One of the great sights of American political life — a YouTube moment if ever there was one — was to see the doughboy face of Newt Gingrich as he extolled the virtues of Sarah Palin, a sitcom of a vice-presidential choice and a disaster movie if she moves up to the presidency: "She's the first journalist ever to be nominated, I think, for the president or vice president, and she was a sportscaster on local television," Gingrich said on the Today show. "So she has a lot of interesting background. And she has a lot of experience. Remember that, when people worry about how inexperienced she is, for two years she's been in charge of the Alaska National Guard."
It's a pity Gingrich was not around when the Roman emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known by his nickname Caligula, reputedly named Incitatus as a consul and a priest. Incitatus was his horse.
John McCain's selection of Palin, which I first viewed with horror, could now be seen in a different light. Based on various television interviews and a careful reading of the transcripts, it is possible that this is McCain's attempt to make fools of his fellow Republicans. He has succeeded beyond all expectations.
Gingrich's point about Palin being commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard has been echoed throughout the GOP. In fact, even Cindy McCain pointed out — rightly enough — that Alaska is across the Bering Strait from Russia and so Palin, by deduction, has been on the front lines of the Cold War ... had it not ended in 1989.
Still, you have to admit that in all that time, especially since Palin became governor about two years ago, no Russian invasion force has come across the strait, maybe because she was in charge of the National Guard, maybe because she herself is a hunter and an athlete. The record is unclear, because no high-ranking Russian appeared on any of the weekend talk shows to say how they had considered an invasion of Alaska and then backed off when Sarah Palin became commander in chief of the Alaska National Guard. Who could blame them?
Just to show that he would not ask of others what he would not do himself, McCain went before Fox News' Chris Wallace to sing Palin's praises. He said that he had "watched her record ... for many, many years," which is, a prudent man might say, more years than she's had a record. McCain, as a fellow military man, did not mention Palin's tenure as the supreme commander of the entire Alaska National Guard, maybe because he thought it speaks for itself. If that's the case, he's right.
Probably the most depressing thing about Palin is not her selection but the defense of it. It has produced a parade of GOP spokesmen intent on spiking the needle on a polygraph. Looking right into the camera, they offer statement after statement that they hope the voters will swallow but that history will forget. The sum effect on the diligent news consumer is a feeling of consummate contempt for the intelligence of the American people — a contempt that will be justified should Palin be the factor that makes McCain a winner in November.
One of the more heroic efforts at Palin worship came from the commentator-columnist William Kristol, the former chief of staff for Vice President Dan Quayle. He had to use the code word "traditional" three times in a single sentence to make his point: "It's a pretty amazing story of personal success, being at once a traditional woman who broke all of these traditional barriers, kind of the best of both worlds, if you believe in traditional values."
About the only Republican who seemed totally sincere about Palin was Grover G. Norquist, an anti-tax obsessive who once likened the argument that the estate tax affected only a very few people to the argument — made by no one I can think of — that the Holocaust also affected a relatively few people. "I mean, that's the morality of the Holocaust," he said only five years ago. Norquist called the selection of the anti-tax Palin a "wise" choice.
In 1959, novelist Terry Southern published The Magic Christian, a darkly comic tale based on the premise that people will do anything for money. The choice of Palin proves that people will also do anything for political power — including rising early on a holiday weekend to make fools of themselves.
Richard Cohen writes for the Washington Post Writers Group.