October 19, 2008

TALENT SPOTTING:

The Insiders: How John McCain came to pick Sarah Palin (Jane Mayer, 10/27/08, The New Yorker)

In February, 2007, Adam Brickley gave himself a mission: he began searching for a running mate for McCain who could halt the momentum of the Democrats. Brickley, a self-described “obsessive” political junkie who recently graduated from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, told me that he began by “randomly searching Wikipedia and election sites for Republican women.” Though he generally opposes affirmative action, gender drove his choice. “People were talking about Hillary at the time,” he recalled. Brickley said that he “puzzled over every Republican female politician I knew.” Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas, “waffled on social issues”; Senator Olympia Snowe, of Maine, was too moderate. He was running out of options, he recalled, when he said to himself, “What about that lady who just got elected in Alaska?” Online research revealed that she had a strong grassroots following; as Brickley put it, “I hate to use the words ‘cult of personality,’ but she reminded me of Obama.”

Brickley registered a Web site—palinforvp.blogspot.com—which began getting attention in the conservative blogosphere. In the month before Palin was picked by McCain, Brickley said, his Web site was receiving about three thousand hits a day. Support for Palin had spread from one right-of-center Internet site to the next. First, the popular conservative blogger InstaPundit mentioned Brickley’s campaign. Then a site called the American Scene said that Palin was “very appealing”; another, Stop the A.C.L.U., described her as “a great choice.” The traditional conservative media soon got in on the act: The American Spectator embraced Palin, and Rush Limbaugh, the radio host, praised her as “a babe.”

Brickley’s family, once evangelical Christians, now practice what he calls “Messianic Judaism.” They believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but they also observe the Jewish holidays and attend synagogue; as Brickley puts it, “Jesus was Jewish, so to be like Him you need to be Jewish, too.” Brickley said that “the hand of God” played a role in choosing Palin: “The longer I worked on it the less I felt I was driving it. Something else was at work.”

Brickley is an authentic heartland voice, but he is also the product of an effort by wealthy conservative organizations in Washington to train activists. He has attended several workshops sponsored by the Leadership Institute, a group based in the Washington area and founded in 1979 by the Christian conservative activist Morton Blackwell. “I’m building a movement,” Blackwell told me. Brickley also participated in a leadership summit held by Young America’s Foundation (motto: “The Conservative Movement Starts Here”) and was an intern at the Heritage Foundation. He currently lives in a dormitory, on Capitol Hill, run by the Heritage Foundation, and is an intern with townhall.com, a top conservative Web site.

While Brickley and others were spreading the word about Palin on the Internet, Palin was wooing a number of well-connected Washington conservative thinkers. In a stroke of luck, Palin did not have to go to the capital to meet these members of “the permanent political establishment”; they came to Alaska. Shortly after taking office, Palin received two memos from Paulette Simpson, the Alaska Federation of Republican Women leader, noting that two prominent conservative magazines—The Weekly Standard, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and National Review, founded by William F. Buckley, Jr.—were planning luxury cruises to Alaska in the summer of 2007, which would make stops in Juneau. Writers and editors from these publications had been enlisted to deliver lectures to politically minded vacationers. “The Governor was more than happy to meet these guys,” Joe Balash, a special staff assistant to Palin, recalled.

On June 18, 2007, the first group disembarked in Juneau from the Holland America Line’s M.S. Oosterdam, and went to the governor’s mansion, a white wooden Colonial house with six two-story columns, for lunch. The contingent featured three of The Weekly Standard ’s top writers: William Kristol, the magazine’s Washington-based editor, who is also an Op-Ed columnist for the Times and a regular commentator on “Fox News Sunday”; Fred Barnes, the magazine’s executive editor and the co-host of “The Beltway Boys,” a political talk show on Fox News; and Michael Gerson, the former chief speechwriter for President Bush and a Washington Post columnist.

By all accounts, the luncheon was a high-spirited, informal occasion. Kristol brought his wife and daughter; Gerson brought his wife and two children. Barnes, who brought his sister and his wife, sat on one side of Governor Palin, who presided at the head of the long table in the mansion’s formal dining room; the Kristols sat on the other. Gerson was at the opposite end, as was Palin’s chief of staff at the time, Mike Tibbles, who is now working for Senator Stevens’s reëlection campaign. The menu featured halibut cheeks—the choicest part of the fish. Before the meal, Palin delivered a lengthy grace. Simpson, who was at the luncheon, said, “I told a girlfriend afterwards, ‘That was some grace!’ It really set the tone.” Joe Balash, Palin’s assistant, who was also present, said, “There are not many politicians who will say grace with the conviction of faith she has. It’s a daily part of her life.”

Palin was joined by her lieutenant governor and by Alaska’s attorney general. Also present was a local woman involved in upholding the Juneau school system’s right to suspend a student who had displayed a satirical banner—“Bong Hits 4 Jesus”—across the street from his school. The student had sued the school district, on First Amendment grounds, and, at the time of the lunch, the case was before the Supreme Court. (The school district won.)

During the lunch, everyone was charmed when the Governor’s small daughter Piper popped in to inquire about dessert. Fred Barnes recalled being “struck by how smart Palin was, and how unusually confident. Maybe because she had been a beauty queen, and a star athlete, and succeeded at almost everything she had done.” It didn’t escape his notice, too, that she was “exceptionally pretty.”

According to a former Alaska official who attended the lunch, the visitors wanted to do something “touristy,” so a “flight-seeing” trip was arranged. Their destination was a gold mine in Berners Bay, some forty-five miles north of Juneau. For Palin and several staff members, the state leased two helicopters from a private company, Coastal, for two and a half hours, at a cost of four thousand dollars. (The pundits paid for their own aircraft.) Palin explained that environmentalists had invoked the Clean Water Act to oppose a plan by a mining company, Coeur Alaska, to dump waste from the extraction of gold into a pristine lake in the Tongass National Forest. Palin rejected the environmentalists’ claims. (The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Coeur Alaska, and the dispute is now before the Supreme Court.) Barnes was dazzled by Palin’s handling of the hundred or so mineworkers who gathered to meet the group. “She clearly was not intimidated by crowds—or men!” he said. “She’s got real star quality.”

By the time the Weekly Standard pundits returned to the cruise ship, Paulette Simpson said, “they were very enamored of her.” In July, 2007, Barnes wrote the first major national article spotlighting Palin, titled “The Most Popular Governor,” for The Weekly Standard. Simpson said, “That first article was the result of having lunch.” Bitney agreed: “I don’t think she realized the significance until after it was all over. It got the ball rolling.”

The other journalists who met Palin offered similarly effusive praise: Michael Gerson called her “a mix between Annie Oakley and Joan of Arc.” The most ardent promoter, however, was Kristol, and his enthusiasm became the talk of Alaska’s political circles. According to Simpson, Senator Stevens told her that “Kristol was really pushing Palin” in Washington before McCain picked her. Indeed, as early as June 29th, two months before McCain chose her, Kristol predicted on “Fox News Sunday” that “McCain’s going to put Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, on the ticket.” He described her as “fantastic,” saying that she could go one-on-one against Obama in basketball, and possibly siphon off Hillary Clinton’s supporters. He pointed out that she was a “mother of five” and a reformer. “Go for the gold here with Sarah Palin,” he said. The moderator, Chris Wallace, finally had to ask Kristol, “Can we please get off Sarah Palin?”


The theocons get it.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Posted by Orrin Judd at October 19, 2008 8:43 AM
blog comments powered by Disqus
« CONFUSION TO THE ENEMY: | Main | JUST BECAUSE YOU MISUNDERSTOOD JAPAN THEN IS NO REASON TO MISAPPREHEND AMERICA NOW: »