Steve Chapman

And what happened to McCain's commitment to his country? By choosing someone so transparently unprepared for the presidency, he indicated he was willing to do anything, including jeopardize American lives, to win the election. If terrorism and the war in Iraq were truly "transcendent" to McCain, as he claims, he would have never considered someone so unacquainted with the topics.

At the rally Friday where the nominee introduced his running mate, the banners said: "Country First." But his actions said something different: "Politics First. Country Second."

Besides helping him with women and the religious right, McCain's selection was supposed to appeal to independents by reminding them how much he loves sticking it to the man. The campaign celebrated Palin as a bold reformer opposed to federal boondoggles and tough enough to buck her own party chieftains in Alaska.

All that may be true, but Palin probably won't enhance his image as a maverick. Choosing a conspicuously underqualified running mate mainly because of her sex was a classic case of pandering. And mavericks don't pander: They do what they think is right and let the chips fall where they may.

That's not what happened here. McCain, by all accounts, wanted either Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was Al Gore's 2000 running mate, or Tom Ridge, the former secretary of Homeland Security -- each of whom has the national security props that Palin lacks. But apparently McCain wasn't willing to risk a fight with conservatives over a running mate who favors abortion rights.

Democrats have been trying without success to convince voters that the Republican candidate is not the strong, principled, trustworthy leader he claims to be. Now they can stand back and let McCain make the case for them.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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