Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Sarah Palin Enigma

For the life of me, I can't understand what John McCain was thinking when he chose an obscure, inexperienced governor/moose-hunter to be his running mate. Sure, the unexpectedness of the decision (along with her hardliner views) drove The Base into a frothy frenzy, but how is he going to translate that initial excitement among his party's fringe into a path to victory? It almost seems to me that his choice demonstrates his tacit agreement with Obama's regrettable (but not untrue) statement about some people in rural communities from a closed-door fundraiser in San Fransisco in April:
"So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
In McCain's case, he didn't get bitter, he got desperate. Thanks to the 5% of him that doesn't kowtow to Bush, The Base wasn't very excited about the man, despite his war record (oh, haven't you heard? Rumor has it he was a POW). So McCain picked an unknown, gun-totin', Bible-thumpin', "supermom" to inject some life into his faltering campaign. And since we only have the last week and a half to go on, it appears to be working. Since his announcement, he has been pulling bigger and louder crowds than ever before.

Will it last? Don't count on it. As relatable as Palin appears to be to the average Joe, as much as she passes the "beer test", she has more skeletons in her closet than most politicians accumulate over their entire careers, all while lacking any kind of depth to prop her up. And she's only 44! The McCain campaign won't let the press near her, and she has yet to say anything new since her acceptance speech, which was penned by one of Bush's speechwriters (change! change! change!). And again, she's only been under national media-sized scrutiny for a week and a half (two weeks if you count the McCain campaign vetting process). From Troopergate to earmarks, from her position on the "Bridge to Nowhere" to the family values "whaaaaa?" of her 17 year old daughter's pregnancy (her boyfriend Levi has yet to respond to my Facebook friend request), there's simply a lot about Sarah that no amount of lipstick can cover up.

As the monsoon of lies and character attacks emanating from the McCain campaign pile up, Obama needs to keep focused. With Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, asserting last week that, "This election is not about issues," it is clear that Obama stubborn insistence on talking about the things that actually affect the lives of Americans has hit a nerve. McCain knows he can't win on issues, not when the president with whom he agrees with on nearly everything has some of the lowest approval ratings since approval ratings were invented. It's true, Obama has a tougher challenge ahead of him than most Democrats (including myself) foresaw months ago. He has to simultaneously hammer home the core ideas and policy specifics that have taken him this far while delicately fending off the smear from the right. John Kerry's swiftboating was so successful partially because John Kerry didn't acknowledge the attacks fast enough, which made sense at the time given how ridiculous the claims were, but hindsight is 20-20. Obama needs to be smart and strong at the same time, letting the BS roll off his back but not ignoring it. Based on his reponse today to the "lipstick on a pig" non-story, it looks like he knows to handle these things like a pro.

To say the least, it's going to be an interesting couple of months.

Matt Damon nailed it. He's not exactly my favorite political commentator, but when you're right you're right:

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