"What is wrong with these people?" was the nigh-upon-universal reaction among conservatives at the GOP convention this week. Liberal reporters inquired of conservative journalists, Republican delegates, right-leaning janitors, free-market short-order cooks, even the guys walking around in elephant suits: Will Sarah Palin drop out? What about the Eagleton Option?
For those who don't know, the Eagleton Option refers to Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern's first VP pick in 1972, who was forced to withdraw because allegations of mental illness.
A hybrid of myth and deceit peddled by the chattering bandersnatches of the Democratic Party's backup communications offices at MSNBC and other press-release transmission belts of the Obama campaign, the whole pseudo-story was surely the brightest flare in the bonfire of asininity in St. Paul this week.
Of course, it was hardly the only journalistic will-o'-the-wisp unleashed from the media bog. The claim that Palin was a Buchananite - and hence an acolyte of a "Nazi sympathizer" according to Florida Rep. Robert Wexler - was not true. The claims she cut funding for pregnant teens, that she was a member of the more-goofy-than-scary Alaska Independence Party, that Trig Palin - her special-needs baby - was really her daughter's: these were all bogus. As for the even more disgusting smears peddled at the Daily Kos and one blogger at The Atlantic - smears that drove much of the prurient investigation into the Palin family's privacy by more reputable sources - they were as untrue as they were repugnant.
But it was the Eagleton canard that spoke volumes. First, just as a matter of reportorial fact, as opposed to Keith Olbermann clicking his ruby-red slippers and wishing it were so, the idea that the rank and file of the GOP wanted her gone before her speech was distilled nonsense. Now, it's plain hilarious.
In the wake of Palin's performance Wednesday night, there's vastly more support among conservatives for flipping the McCain-Palin ticket to the Palin-McCain ticket. Send McCain to attend the funerals and cut the ribbons! Put the lipsticked pit bull at the lead of the Alaskanized GOP sled!
One good barometer of conservative support: Rush Limbaugh, who is rumored to kick his cat across the room in rage when he hears the name "McCain," now calls the Arizona senator "John McGenius."
For good or ill, going forward, Palin is easily the most popular Republican in the country, at least among people inclined to vote for the GOP. That may not last, of course (she has many trials ahead), but the instant decision of Beltway blowhards to push the Palin-as-liability fable says a lot about how little they understand much of the American electorate.
One partial explanation for the feeding frenzy is the bowel-stewing fear among an Obamaphilic press corps that Palin might actually help McCain win.
But another part of the answer is that the press was simply surprised. Cockroaches scatter when shocked by a flipped light switch. Grizzly bears attack when startled. And when caught napping by big news, the press corps floods the zone. Editors scream at underlings who missed the story. Networks fret they'll be scooped. And all of a sudden, the norms and standards become a blur in the race to be first. In the case of Palin, the press vaulted over every principle and standard they'd established about what is and isn't fair game, like O.J. Simpson leaping over luggage in the old Hertz commercials. It required the Jaws of Life to pry news of John Edwards' affair out the mainstream press. But when it came to the personal drama of Palin's 17-year old daughter, the press clawed for morsels like they were golden tickets from Wonka Bars.
They wouldn't have done the same thing if Palin were an unknown Democrat, because the press' reflex is to assume the worst of Republicans.
The Eagleton Option exposed the press' gut instincts, and the viscera are not pretty. Eagleton dropped out because it was leaked that he'd received shock therapy for ill-defined mental problems. Many of those who expected Palin to withdraw see her values and her choices as proof of a mental problem. "She's more a conservative man than she is a woman on women's issues," quoth a spokeswoman from the predictably shrill National Organization for Women, which always defines womanhood by a woman's commitment to left-wing feminist dogma. If you're pro-life, or even just a Republican, you're not a real woman, you're suffering from some sort of pernicious gender confusion.
How long before the Palin-haters insist she needs shock therapy, too? For her own good, of course.