In the moments after John McCain revealed his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate, a group of right-wing luminaries held a conference call to publicly swoon over her selection. “She could not be a better Vice Presidential pick,” gushed Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group. Ken Blackwell, the controversial former Ohio Secretary of State and vice chairman of the GOP platform committee, concurred: “I just think that John McCain couldn’t have made a better choice.”
The reason for their enthusiasm was clear – abortion. Or rather, Palin’s opposition to it, even in cases of rape or incest. Blackwell called the McCain-Palin ticket the “strongest pro-life team with a pro-life platform in the history of the Republican party.” Coming from an anti-abortion zealot like Blackwell, that’s not faint praise.
Not surprisingly, the speakers thought Palin stacked up favorably against Joe Biden. In response to a question posed by Sarah Posner, Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life said that Palin is a good Catholic and Biden is no Catholic at all: “He’s a Catholic who’s contradicting one of the key tenants of Catholicism. And claiming that he’s practicing is simply not true. You can’t practice the faith when you deny it.” (Pavone failed to note that Palin was rebaptized into the Assemblies of God as a girl.)
McCain has worked for years to cultivate his maverick image, including deliberate efforts to obscure his strong anti-choice record and sentiments. But no such ambiguity is possible with Palin on the ticket. “For those who have had ambivalence or who have simply been unsure of how pro-life Senator McCain is – and of course his voting record is very strong on pro-life – now that ambivalence will certainly be counteracted by this VP selection,” said Pavone.
McCain shouldn’t take too much comfort in the heaps of praise from the far right because it cuts both ways. As he removes lingering doubts among Religious Right voters, he is creating new doubts among moderate voters who are increasingly seeing the holes in his maverick schtick. He’s riding a public opinion seesaw, and not even real straight talk will get him off it.