When Sarah Palin joked about herself and her fellow hockey moms as pit bulls with lipstick, she may have revealed more than she intended. She made it sound a compliment--portraying herself and her peers as ordinary mothers who look good but are tough, tenacious, and defend their family at any cost. But do we really want a potential president whose prime trait is an eagerness to bite your throat at any pretext? We already have that: Dick Cheney.
There's a reason why pit bulls have been banned for their lethal belligerence from England, Norway and France, to Miami and Springfield Missouri. They attack indiscriminately, whether other dogs or children or an elderly Seattle-area woman two of them nearly killed this past week. There's a reason you don't say, "Great, a pit bull just moved in. How nice for our neighborhood." Even people who want some protection usually pick other breeds, like German Shepherds, because they know pit bulls might turn on them.
Now some of us admire their tenacity, and that's a virtue, but other dogs are also tenacious - -you can pick them up by the sock or rag they're playing with. But they aren't loose cannons that just might maul your neighbor's five-year-old. You don't want pit bulls running your block, much less the United States. Pit bull presidencies don't work for issues like terrorism, global warming, our declining economy. You can't solve them by simply ripping your enemy's leg off.
Pit bulls have their uses, as junkyard dogs, but most of us reject them for our home. We've seen all too much what a "my way or we'll destroy you" approach has done to our country in the past eight years. The single-mindedness of a pit ball can be useful, but it can also be disastrous. The Cheney crew had this in their obsession with attacking Iraq, even as they were dismissing Clinton-era reports of the threats from Bin Laden. If they hadn't been so focused on attacking their enemies, we might never have embarked on the disastrous Iraq war.
Yet Sarah Palin seems to relish the pit bull role, with an attack dog's taste for blood. Her high school classmates called her Sarah Barracuda. She won her first race as mayor by bringing in the state Republican Party to a nonpartisan contest and focusing on guns, abortion and how she was a true Christian and the incumbent wasn't in a race that normally focused on roads and sewers. She fired the Wassila librarian who resisted her suggestion that some books might have to be banned and the police chief who didn't support her candidacy. She fired the head of the Alaska state patrol who wouldn't fire her ex-brother-in-law. She sat laughing while a shock jock interviewer mocked one of her political opponents (a cancer survivor and fellow Republican) for her weight, and called the woman a "bitch" and a "cancer." And then there's the convention speech that catapulted her to superstardom. Not only did it repeatedly distort the truth, it embodied every character assassination scenario from the past 30 years -- taking the polarizing politics of Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, George Wallace, Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, and dressing it up, with lipstick, in Palin's charismatic package. She even attacked the very idea of citizens working for change when she mocked community organizers.
If we read the polls, Palin's pit bull approach may well be working. Pit bull politicians can be great campaigners -- especially when their prime goal is to bloody their targets whatever the cost to truth, U.S. politics and ultimately, to our country. But do we really want a pit bull as vice president?
We should already know, because we've had one for the past eight years. Palin is younger, more attractive, and a better shot. But she has a similar ruthlessness, bellicosity, and eagerness to destroy anyone who gets in her way. She's similarly secretive and controlling beneath the disarming charm. Despite her image as the outsider reformer, she has her own ties to pay-to-play politics from serving as one of three directors for the political action committee (PAC) of corrupt Alaska Senator Ted Stephens, to fighting for the Bridge to Nowhere before it became politically untenable, to hiring a lobbyist (when Mayor of Wassila) who not only was a former Stephens Chief of Staff but also worked for now-convicted crooked Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. And she's just as beholden to a hard political right that denies reality: from global warming to seeking to ban abortions for rape or incest victims.
Not every Republican embodies the pit bull ethic -- I'll be voting for a Republican Secretary of State who's meticulously fair and has played by the rules even when he's taken heat from his own party.
Likewise, many once respected John McCain across party lines for what we thought was a departure from the Karl Rove, Lee Atwater politics of personal destruction. We assumed he'd learned its cost after the Bush campaign defeated him in a South Carolina primary by doing push/polling phone calls about his role in the Keating S&L scandal and spreading rumors his having two illegitimate black children. He was the rare current Republican who spoke out against torture and condemned reckless tax giveaways for the rich. Now he's disavowed all this and hired one of the prime architects of the Bush campaign's South Carolina attacks on him to help prepare Palin's now-fabled convention speech. His own speech was also full of repeated falsehoods. He even embraces the chorus of contempt toward Obama for daring to say that America is better of when we observe international rules like the prohibition on torture. And his encouragement of Palin's distortions speaks worlds about his prizing politics over country.
Let's hope we finally reject the pit bull approach this time around, no matter how shiny the lipstick looks.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See www.paulloeb.org To receive his articles directly, email email@example.com with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles