Spinning around

So, John McCain was ultimately unsuccessful in the US presidential election. Lembit “Self-Publicity is a Virtue” Opik too. In news that will reverberate around the corridors of power in Wasington almost as loudly as a monk obeying a vow of silence in a sound-proof room, Mr Cheeky Girl nee Mr Sian Lloyd – open brackets, weather-girl, close brackets – failed in his bid to become party president of the Liberal Democrats. (Note to Sarah Palin: that’s not a country on the Pacific rim.)

Anyhow, I couldn’t let the post-US election aftermath – analysis of which has generated column mile after column mile in the UK papers over the past five days – go without mentioning a couple of things I’ve read.

Firstly – and I promise this will be the last time I mention The West Wing, at least for a while – a number of papers picked up on the link between the show and Barack Obama’s new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.

I’ve previously noted some of the similarities between the McCain/Obama race and the fictional world of TWW, where the series ended with Matt Santos defeating the Republican veteran Arnie Vinick, aided by a major external event (a near-nuclear disaster) which swung the pendulum decisively towards the Democrats, and resulted in the election of the first US president from an ethnic minority.

But that’s not where the similarity ends. In the fictional White House, the deputy chief of staff is a canny, Jewish political operator named Josh Lyman, who was based on a real-life canny, Jewish political operator in the Clinton administration named … Rahm Emanuel. And in TWW, president-elect Santos’s choice to be his chief of staff was Josh Lyman, just as Emanuel is Obama’s.

Life really does imitate art.

Secondly, the more distasteful side of politics has, inevitably, reared its ugly head as the Republican blood-letting and finger-pointing has begun in earnest. McCain insiders have started a virtual stampede of anonymous confidential ‘briefings’ – leaks, by any other name – against Sarah Palin, placing the blame for the election defeat solely at her door. (Never mind the fact that it was their man who chose the woefully underqualified governor of Alaska as his running mate in the first place.) She has been accused of a woeful ignorance of global affairs (something we already know to be true); in addition to her oft-televised foreign affairs gaffes, she has been accused of not knowing who the three members of NAFTA, the North America Free Trade Agreement, are (the US, Canada and Mexico, in case you wanted to know), and of thinking that Africa is a country rather than a continent. And, harking back to the cost of her campaign wardrobe – which it is suggested was rather more than the $150k which was originally stated – she and her husband Todd (the self-styled ‘first dude’, puh-lease) have been labelled as “Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast”.

Other than being a killer soundbite, it’s all very Lord of the Flies, isn’t it?

Clearly, McCain staffers are looking to deflect blame for last week’s defeat on to the most obvious (and all too plausible) target. And Palin has responded in kind, blaming the Bush administration for the election result, refusing to comment on several allegations and accusing reporters of not doing their homework before filing stories about some of her policies, decisions and (alleged) abuses of power. (Regardless of whether she is correct, attacking the press does not exactly strike me as the best way of getting them on-side.)

Post-election analysis confirms that Palin was certainly a divisive figure in the campaign, driving away swathes of independent voters, particularly women – a constituency which her appointment as McCain’s running mate was designed specifically to appeal to. However, she remains popular with many conservative elements of her party, with a national poll suggesting that 64% of Republican voters now consider her to be the party’s best presidential candidate for 2012. (Although no doubt Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and others will also be major contenders for the next Republican nomination.) The jockeying for position has already begun, with Palin extracting maximum advantage from her run in the spotlight; it would not be surprising if her next step was to run for Alaskan senator.

The sad thing is that my view of Sarah Palin is inevitably distorted by the lenses of the media and of the political spin doctors. There is no question she is woefully short of knowledge, but that can be addressed over the next four years. Similarly, she has been clearly shown on a number of occasions to have been, ah, economical with the truth to an extent which would make even seasoned politicos blush.

Other than that, the image I have built up of her is of an ambitious, ruthless, single-minded woman (pretty much incontrovertible), who loves the political spotlight in the same way a film star loves the photographers on the red carpet (again, I’m fairly secure in that assumption) and is not afraid to use her position and power in all manner of dubious ways – ‘Troopergate’, shopping sprees, allegedly ‘going rogue’ in the final days of the campaign – which cast severe doubts on her holding any position of power, let alone the most powerful one in the world.

Now how much of that last set of assumptions is actually true or not is anyone’s guess – there’s so much contradictory spin flying around that I’m getting a headache – but to my mind, there’s no smoke without fire. However, 64% (or more) of Republicans clearly think otherwise, as is their right.

I just hope we never have the chance to find out. Right now, Sarah Palin is arguably the second most famous politician on the planet, after the president-elect. It doesn’t mean she’s the second most capable, though.