The Return of the Mayberry Machiavellis

| Mon Sep. 1, 2008 11:32 AM EDT

THE RETURN OF THE MAYBERRY MACHIAVELLIS....Marc Ambinder reports this morning about the vetting — or, rather, lack of vetting — that John McCain and his team carried out on Sarah Palin before announcing her to the world on Friday. Despite the fact that legions of bloggers figured this stuff out within 48 hours, apparently they didn't know that Palin had actually supported, not opposed, the Bridge to Nowhere; that the true scope of the "Troopergate" scandal she's enmeshed in is a wee bit larger than she fessed up to; that she raised taxes and public debt substantially as mayor of Wasilla; that she supported a windfall profits tax on oil companies as governor of Alaska; and that she's skeptical about human contributions to global warming. McCain's team talked to very few people in Alaska who knew Palin, didn't do much (any?) archival research on her, and McCain himself had barely even met her before he offered her the job.

So why did she get the nod? Hard to say. George Bush met with Vladimir Putin for a couple of hours back in 2001 and immediately announced that "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul." McCain, likewise, after campaigning with Sarah Palin for a few hours on Saturday, went on TV the next day to announce, "She's a partner and a soulmate."

So sure: this is vintage McCain at work. His choice of Palin was naive, cynical, reckless, and impulsive. But what about his staff? Why did they go along?

Well, in case you've ever wondered what John DiIulio meant when he described the Bush White House as "the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis," I think this is it. DiIulio was talking about an executive staff that cared almost nothing for substantive policy, and was instead obsessed with junior high school levels of political cleverness. How will this play with the base? How will it put Democrats into a corner? How can we twist the real intent of legislation so that nobody knows what's really going on? What are the political angles? What congressional districts will this put in play?

I'd guess that the same thing is going on here. You can almost hear the McCain staff cackling in the background, can't you? Palin will draw off disaffected Hillary supporters! Her Down syndrome baby will totally sucker the base into falling in love with McCain! Joe Biden is going to have to walk on eggshells to avoid looking like a bully during the vice presidential debate! If anyone even remotely close to the Obama campaign says anything we can even remotely pretend is sexist, we'll trumpet it to the skies and the press will eat it up! Sure, maybe Palin isn't prepared for the actual job itself, but just look at the box it puts Democrats in! Politically it's genius!

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