone of voice caused Fitzgerald to just stand there giggling at the sight of a raging lunatic screaming at him, and afterwards, a Fitzgerald campaign aide told me, “that’s why we don’t let (reporters) ask (Fitzgerald) more questions.”

Such a strategy reeks of arrogance, as does the tone of voice from the McCain people that Palin is owed a level of deference. But I have to admit, the strategy worked. Fitzgerald won because he restricted his image to control it.

FOR ALL WE know, Fitzgerald may very well have won re-election in 2004 had he decided not to give up on electoral politics altogether, even though he had ticked off enough GOP leaders in Illinois that they were not sorry to see him go.

That act cleared the way for Obama to move up from the Illinois Senate to a seat in the U.S. version, which he is now trying to use as his springboard to the presidency.

So this is what it will be like for us on the Palin Watch in coming weeks. We will have to observe her every move in great detail, looking for the sliver of fact that might give us a bit of truth about her beyond the hockey mom who as a high school athlete was once nicknamed, “the barracuda.”

I don’t mean just reporter-types. I mean everybody. You need to listen to her closely and try to figure out for yourself how much of the storyline she is selling is truthful, and how much is political slop.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Will ABC News manage this week to get under the façade that Republicans will try to give us (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/07/AR2008090702402.html) about Sarah Palin? Or will they let her turn the interview in Alaska into a “9/11” lovefest, so to speak?

Reporter-types in Alaska are hoping for a chance to ask Palin about some “local issues” that they think (http://features.csmonitor.com/politics/2008/09/08/sarah-palin-unplugged-charlie-gibson-grabs-first-interview/) would give the nation some insight (did she or did she not try to fire a librarian for refusing to censor books?) into the way she perceives the role of government officials.

Some people like to think there are two Americas. If so, then Palin will clearly be used (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/08/uselections2008.sarahpalin) exclusively to campaign to her segment of the nation.


Anonymous said...

Maybe Palin is just home to see her son off to Iraq -- I think that you are in a fever swamp looking for conspiracies where not exist and dirt where none exists.


Anonymous said...

I disagree, Margaret, and I think Gregory makes some very valid - and scary-points. Palin scares the hell out of me. I feel patronized by the Republicans and I don't like it. Did they think a woman would vote for McCain because he chose a woman VP? I would very much like the media to have the opportunity to question her - just like they do everyone else. I'm a 61 year old middle class woman from Indiana (pretty much here target voter) and I ain't buying her. It's business as usual for the GOP; Smoke and mirrors.