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Country First

“The campaign we raged”

John McCain is a United States senator. In the past he was a candidate for president. He prides himself on having survived some five years in a North Vietnamese prison and on his foreign policy expertise. He is an honorable man and never lets us forget it. He agreed to talk with Matt Lauer of the Today Show [1] this morning, knowing there would be questions about revelations in the hot new book Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime [2], but he does not want to talk about the process by which he, or his campaign, selected then-Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Too bad. McCain still has a lot to answer for, and always will, even postmortem.

When Lauer asked whether it’s “a fair assessment” that the McCain campaign relied on “vetting so hasty and haphazard it barely merited the name,” the senator smilingly dismissed the question. “I wouldn’t know,” he said. “The fact is that I’m proud of Sarah Palin, I’m proud of the campaign we raged, waged . . .” He tried to change the subject to three young soldiers who recently died. When Lauer pressed on, McCain, still smiling his forced smile, insisted, “Look, I wouldn’t know what the sources are, nor care. I am not gonna spend time looking back over what happened over a year ago when we’ve got two wars to fight . . .” It happened over a year ago, so he’s no longer accountable for having chosen a running mate who believed Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks, who didn’t know what the Federal Reserve does, or why Korea is divided into North and South, and before her V.P. debate had to be prepped on World War I, World War II . . . ? (She should fit right in at Fox News.)

“I wouldn’t know . . . nor care.”

John McCain may be only referring to not knowing the sources of the quotation in the book, but the impression he gives is that he doesn’t give a damn anymore about how his running mate was selected, with or without regard for her lack of qualifications. (Game Change authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann told Anderson Cooper about McCain’s last-minute selection of Palin [3] on 60 Minutes.)

After Palin was introduced at the Republican national convention, once we caught our breath, we wrote an assessment we still stand by (“Palin’ by Comparison: Miss Wasilla, a Heartbeat Away [4]”):

We already knew John McCain was not serious about governing, but his choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin [5] as his running mate tells us he is not even serious about winning. . . . Voters should be appalled. When the nation faces a housing crisis, massive and persistent employment losses, two costly and endless wars, fragmenting infrastructure, and fears of possible financial meltdown, this is not rational behavior, and this is not presidential judgment. This is cynical opportunism, a reckless disregard for the consequences.

AP Photo/Stephan Savoia

AP Photo/Stephan Savoia

McCain refuses to acknowledge his recklessness. As Palin’s star rises and his dims, his legacy will be forever tarnished, darkening, more thickly encrusted with dishonor, shame, that he, a 72-year-old survivor of cancer whose years were surely shortened by torture and the privations of wartime prison, put his country, his beloved homeland, in the position of being governed by someone as unprepared for high office as Sarah Palin. He still doesn’t get it—or maybe he does, but he cannot bear to acknowledge what he was willing to inflict on America so that he might sit in the Oval Office. And for the next two months he continued to campaign under banners boldly proclaiming “Country First.” And now he doesn’t want to talk about it, so can we move on?

Click here [6] for further “Revelations from the Campaign” on 60 Minutes.

Michiko Kakutani reviews [7]Game Change [7] (New York Times).

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