That bit, at least, paid off, I guess. It meant he could call on Palin to get him out of a hole in his fight against a meretricious former talk-show host riding anti-incumbent fervor to within seven points of upending him. By using Palin to pander to the Tea Party, however, McCain showed his willingness to repudiate everything that made him special, just so he can hold on to a Senate seat. It’s like the Hanoi Hilton in reverse: He held out under physical torture, but under political torture it seems he’ll say and do just about anything. That character change seems to date from the strange reversal of magic that occurred when he succumbed to political opportunism in 2004 in Pensacola and embraced George W. Bush, the man who allowed the disgraceful smear campaign against him in South Carolina four years earlier.
As for Palin, her political heart, if she had one, would of course be with McCain’s challenger, who purportedly stands for everything she does. But being consistent politically is no longer as important to Sarah Palin as being a star. The McCain gig in Tucson was a big booking; images of being embraced anew by a legend provided resonant media far more valuable than backing the other guy in the race, who merely furthered the Tea Party cause. When she’s out at their fervid rallies, Palin pretends to be talking to True Believers in a political movement. But she’s really only talking to consumers. Buy my book. Watch my show. Hype my brand. She has chosen celebrity over politics, and who can blame her, given what hell it is to try and serve your country in Washington these days.