Thursday, September 04, 2008

Well, unfortunately for Democrats, Sarah Palin gave a really strong speech last night. Granted, with all of the criticism that had been levelled against her in recent days (much of it painting her as some sort of country bumpkin), any speech that was halfway articulate and sensible would have been considered a success, but Palin actually went well above and beyond what anyone was expecting out of her and managed to give a speech that was emotionally charged and inspiring to the conservative base while also levelling some fairly aggressive and well-placed attacks against Senator Obama. I'm not gonna lie- it was a speech that was damaging to the Democrats and a potential momentum changer for the McCain campaign.
But it may not have been a total disaster for a couple of reasons (and here comes the part where I expect some allegations of sour grapes or whatever):
First, what I primarily took away from Palin's speech was that she's the real deal. Before her speech I had this feeling (probably shared by many) that Palin was some sort of small time, local politician who was plucked out of the Alaska back country by McCain in order to make some kind of hamhanded attempt to capitalize on Hillary Clinton's absence. My first instinct was that this poor lady was going to be way out of her league and that she wasn't going to be able to withstand the rigors and media spotlight of a full blown presidential election.
But she's obviously not that person. Last night's speech showed that Palin has the strength and stamina to not only put on her cleats and take the field with the big boys, but that she's quite comfortable going on the attack, making accusations and casting aspersions against her opponents.
Why, in God's name, might that not be such a bad thing for the Democrats? Well, before last night's speech I had started to feel like all of the criticism of Palin was going to lead to an inevitable backlash as left wing supporters drug Palin across the coals. She was starting to look like some sort of helpless little victim that McCain had thrust out into the spotlight unprepared, and I figured that it was just a matter of time before people started to rally in defense of this sweet woman who had done nothing to harm anyone and who had never even really shown all that much of a desire to be a part of a major presidential campaign. Since she was from a small town and not a Washington D.C. political big wig, I thought people would relate to her as "one of their own" and be unhappy with the treatment that she was getting from the press and from left wing pundits.
But now the gloves are off. Palin came out swinging at Obama, demonstrating her own ruthless political ambition and a willingness to take cheap shots and run her own smear campaign full of exaggerations, half truths, and lies against the Democrats, and now I don't think anyone will find fault with the Democrats for launching whatever criticisms at her that they deem appropriate. And there's still plenty of criticism to go around. None of the things that she was being criticized for before her speech have gone away. Troopergate, the ineffectiveness and hypocrisy regarding her abstinence-only sex ed policies, her attempts to ban library books and intimidate library staff, her lack of foreign policy knowledge or experience, her membership in a church that prays for oil pipelines, her inexperience, and a hundred other stories are all still out there, and her willingness to show that she can give divisive, mocking speeches does nothing to diminish any of these tales. These issues are going to continue to follow her long after the swell of attention gathered by this speech (this may not be a arathon, but it's definitely not a sprint), and in the end Palin's "issues" may turn out to be a bigger distraction than the boon provided by her presence. Plus, the more Palin continues to spread half truths and to take credit for things she didn't do (I get a real kick out of her talking about how she single-handedly brought down the "bridge to nowhere), the less America is going to trust her and the more the media will scrutinize her every claim.
The Republicans have been mocking the Democrats for rallying behind Obama's speeches, calling them meaningless sermons to an adoring choir, but I saw little difference between what Obama does and what Palin did last night (in a way, a sort of compliment to Palin given Obama's charisma at speaking engagements). I certainly don't think her speech was pulling in any voters from the left, and although some independent voters might be impressed by her energy and speaking ability, I think there will be many other independents who will have been turned off by her derisive, divisive, mocking tone (I certainly didn't think she came off as a consensus builder).
I guess I'm just saying that Palin's speech last night, while good, shouldn't really be a cause of huge concern to the Democrats. Mostly, to me, it just showed that the Democrats, once again, aren't going to be handed any easy victories, and that the Republicans actually do have two players on the field who know how to compete. Once again, the presidential election is going to be a dogfight.
Palin still has some litmus tests that she's going to have to pass before she's going to be accepted by the country at large as the superstar that the Republicans are trying to paint her as following last nights speech. It'll be interesting to see how she fields questions from reporters when she's not on a script, and it'll be interesting to see how she does in the debates. As a matter of fact, it'll be interesting to see how she handles any public speaking event where she isn't reading a speech that someone else wrote for her off of a teleprompter.
In the end, though, this campaign isn't going to come down to the battle of vice presidents. It's going to come down to the presidential candidates and how they plan to address the issues that the country is facing. Reduced wages, job outsourcing, an unpopular war, foreign energy dependence, record home foreclosures, the biggest growth in income disparity since the 1920's, and some 40 odd million Americans without health insurance- these are very real and substantial problems (and no, Republicans, we're not just a nation of whiners- these are the problems of middle America that the super wealthy just tend not to notice), and they need to be addressed. Hopefully Americans will make their voting decisions based upon answers to those problems. Obama needs to get out there and campaign hard with specific strategies that show promise for the many problems that are impacting middle America. (To this day, I remain convinced that Bill Clinton won the election in '92 by having an articulable, workable set of plans to address the many problems that the country was facing, and by being able to explain to the country exactly how he was going to go about trying to fix various problems. When placed side by side with the vague, nonspecific promises that George H. Bush was peddling at the time, Clinton just looked better every time. Of course, having Ross Perot run as a third party candidate helped, too. Where is that guy, and how do we get him to run again?)
Anyway, you Democrats get online and make a donation, no matter what size, to the Obama campaign as soon as you can. This fight is about to get a lot more heated, and Obama's going to need the ammo.
So can I say it now? Can I say that I don't want some anti-intellectual former newsbunny/beauty queen with crazy fundamentalist religious beliefs running my country? Whew. Felt good to get that out.

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