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Palin, McCain Undercut by 'Character' Fixation

Author: Amity Shlaes, Former Hayek Senior Fellow for Political Economy
September 3, 2008


There are bumps, and there are bumps. For starters, there’s the Bristol bump — the bump of pregnancy that put Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter all over the Web this week. There’s the Republican vice presidential candidate’s own bump — the triumphant bump of $7 million in cash Palin pulled in for the McCain campaign the week the Alaskan was announced.

These two bumps obscure a third one: that mysterious bump in gross domestic product. On Aug. 28, even as Senator John McCain was eliminating Palin’s competition from his list of potential running mates, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported the U.S. economy grew an annualized 3.3 percent in the second quarter.

For a nation that’s been telling itself it is in recession, that’s interesting news. Was it the stimulus-package spending? The soft dollar? More jobs than we thought? The enormous effort they had to devote to spinning the Bristol story left neither McCain nor Palin time to talk much about that 3.3 percent.

This dynamic is typical. The Grand Old Party has talked itself into believing that “character’’ is going to win the White House. But character is a treacherous credential. One misstep, and it’s gone. John Edwards lost his in a nanosecond when reporters saw him coming out of the Beverly Hilton after visiting paramour Rielle Hunter. Even if a candidate manages to keep his reputation intact for the duration of a campaign — a near impossible feat, it seems — he can still fail.

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