Posts tagged ‘presidential election’

October 30th, 2008

The Politics of Perceiving Palin

by Venomous Kate

Michael Novak’s column today at National Review Online focuses on Sarah Palin’s folksy diction, and the knee-jerk assumption of ignorance it leads some to make.

I wonder if most of the people who are today dissing Sarah Palin, at least among a few conservatives I greatly admire, are more accustomed to debating highly educated liberals. Could it be that they understand the diction of journalism and the academy better than they understand the speech of most of America? They understand the maturity, sophistication, and rationalization of their own world better than the simpler but truer instincts of most of America. […]

I remember how shocked H. L. Mencken was when he arrived in tiny Dayton, Tennessee, for the Scopes trial, only to find copies of his own publication The American Mercury on sale in the local drug store, and to meet several people in town who subscribed. He actually thought the yokels and the yahoos read nothing. That was the tone Sarah Palin picked up in Katie Couric, who demanded that Sarah produce a reading list. Sarah was too insulted to care to reply.

It’s an interesting premise, that pundits (both conservative and liberal alike) hear phrases like “you betcha” and assume they’re shorthand for an intellectual shortcoming, rather than a reflection of someone confident enough in her own intellectual abilities that she doesn’t have to trot out big words to prove herself smart. To be honest, that’s something I’ve always liked about Palin: she speaks like many of the people I know. Hell, she speaks like me, although without the potty mouth.

If there’s one thing this election has made painfully clear it’s just how easily American voters are swayed by images. Of last night’s Obamathon informercial, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said “He had me at the waving wheat.” Throughout McCain’s candidacy, the image of him as an old man — reinforced for pop culture by SNL’s description of his crippled arms, gnarled fingers making air quotes and, yes, even the unbleached teeth — have persisted despite the fact that McCain is a vigorous individual, seventy-something years old or not. And, of course, let’s not forget the brouhaha over Palin’s wardrobe, a damned-if-she-did (to the tune of $150,000… some of which is my money and I consider it well spent) and damned-if-she-didn’t (as in, you just know the style mags would take her to task over wearing a $30 coat from Tar-jay).

Oh, we like to think we’re long on substance but, fact is, most of us base our opinions on sound bites, headlines and what our friends will think. (Answer: if they’re really your friends they already knew your leanings and accepted you because of them.)

With respect to Sarah Palin, that tendency to superficially summarize and dismiss is made even more evident by her foes’ swift reversal in opinion after meeting her. As Fred Barnes wrote in The Weekly Standard: to know her is to respect her.

Lorne Michaels is the longtime executive producer of Saturday Night Live. Sarah Palin appeared on SNL in mid-October, after which Michaels noted, “Her politics aren’t my politics.” But that wasn’t all he said. “I think Palin will continue to be underestimated,” Michaels told “I watched the way she connected with people, and you can see that she’s a very powerful, very disciplined, incredibly gracious woman. This was her first time out and she’s had a huge impact. People connect to her.”

Many of Palin’s supporters say, as Rammer said so eloquently in the comments here: “I speak what I believe. I avoid cynicism and irony. I am Sarah Palin, except that she works harder than me.”

Therein lies the backhand of the “out of touch” allegations that have flown throughout this election. For decades we have elected politicians with the assumption they should somehow be morally superior to us, more educated, better traveled and more deeply read. Then, as Clinton and Edwards’ and even Dubya’s own checkered past have proven, we grow outraged when we discover that, like us, they have feet of clay.

One constant theme among the Obamaniacs? That he’s just like them. Except, unless they went to an exclusive private high school and had an Ivy League education, he’s not. But Sarah Palin? You betcha. She’s just like so many of us.

Maybe that’s why the elitists, who’ve spent their lives trying to overcompensate for their own perceived shortcomings, tear her down. And maybe it’s why so many of us, who’ve come to accept our own limitations, finally see in her the chance to realize the American dream our mothers promised: study hard and one day you, too, may be President.

October 22nd, 2008

It’s Too Late To Fix McCain’s Message

by Venomous Kate

Writing about a “Reverse-Bradley effect“, Kathleen Parker explains in today’s WaPo that many Republicans, who’ve grown disgusted with McCain’s campaign, are secretly planning to vote for Obama instead.

I’ve received too many e-mails and had too many conversations that began, “Just between you and me,” and ended with, “I wouldn’t want anyone at work to know,” to believe that this is an insignificant trend.

Indeed, it’s a definite possibility. I know. I’ve found myself on more than one occasion wondering just what McCain’s offering, what kind of message he’s trying to send with his snap-decisions to suspend his campaign one day and pussyfooting around the financial crisis the next.

I’ve even toyed with the idea, suggested by Will Wallace here, to stay home on election day to punish the Republican party for having chosen McCain as their candidate. But I like to bitch, and unless I cast my vote I don’t see that I’ve got much right to do so. Still, the idea is a tempting one, given the pitiful campaign that John McCain has run after having miraculously been named his party’s nominee.

And by “miraculous”, I mean that: just over four years ago, after scoring the Democratic presidential nomination, John Kerry had one name at the top of his list of prospective running mates: Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain has consistently denied such overtures were made, much less considered.

Yet the rumor’s persistence points to one of the greatest weaknesses in McCain’s bid for the White House: he is too liberal to be a conservative, and too conservative to be a liberal. This, he contends, is part of what makes him a Maverick. Yet his downfall may stem from his inability to craft and convey a message that appeals to either side.

With 26 years of Washington experience, John McCain also has a record that does not sit well with his own party’s primary base. Between his positions on illegal immigration, Roe v. Wade and his opposition to the Bush Administration’s treatment of terrorist detainees, few top conservatives favored him as the nominee.

As a result, John McCain has had to run a campaign in which he’s wooing not only undecided and independent voters, but voters from within the Republican party, too. Yet he appears to be failing in both regards. McCain’s 8 point mid-October poll deficit (which now may be as high as 10 points) has only been overcome by one candidate in the past 50 years: Ronald Reagan. But John McCain is no Ronald Reagan: he lacks the charisma, the personality and, most importantly, the support of the religious right.

For a time, it appeared as if Sarah Palin’s nomination as Vice President would address McCain’s shortcomings. As a Bible-thumping, pro-life Mom in favor of gun ownership, Palin not only appealed to the far right within the Republican party, but to disenfranchised Hillary Clinton supporters as well.

With McCain’s failure to address the issues of concern to many Americans (hint: it’s about the economy, stupid), he’s frittered away the post-convention bump in the polls she delivered. Top conservative pundits, already fleeing the GOP after Palin’s nomination, are now being joined by Florida seniors and blue-collar white women, both previously considered solid voting blocs for McCain.

Meanwhile, McCain’s messy message has failed to appeal to independent and undecided voters. In fact, his dogged insistence on attacking Obama actually played into Democrats hands, providing the Senator from Illinois an opportunity to score with voters as he pointed out what McCain’s own campaign just doesn’t get:

“With the economy in turmoil and the American Dream at risk, the American people don’t want to hear politicians attack each other… You want to hear about how we’re going to attack the challenges facing the middle class each and every day.”

While there are plenty of reasons to attack Obama — his ties to an unrepentant racist, to an unrepentant domestic terrorist, and to unrepentant racketeer and felon come to mind, as does his posturing as a working class stiff when he’s anything but one. Yet the time for those attacks had long since passed. Still, even as voters turned against McCain, his campaign remained in the “attack, attack, attack” mode described by Joe Biden.

Ignoring his slip in the polls like the “Maverick” he claims to be, McCain continues to run those very ads, most recently trotting out — at long last — the “Blind Ambition” ad tying Obama with William Ayers… an ad which nevertheless ignores Obama’s ties to Ayers’ wife, the likely head of the terrorist group The Weather Underground. But that move may have only reinforced McCain’s biggest weakness among independent and undecided voters: his image as a petty, mean-spirited man – a character depiction that has haunted McCain throughout this race.

For all its virulence, McCain’s attack strategy did nothing to take advantage of his post-convention bump, nor has it since done anything to distinguish the candidate from President Bush, whom a majority of Americans — from both parties — blame for the economy’s troubles.

“Either McCain wins the argument over the economy or he loses,” said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House. “When the economy is this central to everybody’s life, when everybody is as worried as they are now, then when you are not talking about the economy you are not winning.”

For every opportunity he has to talk about the economy in solid, clear-cut terms, McCain backs off, hesitating to go for the knockout with a clearly honed explanation of the pitfalls behind Obama’s “share the wealth” plan. Nor has he made much effort to elaborate on why Obama cannot keep his promise to cut taxes and implement his costly policies, and the obvious conclusion: one of those promises must be a lie.

Meanwhile, McCain’s choices have cost him the media’s attention as well. Until recently he’d continued an inexplicable and self-indulgent policy of taking entire weekends off. As a result, in the five weeks leading up to the final debate, team Obama (consisting of the candidate, his wife, and vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden), separately appeared at 95 political events in battleground states.

During that same period, McCain’s camp made a mere 55 stops. The result somewhat accounts for the imbalance in media reporting: more newsworthy events get more press coverage. Add to that the increased exposure Obama’s TV ads that are outnumbering McCain’s 3 to 1 — not including his recent purchase of a half-hour of prime time television on Oct. 29 — and it’s easy to understand why McCain has now decided to cast himself as the underdog.

But if he is an underdog, it’s due to his own campaign choices. Why continue to focus on Obama’s curious and questionable friends and alliances when it’s obviously not playing well with voters? Why hammer on the message of dangerous inexperience when the polls clearly show people are more interested in policy? Is McCain so disengaged with his own party’s platform that he can’t portray himself otherwise — too conservative to be a liberal, and too liberal to be a conservative?

Yes, I’ll be casting a vote for McCain but by doing so I’m not so much voting for him as I’m voting against Obama. And just as WaPo’s Kathleen Parker advises Obama that he shouldn’t take a victory on his part as a mandate so much as a vote against McCain, I’d hope McCain realizes the reverse is true, too. If he wins it won’t be on the basis of a well-run campaign; it will simply be because he’s not that one.