DUSTY RHOADES: McCainiacs Play 'Bristol Card' To Place Issues Off-Limits
Recently, a letter to this paper gave me "credit," however grudgingly, regarding my column on VP candidate Sarah Palin. I got credit for "not going sexist or slamming her family." But the next sentence was rather revealing: "I really was expecting that, so I'm very disappointed."
Oh, Dear Reader, I'm sure you were. Because if there's one thing the Right really loves, it's a good foaming-at-the-mouth fit of righteous indignation. And the brouhaha over 17-year-old Bristol Palin's pregnancy has generated plenty of that.
In fact, I've been thinking that the McCain campaign needs to change its slogan from "Country First" to "How DARE You!" It'd be much more in tune with whatever passes for a message these days from the McCainiacs.
But here's the thing: If, as he claims, John McCain Who Was a POW (or, as I call him for brevity's sake, JMWWAPOW) knew about Bristol's pregnancy before he picked her mom for the veep spot, then he knew it was going to draw attention. He knew this 17-year-old was going to be a story. And it's his campaign that's been milking it for all it's worth.
Barack Obama, for his part, took the high road.
"I have said before and I will repeat again," he said. "People's families are off limits. And people's children are especially off-limits. This shouldn't be part of politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin's performance as a governor and/or her potential performance as a vice president."
Which was of course, absolutely right. There's plenty of ammunition to use on the Newest Biggest Celebrity in the World. Like her continuing and shameless repetition of the lie that she "told Washington 'no thanks' to that Bridge to Nowhere." In fact, as numerous news sources have reported, she was all for it -- before she was against it.
Or the fact that Palin, who now campaigns against federal earmarks, once hired indicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' former chief of staff as a lobbyist in Washington to bring some of that federal pork back to the little town of Wasilla, where she was mayor. Or the fact that Palin, supposedly a fiscal conservative, left that tiny city $20 million in debt when she departed the office.
Not that it made any difference, and not that anyone will get to ask the governor about those things. As McCain campaign manager Rick Davis was quoted as saying after the convention, "This election is not about issues," and boy, are they ever running as fast as they can from the issues.
The McCain campaign people have been using their indignation that anyone dared to notice the press release they themselves sent out as not only a club to beat the Obama campaign over the head, but as a shield from even legitimate questions from the few members of the press corps who still regard it as part of the job to do more than take down every ridiculous thing that comes out of the mouth of the Republican mouthpiece du jour.
When asked by Time magazine's Jay Carney about the campaign's unwillingness to have Palin talk to the press, McCain spokesman Nicole Wallace jeered openly at the idea: "To you? Who cares?" She then trotted the Bristol Palin coverage out for the purpose of changing the subject: "The media did something to this family that I've never seen before in my life! And she [Palin] took the stage and made her own points!"
Translation: "You invaded the family's privacy by reporting what we told you, so America only gets to hear what we want them to hear! Nyaah!"
Another McCain supporter whom I heard on the radio went absolutely ballistic over a caller's question about whether Palin had tried to censor books in Wasilla's public library (an attempt which, by the way, was later confirmed by an ABC News investigation).
"I'm not going to dignify that with an answer," she huffed, before taking off on an angry diatribe about the "media frenzy of the last few days." Basically, Bristol Palin has become a human shield for the McCain campaign. I've come to call it "playing the Bristol Card."
No, I don't slam Bristol Palin. And I don't blame Sarah Palin for her pregnancy. Things like this happen, even in conservative Christian families, and it's not always a sign of bad parenting.
I do, however, blame JMWWAPOW. I've actually written quite complimentary things about him in the past. You can look it up. But that was before he dangled that kid as bait, so his supporters could then cry pious crocodile tears about "awful liberals and their awful media" and then use that to hide behind when people brought up Gov. Palin's real problems as a candidate.
Because if there's one tactic the Republicans have learned over the past few years, it's this: "If you can't win on an issue, make discussion of that issue off-limits." Now, it seems, even legitimate questions are off-limits -- so long as they can play the Bristol Card.
Dusty Rhoades lives, writes, and practices law in Carthage. His fourth novel, "Breaking Cover" is available now.
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