If I were a donor to the McCain campaign, I’d want my money back. In selecting Sarah Palin as his vice presidential choice, he was clearly negligent, or in the terms this blog uses, has committed malpractice.
The definition of malpractice — and the way most professional malpractice cases are fought in the courtroom — turns on this distinction in language: The plaintiff argues that the professional “departed from customary and usual practice” while the defense argues that the mistake was a “mere error of judgment” and that such errors do not constitute negligence. In other words, if both x and y are viable options and picking x turns out bad, then such error is a non-actionable judgment call.
So did McCain commit political malpractice? Well it sure seems that picking Sarah Palin was the best thing to happen to the Democrats in years, as she helped to drive people away from McCain. And the damage was certainly foreseeable.
Let’s consider the evidence of political malpractice in the V.P. selection:
- A central McCain theme is his many years of experience to contrast him with the youthful Obama. But McCain met Palin only once before picking her as his running mate. Even mid-level corporate employees go through multiple rounds of interviews to make sure they are properly vetted. Obama has turned McCain impulsiveness into his own theme. This wasn’t just a judgment of choosing between Main Street or Broadway to get from Point A to Point B but, perhaps more than anything, akin to backing out of a driveway without looking. (Addendum: From McCain’s own mouth:
…on Oct. 16, McCain praised Palin but went out of his way to point out how little he knew about her before he chose her as his running mate. “I didn’t know her real well,” McCain said. “I knew her reputation. I didn’t know her well at all. I didn’t know her well at all.”
- McCain is 72 years-old and has had multiple bouts of melanoma — the most deadly form of skin cancer. Thus, the experience of his running mate matters more than in most elections in addition to the issue of contrasting him with Obama. But he chose someone whose foreign policy experience is that she can see Russia from a remote Alaskan island, perhaps one of the worst political arguments ever made. Once again, McCain undercut himself.
- One of McCain’s signature issues is fiscal responsibility and curtailing pork barrel spending. He then picks the governor of Alaska, which ranks first on a per capita basis in the pork department. And it is worth noting, a state that leads in pork despite its oil wealth that allows it to send checks to the citizens. Picking a leading Alaskan official undercut the domestic policy position that McCain’s had elevated above all else.
- It is a necessary political reality that primary candidates run to the extremes of their party to win primaries, because this is the base that votes. Primary winners then must pick a centrist candidate for VP to win the undecided middle. McCain violated that cardinal rule by picking someone far off to the right. If the polls are correct, the middle has turned against him, a clearly foreseeable event.
- McCain has long eschewed the politics of personal destruction, and was of course on the receiving end of it from George Bush in the 2000 election. He continued in that vain to win the 2008 primary, to the admiration of many. Then flip-flopped to violate that principle he held dear. At the center of the nastiness? Yep, Sarah Palin.
- Another McCain theme was the “eltism” of Obama. While no one seems to be certain exactly what that means, it is safe to say that “a respectable Republican cloth coat,” as Nixon put it in his Checkers speech, was not elitist. While McCain has trouble with this concept given his $500 loafers and his many houses, it should have made him (and the staff he hires) that much more cautious about spending. Yet once again, undercutting his theme, his V.P. and/or staff spends a fortune in clothes at some of the priciest stores in the country. While the country spirals into recession.
Politics gives people many options. But when a person makes a decision that is not even a viable option then one crosses the line from merely making a bad judgment call, to departing from accepted practices. That’s malpractice.
Those who gave money after the Palin nomination, of course, have no cause to beef. But those who gave their hard-earned money before The Choice have plenty of reason to be screaming if McCain/Palin should lose. They got robbed, pure and simple, by the gross negligence of this selection.
If I were a pre–Palin donor, I’d want my money back.