An Apology to Senator John McCain
March 1, 2009
Not long ago I received an e-mail from Senator John McCain's re-election committee. I sent the Senator
a response virtually identical to the following:
Dear Senator McCain,
I am sorry to say that I cannot in good conscience support your re-election campaign. I am an unapologetic progressive,
and I confess that I "joined" your presidential campaign website in the later days of the campaign solely to obtain
directly your appeals for funds. Naturally, I found them less than persuasive.
That said, and even though I know that your loyal gatekeepers will never allow this message to reach you, let me explain
in two words why you lost my respect, even though my vote was never yours to lose: Sarah Palin. By choosing her as your
running mate, you utterly disqualified yourself as presidential caliber. Perhaps you rue that decision, but I doubt that
you understand the insult to the American people she represents.
Perhaps the perfect example of this insult is Palin's comment on fruit fly research, made during her October 24 press
conference. She was her natural, perky self -- the "fun Alaska governor" -- as Salon's Kevin Berger noted. After a familiar
swipe at government spending for bridges [to nowhere], she turned to projects that her audience might not know about, and
which they would naturally want thrown overboard when McCain-Palin took the helm of the ship of state:
"And sometimes these dollars go to projects that have
little or nothing to do with the public good, things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not."
She kidded them not. Cute. And incredibly, jaw-droppingly stupid.
Let us imagine the Palin strategists in conference prior to her meeting with the media. They are searching for
those sound bites that will convince her audience that Barack Obama represents the end of civilized America. It's
been an all-nighter, but they have filled Palin's quiver with a number of arrows to shoot at Obama and the
Democrats. They are feeling good.
Just as the group is preparing to leave, an excited young staffer comes in waving a sheet of paper:
"Hey guys!! You have to see this!!" They look up. "Do you know what the government is spending money on?"
"No, ... what?" says Jack, the senior strategist.
"RESEARCH ON FRUIT FLIES -- IN PARIS!!" says the young researcher. He is close to tears at the importance of his
discovery. Jack shrugs and resumes packing his briefcase.
"Hey Jack," says Bob, a Palin speechwriter. "I think we can use this."
"Don't be stupid," Jack says. "Genetic research is the biggest thing going in science today. And, the fruit
fly is probably the most important organism in the entire field."
"But that's not what it's about, Jack. You know that. It's about winning the election," Bob replies.
"You don't win elections by letting your candidate look like a fool," Jack says wearily. He closes his briefcase and
heads for the door. "Don't use it," he says as he closes the door behind him.
Bob makes a face. He is second-in-command, and the other staffers wait for his decision.
"We're going to use it," he says. "Most of the people we're after don't know squat about genetic research —
we can make it sound like 'junk science.' Palin is smart enough not to ask whether fruit fly research has
any real value. Jim, can you put together a sentence or two on this for tomorrow?"
"Sure," says Jim. "My pleasure."
"Jack" was right. The liberal blogosphere and the media had a field day. They pointed out immediately that through
fruit fly research, a potential genetic risk factor for autism had been identified. You know of course, Senator, that autism
is the terrible mental disability that Palin herself has made a personal cause. Shall we imagine that if you had been
elected president, Palin would have advised you against funding further fruit fly research to enlarge on the genetic
insights already gained. Of course not. By that time she would have been educated about the importance of such research,
and would have accepted it. The blogosphere also pointed out that a particular species of fruit fly threatened to decimate
California's multi-million-dollar olive industry.
(Disclaimer: the characters depicted above are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to any real Palin campaign strategist,
living or dead, would be amazing. I gave the Palin campaign the benefit of the doubt by including Jack, a strategist with
a measure of integrity. For all I know, the Palin campaign included no "Jacks," but only "Jims" and "Bobs.")
The standard defense of your choice of Palin, Senator McCain, was that she is bright, a quick learner, and if she became
President, she would be surrounded by savvy advisers who would keep her from doing any real damage. This is at once damming
Palin with faint praise and playing roulette with America's future.
In truth, Senator, you dishonored the electoral process by choosing Palin as your possible successor. Worse, you positioned
her to prevent any real reform in the Republican Party. Instead of running for re-election, why don't you retire and get to
know some of the houses you are unfamiliar with? I'll bet that Cindy would be very happy with that decision.
I sent a copy to Sarah Palin as well.