Has Palin Out-Qualyed Quayle?
Dan Qualye was, rather unfairly in my view, a national joke. From very shortly after George H.W. Bush picked a rising star senator from Indiana that few outside his home state had ever heard of to be his vice presidential running mate in 1988, Quayle became the butt of late night comics, “Saturday Night Live,” and other culture-setting institutions and became generally thought of as a not-ready-for-prime-time nincompoop. People are still recycling the “you’re no Jack Kennedy” zinger that Lloyd Bentsen uncorked in the debates and the man’s supposed inability to spell potato is infamous if untrue.
But here’s the thing: It really didn’t matter. Bush-Quayle won in a landslide over Dukakis-Bentsen and, while they lost to Clinton-Gore in 1992, it had nothing to do with Quayle.
Sarah Palin appears to be this year’s Dan Quayle but with a twist. She was instantly lampooned, including by McCain supporters such as myself, but then quickly made a huge splash with her acceptance speech at the Republican convention. For a brief, shining moment, it became a Palin-McCain ticket. She was tremendously popular and it looked like McCain had connected on his Hail Mary pass.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, though, and the pick is looking like a disaster. She has embarrassed herself with poor performances in media interviews and she’s apparently lost even the Republican commentariat. In addition to be lampooned two weeks in a row on the “Saturday Night Live” opening skit, she’s the butt of cruel jokes from late-night comics. Andrew Sullivan passes on a particularly clever line from Jimmy Kimmel:
John McCain showed up without running mate Sarah Palin, which is a shame because she actually has a lot of experience with financial matters. You know, she lives right next to a bank.
Fareed Zakaria has delivered this brutal assessment:
Can we now admit the obvious? Sarah Palin is utterly unqualified to be vice president. She is a feisty, charismatic politician who has done some good things in Alaska. But she has never spent a day thinking about any important national or international issue, and this is a hell of a time to start.
As Kevin Drum observes, “it’s definitely a sign that Palin’s jig may be up.”
Zakaria frequently writes astutely, but he’s something of an establishment weathervane, reluctant to state firm opinions unless he’s got plenty of company. So if he’s willing to say flatly that Palin is “utterly unqualified,” it suggests that the center-right establishment pretty unanimously agrees about this. I don’t know for sure that this will have a noticeable effect on the campaign, but when you add it to the growing list of conservatives who have taken similar stands (George Will, David Frum, Rod Dreher, Kathleen Parker, Ross Douthat, David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer), it suggests that dismay over Palin may be reaching critical mass.
Indeed. The only good news for McCain-Palin is that the expectations are now absurdly low. Palin can “win” Thursday night’s debate with Joe Biden simply by coming across as something other than an absolute moron. I’m not at all confident at this juncture, however, that she can clear that hurdle.