Imagine this scenario: You're a Republican governor. You have fun hobbies like hunting and running, a loving husband and a wonderful set of kids. You've got a reputation for integrity. Life is great for you. One day, you get the call: Sen. John McCain wants you to be his vice presidential nominee. Since you don't know what the vice president does, as you admitted on CNBC about a month ago, you accept the position without thought.
Then, everything goes to hell.
Suddenly, there's no escape from the snapping maws of a shiver of media sharks. You're stuck aboard McCain's sinking ship of a botched presidential campaign. The murky water of national politics threatens to drown you, destroying you forever or at least ruining your life.
If the above description matches you, then I'm flattered you're reading my column, Gov. Sarah Palin.
In case you're not the unlucky governor, here is a short list of facts which the media, the National Enquirer and a few Internet detectives have unearthed about Palin in just a few days.
Her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant and is marrying the father, Levi Johnston, a sterling youngster who describes himself on his MySpace as "a fuckin' redneck" and claims "ya fuck with me I'll kick ass (sic)."
How about Palin's political past? Well, it gets worse.
Purging large numbers of city officials who "didn't support her" as mayor of Wasilla, an Alaska town with a population of 9,000. Attempting to ban books, then attempting to fire the librarian who told her "no." Lunatic far-right beliefs on abortion, gay marriage, global warming, sex education and creationism. Belief that God endorses the war in Iraq and gas piping in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve. Ties to anti-Semitic preacher David Brickner and to an Alaskan secessionist party. Support (yes, support!) for Ted Stevens' infamous "bridges to nowhere." Seeking millions of dollars in pork barrel projects. Firing the state police chief for personal reasons. Ignorance of the economy, foreign affairs and American history. Upping spending in Wasilla on worthless projects and leaving the town $22 million in debt (so much for fiscal conservatism).
A handful of people dug up all this dirt in a few days. McCain's campaign either didn't find any of it -- certainly a possibility, given that they had only talked to Palin a few times -- or knew about it and willingly dragged her into the national spotlight.
And for what? The hope that this cryptic anti-feminist would snare a few Hillary votes? To shock people? To downplay McCain's complete failure to run a clean or competent campaign?
McCain knew that Palin would be taken into an environment where horrible smears are par for the course. He knew about the claims that Obama is a stealth Muslim or the Antichrist, as well as claims that McCain himself is a Vietcong sleeper-cell agent. The Internet smear machine now claims that Palin's son, Trig, was actually her daughter Bristol's child, and that Palin feigned pregnancy to cover for her daughter. In one particularly evil retelling of the story, the baby was conceived by incest and Trig's Down syndrome was punishment from God.
The worst part is that Palin's haunting past is not especially terrible for a governor. Most politicians have done their share of unscrupulous things. It is the fact that they aren't suddenly thrust into the national spotlight that prevents them from becoming national laughingstocks.
If McCain had done the right thing by picking a boring VP, like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, Palin could have served the rest of her term as a well-liked governor, run for reelection and had a fulfilling career away from the prying eyes of thenation. Her children, including her pregnant daughter and disabled son, could have grown up free from national scrutiny. Neither Romney nor Pawlenty would have been annihilated by an onslaught of sudden coverage.
Best of all, Palin wouldn't have had her good name tarnished forever by giving a slander-filled speech at the Republican National Convention like the one she gave Wednesday night, and McCain could have taken his loss like a man.
But that was too much for McCain, who felt the need to drag Palin into the depths with him. The Palin pick offers McCain no significant strategic advantage, although it has taken the media spotlight off of Obama at Palin's expense.
It seems unlikely that malice or callousness was the true motivation behind McCain's pick. Ignorance is more likely. But given the sheer desperation of the McCain campaign, no explanation can truly be ruled out. Misery loves company, and misery loves Palin, too.