by John Irving McCain
I am doomed to remember a woman with a wrecked voice, not because of her voice, or because she was the dimmest person I ever knew, or even because she was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because she is the reason I no longer believe in God. I am no longer a Christian because of Sarah Palin.
I met her at a prayer breakfast after she had been selected as my running mate. She was pretty in a J.C. Penny catalog model sense, although she was not rich enough for my tastes. It was when she opened her mouth that I realized how unique she was. She had a voice that sounded as if it came from another time zone. Now I’m convinced that it was a voice not entirely of this world.
“HI YA, JOHN. I’M SARAH,” she said. “WE’RE GOING TO BE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.” She spoke with a series of tongue clicks and winks that made me think she had Tourette’s. I think she had all of those tics because the endless reserves of incompetence and incoherence that bubbled beneath her soul needed to escape in any way possible.
Her manicured hand had mine in a crushing shake. “DO YOU LIKE HUNTING?” she asked me.
I did not, but it was an election season, and I did not want to appear less manly than my female running mate. “Sure,” I said.
“WE SHOULD GO. BRING YOUR MOM,” Sarah said with a wink.
It took some cajoling, but I convinced Mother that this would be a great photo opportunity for my campaign. I dispatched my aides to the nearest Cabella’s store to purchase suitable attire. When Mother and I arrived for the hunt, wearing orange jackets and hats, Sarah stood in full camouflage, her face painted the same green and black pattern as her outfit. She carried a large rifle on her shoulder. She leaned against a helicopter, bathed in the machine-gun bursts of flash bulbs from the reporters. “Oh, dear,” my mother said.
“Why do we need a helicopter?” I asked.
“I LIKE TO HUNT FROM THE AIR,” Sarah said. “LIKE A BALD EAGLE. ONLY WITH A GUN.”
I saw Mother blanch, but in her classic WASP demeanor, she swallowed all emotion and plastered a smile across her face. “Sounds splendid,” she said, climbing into the helicopter.
We flew above the forest. “TAKE THE FIRST SHOT,” Sarah said. I spotted a moose down below, in a break among the trees. I aimed and fired, missing, and sending our prey galloping back into cover.
“YOU HAVE TO LEAD,” Sarah said. “LIKE THIS.”
She spotted another moose. Raising her rifle to her shoulder, she turned quickly to her right to track the animal. The gun barrel slammed into Mother, who lost her grip and tumbled out of the open chopper door. I screamed and grabbed for her, but my hands came away with only her orange hunting cap.
“OOPS,” said Sarah.
At the funeral, I said that it was an accident and that I didn’t hold Sarah accountable. Sarah said she was sorry, although she told the reporters, “THAT’S WHY THEY SAY BUCKLE UP FOR SAFETY.” Inside, I wanted to throttle her, to crush the very box that produced that voice. Instead, I smiled and hugged Sarah in front of reporters, swallowing my fiery rage for political gain. It’s what Mother would have wanted.
We met before the Republican convention and discussed policy points. When I asked her about her position on science, she said, “THE DINOSAURS DIED OUT BECAUSE NOAH DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH ROOM ON THE ARK.” We talked about health care, and she said, “JESUS IS THE BEST DOCTOR YOU’LL EVER HAVE, AND THERE’S NO PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS, EVEN IF YOU’RE JEWISH.” Regarding Iraq, she said we had to stay because “QUITTERS NEVER PROSPER.”
“No, it’s, ‘Cheaters never prosper,’” I corrected her.
“THEY DO IF THEY DON’T GET CAUGHT,” she answered.
After consulting with my advisors, I told her, “Maybe the convention is not the best place to discuss policy. Just go out there and be yourself.”
“WHO ELSE WOULD I BE?” she asked. “I COULD BE SOMEONE ELSE, THOUGH. I WAS IN A SCHOOL PLAY ONCE. I PLAYED A TREE.”
The eve of the convention, I could not sleep. What had I done? How could I ask America to vote for this woman when I wouldn’t vote for her?
But then it happened. She stepped in front of the microphone and won over not just the party, but America. She was folksy, charismatic, and not dim. “You did great,” I told her when she came off the stage.
“I HAD ALL THESE THINGS I WAS GOING TO SAY,” she said. “BUT THEN ALL THESE WORDS APPEARED BEFORE MY EYES, LIKE MAGIC. I JUST READ THEM, AND THEY SCROLLED DOWN AND MORE APPEARED AND THEN PEOPLE CLAPPED. I THINK JESUS WAS SPEAKING THROUGH ME.”
“Yes,” I said, “I’m going to go out and speak the magic words too.”
“YOU SHOULD SAY THAT ‘COMMUNITY ORGANIZER’ IS A CODE WORD FOR ‘SECRET MUSLIM.,’” she said.
“I will if that’s what Jesus writes,” I replied.
The polls shot up and what looked like certain political doom turned into a convention miracle. Maybe I was wrong about Sarah. Maybe I really did not understand what ordinary Americans wanted.
“THAT’S EXACTLY RIGHT,” she told me. “I’M LIKE THEM. OR THEY’RE LIKE ME. AND YOU NEED TO SHOW THAT YOU’RE ONE OF US.”
She started telling me about The Plan. It came to her in a dream. “I SAW A MAN, UNDER A SINK. I COULDN’T SEE HIS FACE, JUST THE TOP OF HIS HINEY STICKING OUT OF HIS JEANS. YOU WERE IN THE SINK, NOT REAL SIZE, BUT TINY SIZE. THE MAN WAS TRYING TO FIX THE PIPES.”
“What do you think it means?” I asked her.
“I DON’T THINK THE PIPES ARE REALLY PIPES. THEY’RE AMERICA. WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT WHO’S GOING TO FIX THE PIPES.”
I looked at her, thanked her, and told her I would take her advice under advisement. “WOW, NO ONE HAS EVER DONE THAT BEFORE,” she beamed.
She started doing interviews, and things turned disastrous. When asked about looking for oil in ANWAR, she said, “I HAVE THE SAME BELIEF ABOUT OIL THAT I DO ABOUT SNUGGLE TIME WITH TODD: DRILL WHERE YOU WANT, AS MUCH AS YOU WANT, WITHOUT ANY PROTECTION.” She told Katie Couric that she had a plan for dealing with Russia. “IT’S LIKE D-DAY, ONLY WITHOUT NAZIS. AND WITH NUCLEAR WEAPONS.”
“Sarah,” I told her. “You have to watch what you say.”
“I WAS,” she said, “BUT THE JESUS WORDS DIDN’T APPEAR, SO I SAID WHAT I HEARD IN MY HEAD. GOD TALKS TO ME THAT WAY, TOO.”
After another meeting with my advisors, we fixed it so she would only talk when she had ‘Jesus Words’ in front of her—at least until we could get her to memorize the Jesus Words we wanted her to say. But the damage was done. The media had a field day with her. One evening, she telephoned me. Her voice was quick and her pitch a full tone higher. The receiver was like a diamond-cutter sawing at my eardrums.
“JOHN,” she yelped. “I’M ON THE TV, BUT I’M ALSO RIGHT HERE. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?”
I turned on the set. “Which channel?” I asked.
“CHANNEL SEVEN,” she said.
Channel seven on my system was the cable guide. “Which network?”
“THE ONE THAT’S ON CHANNEL SEVEN.”
I eventually found what she was looking at. “Sarah,” I said, “That’s not you. That’s Tina Fey.”
“An actress playing you.”
She paused for a moment. “WHEN DID THEY MAKE A MOVIE ABOUT ME?”
My political fortunes continued to slide. Privately, I resigned myself to losing. But Sarah would not accept defeat. She kept admonishing me to follow The Plan, even though she didn’t know what The Plan really was.
Sarah called me. “TURN ON YOUR TV TO CHANNEL 32.”
After some investigation, I determined she was watching CNN. They were running a piece on my opponent, who was being questioned on a campaign stop by a plumber named Joe. I asked her what was so important.
“THAT’S THE GUY WHO WAS FIXING THE PIPES IN MY DREAM,” she said, her voice giddy. I asked her how she could know that when she had not seen the man’s face. “I JUST KNOW,” she said. “YOU HAVE TO TALK ABOUT HIM. IT’S THE PLAN.”
I may never know why I listened to her. Maybe I was desperate. Maybe I wanted to seem like a man of the people. And maybe—and this is what I think, deep down, is the answer—I wanted to believe. I wanted to be part of the America that thought they could find answers in dreams and Jesus Words, to be able to just believe what you wanted, without the gnawing fear of being wrong.
During the debate, I didn’t just talk about Joe the Plumber. I invoked his name over and over, making him my prayer, my mantra, my hymn to the average American that my running mate so clearly exemplified. When I finished, Sarah greeted me as I left the stage.
“IT’S GOING TO WORK. IT’S THE PLAN.”
The part that haunts me, more than anything, is that I believed her.
Of course, it didn’t work. It failed spectacularly, and in many respects, The Plan made me look even more out of touch than ever. On the night of the election, after I conceded, I turned to Sarah.
“So much for your plan.”
“I KNOW. I THINK I MISUNDERSTOOD THE DREAM. DREAMS ARE HARD, LIKE MATH.”
She looked genuinely sad, and for a moment, I felt bad about hurting her feelings. I hugged her and told her that was okay, that we gave it our best shot.
“I HAD ANOTHER DREAM,” she said. “IT WAS 2012 AND PEOPLE WERE CALLING ME ‘MADAM PRESIDENT,’ LIKE ON BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. ONLY IT WAS REAL LIFE AND NOT IN SPACE. MAYBE THE PLAN WAS TO GET ME THE EXPERIENCE I NEEDED SO I COULDBE PRESIDENT.”
“So you’re saying that The Plan—God’s plan—was for me to lose so that you could become president?” I asked her.
“YES,” she said. “AND IF I WIN, YOU CAN BE MY VICE-PRESIDENT. IF YOU’RE STILL ALIVE.”
For the second time, I believed her. That God wanted her to become the leader of America because she was the future of America. And that belief—that searing, hot, ball of conviction in my gut—is why I am no longer a believer. Yet I still pray. I pray that I will join Mother in the sweet, peaceful oblivion that is as far away from The Plan as possible.