Connoisseurs of campaign tactics tend to be a pretty cynical bunch, so they'll doubtless find much to admire in the adroit way Sen. John McCain's camp has handled Sarah Palin since she came aboard the ticket. Voters, who tend to nourish an inconvenient hunger for information, may be less impressed. One suspects that sooner rather than later, some will begin to wonder why the GOP is insisting that Palin is entitled to be treated according to a double standard.
McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, deserved full marks for chutzpah, for example, when he told Fox News' Chris Wallace that Palin would not answer reporters' questions "until the point in time when she'll be treated with respect and deference."
Respect and courtesy, maybe. Everybody is entitled to those -- including candidates for office -- and journalists seldom look worse than when they forget that. But deference? The president does not require deference from his media interlocutors, but the ambitious governor of Alaska does?
Palin, Davis said, "will do interviews, but she'll do them on the terms and conditions" dictated by McCain's campaign -- which is to say, according to a standard that applies to no other candidate for office anywhere in the country. (ABC's Charles Gibson will conduct the first Palin interview Thursday; it will be interesting to see whether he agrees to preconditions.)
The McCain campaign's insistence on imposing a double standard for Palin is nowhere clearer than in the demand, voiced by many of the candidate's surrogates, that her religious affiliations and their implications be placed off-limits. The GOP was on firmer ground when it made a similar demand with regard to her children, though it's safe to say that if Sen. Barack Obama had appeared in Denver with his unmarried pregnant daughter and the father of her child, the religious right's outraged screams still would be echoing in the nation's ear.
Palin's religious convictions should be open to inquiry, not least because the McCain campaign so obviously welcomes the support of evangelicals who support the ticket because Palin believes as they do. More important, Obama has been held to answer -- and rightly so -- for his connection to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the pastor's intemperate views on everything from race to 9/11. Obama was forced to give a speech disassociating himself from Wright and finally to leave Wright's church.
Nobody seriously questioned the right of the media -- or, for that matter, the Illinois senator's political opponents -- to ask whether Obama agreed with what was being preached in the church he'd chosen to join. Similarly, no one turned a hair when Joe Biden was asked on national TV when he, as a Roman Catholic, believed life began. McCain has been asked the same question. Palin, apparently, operates in a parallel political universe -- or at least McCain's handlers would like to see that she does.
Less than a month ago, Palin sat in the pews at the Wasilla Bible Church, to which she and her family belong, and listened to a sermon by David Brickner, who heads Jews for Jesus, a group cited by the Anti-Defamation League for its "aggressive and deceptive" proselytizing of Jews. Brickner said that Arab terrorism against the state of Israel was an expression of God's judgment on the Jewish people for their rejection of Christ. After Brickner concluded his remarks, a special collection was taken up to support the sect's activities.
A spokesman for the McCain campaign said Palin does not agree with Brickner's views, but somehow it's the kind of question a candidate ought to be able to answer for herself. Voters might also like to know whether Palin supports, as does her church, an upcoming conference that promises to change gays and lesbians into heterosexuals through the power of prayer. That conference, by the way, is being put on by James Dobson's Focus on the Family, one of the national evangelical organizations that discovered a sudden enthusiasm for the GOP ticket when Palin joined.
Ingenious though it may be tactically, it's hard to imagine the Palin double standard enduring into the fall. Campaign connoisseurs not withstanding, politics isn't a sport, though it has at least one thing in common with the boxing ring -- you can run, but you can't hide.