Thursday, September 4, 2008

Another take on Palin

Okay, I'll grant Palin gave a good speech, rousing the Republican rabble, and showed that she could read effectively from a teleprompter, and seemed comfortable on the big stage. A star is born, etc. But I think the Democrats should take a deep breath, and try not to overestimate her debut. (A sorry liberal history of underestimating conservatives has led to a tendency to overcompensate in the other direction, and assume that Americans en masse are stupid enough to fall for any conservative song and dance that comes along. Let’s remember that the last two Republican presidential victories, if you want to call them that, were very, very close. )

I think that Palin’s speech showed her limitations as much as her strengths. It was an appeal simply and purely to the Republican base. McCain’s initial strength as a candidate was his potential appeal to moderates and swing voters. This has been sacrificed in recent months, crowned by the pick of Palin. She came across as an incarnation of Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham, oosing snideness and condescension—I think her appeal to moderate voters will be quite limited. (BTW, Palin’s performance should put Democrats at ease that Joe Biden will somehow come on too strong in the vice presidential debate and shatter the little china doll from Alaska. She is a gun-slinger, and the debate should be a partisan snark-fest.)
And in many ways Palin’s speech plays into the Democrats strengths. Obama’s whole campaign has been organized around his post-partisan appeal. This has not been one of the aspects of Obama’s campaign that has resonated with me, but its wisdom is now apparent. Obama has the far easier path to the hearts and minds of disaffected swing voters, who will see in Palin the old brand of Republican partisanship. And if Palin has “energized her base” she has done Obama the same favor. There are many people, and millions of Hillary supporters, heretofore lukewarm about Obama, who will now see keeping Palin out of the white house as important as getting Obama in. Palin gives the Dems something that they have lacked, a visceral symbol of hate. And given the utter incoherence of the Republican appeal—how can you throw the rascals out when you are the rascals?—it’s hard to see how Palin’s screed will appeal to moderates genuinely upset by this country’s course this past eight years. What can I say? Anybody who believed that Obama’s path to the presidency would be a trouble free coronation was fooling themselves. The battle is joined. Go Obama.

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