By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Add this to the Republicans' lessons learned in 2008: One man's maverick is another man's diva.
John McCain thought he was being clever picking a fellow maverick to be his running mate. The problem with mavericks, however, is that they don't follow instructions. Pretty soon they go rogue and before you know it you've got a full-fledged diva on your hands.
When Sarah Palin, looking sharp in a black suit that could have come from Neiman Marcus, took the stage at a campaign rally in Leesburg yesterday, it didn't take long for roguish elements to creep into her speech.
She was introduced by a construction company owner, Tito Munoz, whose name is common among Hispanics but not to the governor of Alaska. "I'll tell you, Tito," Palin said, "not since the Jackson Five has the name Tito been used so often."
The Diva then introduced the Dude. "Someone I'd like you to meet, and that is my husband, Alaska's 'first dude,' Todd Palin," she said. When the crowd answered with chants of "Duuuuude! Duuuuude!" she added: "It's about time we had a dude in the White House."
The Diva proceeded to list some people whose money the Democrats would take away along with Joe the Plumber's: "Doug the Barber and Christine the Florist, and Cindy the Citizen. We've got Joe the Plumber's Son, Jack the Hunter, Vickie the Realtor. One of my favorites last night, it was 'I am Joe Mama.' " The crowd delighted in the way the former Miss Wasilla said "Joe Mama" in urban dialect. For the record, a search of the White House speech archive indicates that neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney has used the phrase "Joe Mama" over the past eight years. It was more evidence that Palin will, for better or worse, make good on her promise to bring change to Washington.
Of course, the prospect of Palin coming to Washington in January seems increasingly academic; a Washington Post poll out Monday showed the Republicans trailing by eight points in Virginia, the latest in a catalogue of woes for McCain's ticket. Assessing the wreckage, McCain advisers are piqued that Palin has out-mavericked the original maverick. She has broken with her boss on such disparate topics as Jeremiah Wright, Michigan, economic stimulus and, most recently, her $150,000 clothing allowance. Over the weekend, one McCain adviser said Palin is "going rogue."
"She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," a McCain adviser told CNN. "She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party."
The bit about her family can't be right. Seven-year-old Piper Palin shows every indication she trusts her mom. But the adviser has justification in believing that Palin and her supporters see her emerging as the party's leader.
"Sarah Oh-Twelve!" bellowed a man in field coat and jeans, one of several thousand at the Leesburg rally, when Palin spoke about her tax policies yesterday.
The oh-twelve message, if mathematically flawed, seemed to capture the crowd's sentiment. There were "I [Heart] Palin" bumper stickers on cars, "Team Sarah" T-shirts in pink, "Sarah!" pins and countless signs: "You Go Girl." "You're in Palin Country." "Maverick Barracuda." One of the souvenir vendors said his most popular offering was a pin showing Palin next to a pit bull and the usual "McCain-Palin" logo reversed, with her name first and in larger letters.
This was the hard right of the party, the people who have stickers on their car announcing "Caution: Unsocialized Homeschoolers on Board," and who carry signs announcing: "Stop Socialism, Stop Infanticide, Stop Obama." They were an energetic bunch even before Palin arrived on a cold and windy hilltop in a park off Leesburg Pike, but they got even more so when Munoz and his wife came out in costumes that looked more Village People than construction site: orange vests, dark sunglasses despite the cloudy day, and yellow hard hats plastered with McCain stickers.
Palin made an attempt to limit her rogueishness. Ten times she used the phrase "John and I," and she mentioned her running mate by name 18 more times. But the adoration of the diva in Leesburg is the sort of reception the man who picked her rarely gets from a Republican crowd.
They turned Palin's speech to an extended call-and-response routine. When Palin praised Virginians' patriotism, they chanted "USA!" When she mentioned Joe the Plumber, they chanted "I am Joe!" When she spoke of energy policy, they chanted "Drill, baby, drill!" When she singled out a member of the audience, they chanted "Bless your heart!" When she invoked Obama, they chanted "No-bama!" and then "Use your brain! Vote McCain."
"You betcha," Palin agreed.
The diva made sure to spend some time on her "own track record" in Alaska, particularly all the taxes she cut. "Sarah! Sarah!" the crowd chanted.
"So, Virginia, will you hire us?" she asked. "Will you send us to Washington?"
"Yes, we will! Yes, we will!"
In 2012, that is.