Sen. John McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate is like The Jerry Springer Show at its smarmiest.

Her 17-year-old unmarried daughter is five months pregnant.

The state legislature is investigating her for firing a state official who refused to dismiss Palin's ex-brother-in-law from his job as a state trooper after a nasty divorce.

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Her mother-in-law says, "I'm not sure what she brings to the ticket other than she's a woman and a conservative."

Talk about a catalogue of dysfunction. Shouldn't we be calling on Steve?

This mess is just what we should have expected from McCain, who so desperately needed to change the subject and shore up his frayed relationship with the ultraconservative, anti-abortion base of his party that he overlooked parts of Palin's background. Talk about a leap of unjustified faith.

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For all we—or McCain—know, Palin, still less than two years into her first term as Alaska's chief executive, is a natural-born leader whose charisma rivals Barack Obama's. But that's the trouble—we just don't know much about her and neither does McCain.

What we do know is not reassuring. She is a former beauty queen who grew up hunting, fishing and playing basketball and got the nickname " Sarah Barracuda" for her intensity on the court. A staunch Christian conservative, she supports teaching creationism in the schools and changing her state's constitution to ban same-sex marriages. Before becoming governor, she was mayor of a town with less than 10,000 people.

She has absolutely no experience in foreign affairs. Compared to Obama's pick, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate's committee on foreign relations, she is a total neophyte.

None of us—including McCain—knows what other surprises about her may come to light as the media delve into her background and grill her about the issues on the campaign trail. My guess is that they'll find something sufficiently alarming to make McCain think twice and dump Palin from the ticket, Thomas Eagleton-style. The excuse will be that she needs to spend more time with her family.

McCain's motives in selecting Palin, a strict anti-abortionist who bore the last of her five children to term even after learning the baby boy would be affected by Down syndrome, are obvious.

As some of the more sophisticated reporting about the choice suggested, McCain's campaign polls must have indicated that he wasn't going to beat Obama by criticizing his lack of experience. Voters want change above all else, not a rerun of the past eight years. That desire trumps everything. Hence the Palin "Hail Mary" pass.

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By picking Palin (and assuming she stays on the ticket), McCain guaranteed that one glass ceiling or another would be shattered this election, since either the first black president or the first female vice president will be elected. McCain deserves credit for that—but not much else.

In her speech thanking McCain for choosing her, Palin made a blatant pitch for female supporters of Hillary Clinton who have not yet reconciled themselves to voting for Obama.

Which goes to show how badly McCain underestimated the intelligence of women voters who supported Clinton—and everyone else, including right-wing commentators like William Kristol who have stretched the envelope of creativity by portraying Palin as the bright and reassuring face of a new conservatism. That's really a stretch.

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Palin would be tough for Biden to debate without seeming to patronize her. And in fact, the Delaware senator has already fallen into the trap by calling Palin "good-looking."

But, because of her short resume and her opposition to everything Clinton stands for, Palin's nomination is both an insult to Hillary's supporters and a serious blow to the strongest argument for electing McCain, his supposedly superior experience in foreign affairs and readiness to be commander in chief.

McCain's strategist must be hoping that women will vote for Palin simply because she is a woman, the same way some befuddled Negroes supported Clarence Thomas because of his race.

Their cynicism is breathtaking.

In Biden, Obama chose a running mate prepared to become president in a heartbeat. McCain's pick—well, who knows?

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Not since George Bush the elder thumbed his nose at voters by adding the monumentally unqualified Dan Quayle to his ticket in 1988 has such an unprepared and untested candidate of either sex been offered to the electorate.

But, like Quayle, she sure looks good.

Hey, maybe I'll skip Jerry this week and watch the Republican Convention instead.

Jack White is a freelance writer in Richmond.

is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.