What does it say about John McCain that he picked not only the least experienced Vice Presidential nominee in America’s history, but someone he really doesn’t know? Departing so far from any normal concept of appropriate background, he should at least have had a sense of why this individual is so special. Meeting Palin once at a Republican governors’ conference and having a single phone conversation on the eve of her selection just doesn’t pass muster—particularly for the oldest presidential candidate ever, who’s had four malignant melanomas.

What makes Palin such a cynical choice is that McCain doesn’t know her and doesn’t know what drives her. Until she was selected by the Karl Rove types running his campaign (like campaign manager and Rove protégé Steve Schmidt), McCain might not even have recognized her on the street. Instead, she’s a category selection, made for the crassest reasons by the same kinds of political operatives who brought us George W. Bush.

Their motives  are obvious: Palin is an energetic and attractive woman who just might pick up some disgruntled Hillary supporters. She’s a westerner and a hunter who might appeal to rural voters. She’s likely to energize a previously tepid base of hard-shell religious conservatives through her opposition to abortion even in cases of rape or incest: Hard-right king-maker James Dobson just said that because of her he’d vote for McCain.

These attributes may indeed prove Palin's worth as a vote-getter. But except for an abortion position that seems a stunning denial of reality (and a major affront to women), they have no relation to Palin’s fitness for the job. McCain can’t have any sense of what lies beneath the facile marketing categories—like who Palin actually is, what she could contribute to the Vice Presidential office, and what it would be like to work together. He doesn’t know her and has had no chance to. But because she fits the Rovian categories, none of that matters.  Echoing so much that the Republicans have done for eight years and more, it’s a choice likely to produce grave consequences, yet based overwhelmingly on political expediency.

Leave aside all the other troubling questions about Palin: her extreme abortion position; her backing the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” while campaigning for governor, then later claiming to disavow it; her ties to Ted Stevens and Jack Abramoff; her  support for teaching creationism as science; her Cheney-style vendetta of firing the Alaska public safety director who refused to fire her former brother-in-law from his job as a state trooper (and nearly being recalled as mayor for firing the library director and police chief for not voting for her); her laughing during an interview at the jokes of a radio shock jock who mocked one of her political opponents (a cancer survivor) for her weight, and called the woman a “bitch” and a “cancer.”

You can even leave aside that in a week where Hurricane Gustav threatens another Katrina and the Arctic ice cap separates from the adjacent land for the first time in human history, Palin  insists that the jury is still out on whether humans are changing the weather of the planet.

In fact, leave aside Palin’s actual record, because John McCain barely knows it. His vetters didn’t even bother to go through the archives of her local newspaper or talk with the former public safety director she fired. What choosing her shows most is a politics that once again subordinates any greater common good to a raw pursuit of power. It echoes McCain praising Jerry Falwell after once calling him an “agent of intolerance.” Or embracing Bush’s campaign and administration after Bush’s political hitmen defeated him in South Carolina with Swift Boat-type lies. Or when instead of challenging Obama’s ideas, the McCain campaign tried to caricature him as one step up from Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Karl Rove’s minions may be smiling at the brazen gamesmanship of this pick; but if Americans fall for it, we should know all too well what to expect.

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 To receive his articles directly, email with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles