McCain and his fellow clowns make election a circus

If John McCain is capable of opportunistically recruiting Sarah Palin as his deputy, what will he do next?

Partners in crime: the Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Senator John McCain have been under fire for opportunistic flip-flopping.
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President Palin. Say it. President Palin. Now run for your life. Not just because a two-term governor of the great welfare state of Alaska could by some awful twist of fate become president after Nov 4. It is not Sarah Palin's fault that she could soon be a heart failure away from the Oval Office. That responsibility lies with Republican presidential nominee John McCain and the creepy clowns who have turned the world's oldest political party into a harmonic convergence for circus people. If Mr McCain is willing to recruit a virulent pro-lifer like Ms Palin as his running mate simply to woo the Christian right, which thanks to President George W Bush is firmly in control of the Republican rudder, what's next?

Much has been written about the McCain team's sieve-like vetting of Ms Palin; it is time someone vetted Mr McCain. The question is, which one? The John McCain who opposed Mr Bush's tax cuts as reckless in a time of historic deficits, or the one who now supports them? The McCain who opposes a moratorium on offshore oil drilling after spending years fighting what he called "special interests in Washington" who wanted the ban lifted? The Arizona senator who co-wrote progressive immigration legislation before knuckling under to the Republican Party's nativist wing, leaving it to Ted Kennedy to promote a bill that even Mr Bush supported? (The bill died on the Senate floor.)

The former prisoner of war who fought to bar cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of American-held detainees until he decided that torture is OK, as long as the CIA does it? The vigilant hawk who says Islamist extremism is an existential threat to America, or the presidential contender who tapped as a running mate a woman whose overseas experience ends at the Bering Strait? (Ms Palin has, however, already vowed to "expand and deepen" US support for Israel, but since when did that have anything to do with international affairs?)

In his unseemly lunge for the presidency, McCain has rotated on so many key issues that he may as well be rotated from speech to speech on a lazy Susan. To be fair, his Democratic opponent has had his share of flip-flops; Barack Obama opposed Mr Bush's plan for warrantless surveillance of US citizens before voting for a bill that would allow just that. He has backed off suggestions that he will amend US trade agreements if elected, just as he watered down his promise to remove all US troops from Iraq.

The difference is that while Mr Obama's policy shifts have, for better or worse, located him closer to the middle of the political spectrum, Mr McCain has tacked forcefully and belligerently to the right. The so-called policy maverick who once defied the shallower end of the Republican gene pool now panders to its most anti-intellectual, parochial instincts. His party's pledges to outlaw abortion and ban gay marriage would grossly expand the intrusive power of a federal government that has already achieved imperial proportions under Mr Bush.

Historians may note Mr McCain's choice of running mate as the consecration of the Republicans' shift from the party of small government to the party of God, guns and human embryos. The conservative movement is morphing into a cult. Mr McCain's recruitment of Ms Palin also sheds his image as a battler against budget-busting excess. For years, the Arizona senator has laboured to reduce provisions, or "earmarks" slipped into budget bills that allow lawmakers to fund pet projects. The master of this sleight of hand was Alaskan senator Ted Stevens, who rolled up billions of dollars in sweetheart deals for his home state until he was indicted on corruption charges several weeks ago.

As it turns out, Ms Palin is no slouch herself. As the mayor of Wasilla, she raised US$27 million (Dh99m) in earmarks for a town with only 10,000 people and kept on the municipal payroll a Washington-based lobbying group to deliver the goods. Once elected governor, Ms Palin dumped the lobbyists and leaned instead on Mr Stevens. This year alone, she submitted the now-disgraced senator a laundry list for earmarks with a statewide, per capita value of $300, compared with the national average of $34, according to Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington-based watchdog group.

Governor Palin takes credit for cancelling the famous "bridge to nowhere," a $400m boondoggle closely associated with Mr Stevens, but she omits the fact that she kept the money to spend on other projects. Mr McCain, who for a time represented the Republican Party's last best hope for responsible and minimalist governance, now campaigns as a parody of a vote-grubbing politician. He may win an election, but at mortal cost to his once grand party.