I’m starting to feel sorry for John McCain.
Now it turns out that Sarah Palin was one of Pat Buchanan’s “Pitchfork Brigade” in 1996. We have that from no less an authority than … Pat Buchanan. [Or maybe not. See update] No doubt McCain didn’t know this, any more than he knew any of the things he should have known about Palin. But the Jews in Florida are certainly going to know it. And Buchanan is, I think, the one white man in the country in the Al Sharpton league when it comes to scaring the crap out of elderly Jews.
Now I don’t believe for a second that Buchanan’s anti-Israel, pro-Nazi, and somewhat anti-Semitic leanings — mostly leftovers from his years working the “nationalities” (i.e., Eastern European ethnics) desk for the RNC and the Nixon campaigns, but now part of his “America First”/anti-imperialist shtick — were what attracted Sarah Palin to Buchanan’s cause. She’s much more likely to have signed on for his right-wing populism and culture war stuff, and for all I knew had no idea about the rest of it.
But that’s not a defense she’s really in a position to offer, is it? As a slogan, “Put me a heartbeat from the Presidency because I really don’t know much about politics” lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. And for McCain, “Vote for me because I had no idea what my Vice-Presidential candidate had been up to” is no better.
Obama has been doing fine among Jews; his “Jewish problem” is mostly mythical. But it’s easy to believe (I’m not sure there’s any polling on it) that he has an alte kacher / bubbemeinse problem: elderly Jews, like their age-mates of other ethnicities, may find him too young and too different, and “he’s not sound on Israel” can easily be the form in which that discomfort expresses itself.
But since Obama is in fact boringly “sound” on Israel, being able to tie the other side to Pat Buchanan could help, and, like chicken soup, it couldn’t hurt.
All of this is a little bit unfair to McCain; he and Buchanan are pretty much at daggers drawn, neocon v. paleocon, and if there’s anything tying McCain to personal anti-Semitism (as opposed to his lousy taste in wingnut preachers) I’ve never heard of it. So he’s being hit, in a sense, with double guilt-by-association.
But that just reinforces the main point, which is that McCain, faced with the one governing decision every Presidential candidate must make before his election, made an impulsive, under-staffed, reckless, juvenile, un-Presidential, and just plain dumb choice of a person with many sterling qualities, none of them really relevant to being leader of the Free World.
Update Apparently Palin wrote a letter to the editor shortly after the picture of her with a Buchanan button appeared, explaining that she wore the button merely as a courtesy. She was actually affiliated with the Forbes campaign that cycle. And Bay Buchanan, Pat’s sister and campaign manager, told Ben Smith that Palin’s appearance at that fundraiser was her only connection with the campaign.
Now I’ve never heard of someone sporting a campaign button just as a welcoming gesture; in my experience, wearing the button means backing the candidate. But I can accept that Alaskan customs might differ in this regard. Even then, someone who actually understood what Buchanan stood for might have been expected to make an exception in his case. As I said above, it’s quite likely that Palin didn’t know enough about Buchanan to identify him with anti-Semitism, so his anti-Semitism isn’t reasonably chargeable to her. But it was still a shocking bit of bad judgment, and somehow I doubt that if there were a picture of Joe Biden wearing a “Sharpton for President” button David Bernstein would accept the explanation that he wants us to accept from Palin.