"Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you”


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Game Has Changed

I am coming to the conclusion that the Palin pick was, indeed a game changer. A few things worth watching over the next couple of weeks:

1) The Palin image is still under construction - and the jury may be out for quite some time regarding how she will be ultimately perceived. Despite today's media hyper-speculation I don't think tonight's speech is actually a "make or break" situation. Think about how many moments over the past 18 months that the chattering class made a similar prediction about Obama's situation. Her sixty-day introduction to the American people is going to be a minefield for the McCain campaign. This morning some media are reporting Palin may not be out on the campaign until after Sept 11 - when her son ships off to Iraq. Will she be seen as a reformer? Or a hypocritical opportunist?

2) Will McCain's camp be successful in deflecting criticism of Palin by using the "sexism" card? Campaign surrogate Carly Fiorina was on MSNBC this afternoon using a diabolical argument that went along the lines,

"The Democratic Party stood by while Hillary Clinton was subjected to incredible sexism in the media. The Republican Party is not going to stand by. And I don't believe that millions of American women are going to stand by. Whether they agree with Sarah Palin or not, I think women are highly sensitized now to sexism. And when someone of accomplishment is described more as a show horse than a work horse women recognize that for what it is. It's sexism."

Somehow, the Republicans think they're going to claim the mantle of post-partisan feminists. It's a classic Rovian twist - take one of your opponent's strengths and turn it into a potential point of weakness. In this case, they've been lured by the Angry Hillary Voter, believing they can continue dividing the electorate - and convincing some disaffected group to vote against their own self-interest. It's coupled with their tried and true attacks on the media as biased against conservatives.

3) How does the 'love affair' between McCain and the media end? Typically, relationships built on illusions and deception come crashing to bitter ends, with recriminations all around. The media had been awakening to the real McCain (if he ever was a 'maverick,' he certainly hadn't been acting like one during the primaries) over the summer. I don't think the total surprise of the Palin pick is going to wear well within the tradmed, his core constituency.

Remember those old "I Can't Believe It's Butter!" commercials where the woman cloaked in flowing white bellowed, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature!!!" Well, the media is another -(un)natural force and I don't think they like being played for fools or targeted as scapegoats. The media was clearly frustrated by Obama's 3AM text message to supporters announcing the Biden pick (as it took them out of the dialogue). That frustration may have been overwhelmed by the absolute surprise of McCain picking Palin. Already disoriented by their rapidly evolving and now less familiar role in modern politics, these latest developments may have awakened a docile press corps. Both campaigns could be subjected to heightened scrutiny as a result.

4) Where is the storyline about the disunity in the Republican Party? After the breathless media coverage of the barely existent "Hillary-Bill-Barack" schism leading up to Denver, the silence about the Ron Paul shadow convention going on in Minneapolis, the bruised Romney ego after being shunted aside as a VP, and the reopened rift between Dubya and McCain is remarkable.

The fact that the Palin pick plays well within the convention hall (she gets louder applause than McCain does almost universally) means there are far more differences within the Republican party than the media is covering. In fact, her selection by McCain is an admission of his own unpopularity with the base. But, the question lingers, "Are the establishment republicans (fiscal conservatives and national security hawks) happy about this pick?" They're being drowned out on the convention floor (and the spinners are remaining faithful to the RNC talking points) but are these rank-and-file voters energized or disheartened by Palin as the number 2?

5) The Palin pick has electrified the base on social issues and has threatened to subvert BOTH campaigns' main messaging objectives. Obama and the Democrats want to talk issues - economy, Iraq, energy - while the McCain camp wanted to resurrect his moderate maverick image. Everything is being drowned by social issues. Within the St Paul cocoon this may seem smart, but whether this translates into a successful general election campaign is uncertain. The elevation of the divisive social issues may -incite- excite the conservative base but there is a huge risk (for Republicans) that a significant backlash from the middle could overwhelm them.

A week ago, in the wake of Obama's once in a lifetime speech, I thought 'the only thing the Dems are missing this year is a 1992 Pat Buchanan hate speech from the GOP convention.' At the time, it was pure fantasy. Now, after watching the conservative rapture in St. Paul, I wouldn't be surprised if someone unpacks the pitchforks tonight.

It's been said before but it's worth repeating: this is the election year of a lifetime.

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