Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What I think Palin should go for in her convention speech

I think she should emphasize, heavily, the following three points:

1. She should cast herself as the candidate of proven change -- but she should do so without making a single reference to the historic nature of her candidacy; her mantra should be that she changes things, rather than she merely, by virtue of her genetic makeup, symbolizes change. Obama's constant refrain is, implicitly, that he represents salvation for the country because of who he is; Palin's emphasis should be on change as being what she does. Without drawing explicit comparisons between herself and Obama, she should make it clear that throughout her entire political career, as soon as she shows up, change starts happenin', baby, usually to the mingled astonishment and chagrin and rage of the political powers-that-be. It's easy for any genuinely independent, undecided voter to connect the dots and compare the guy who's really good at talking about change (but whose entire career, when one looks at deeds rather than mere words, is the standard career of the moderately sleazy Chicago-Democratic-machine politician), to the woman who actually has gone in and changed things everywhere she's gone politically.

2. She should cast herself as a candidate of national unity and reconciliation. She should point at her extraordinarily high cross-party approval ratings in the state she has governed for the past two years. She should state openly that while reconciliation does not mean that people who disagree with her political views should feel obliged to vote for her, she still does believe that it is important to identify and respect the admirable qualities and good intentions of people on the other side of the aisle -- and then she should emphasize that her past record (appointing Democracts as well as Republicans, gaining the approval of all kinds of different Alaskans) shows that she understands how to reach out even to those with whom she disagrees. She should say that nothing is gained by accusing other people of bad motives when other explanations (such as simple disagreement on principles) will do just as well, and say that therefore she pledges that nobody who attacks her political opinions and positions need ever fear that she will react by accusing them of sexism. She should end up by saying that there is one group of Alaskans who genuinely, deeply despise her -- and that group is not Democrats. It's the fat cats of the corrupt Republican machine. With everybody else, she gets along fine.

3. She should emphasize John McCain's experience, and how privileged she is to have the opportunity to serve an apprenticeship under him and to learn from all the wisdom he has to offer. (Yes, I know that you guys know that I think McCain is an ass, but I'm telling you what she should say in her campaign speech.) She should emphasize how well she believes that he and she will work together as a team, and of how humbly honored she is to be able to join with him in forging a new identity for the Republican Party, a legacy that he will be able to look on proudly in years to come long after he has retired from active duty (I would use exactly that phrase, as a subtle reminder of his military record), as he and she and the Republican Party rank and file join together to carry out at every level the mindset of reform and of cleaning-up-one's-own-house that she and he have fought for independently in their own respective arenas.

The balancing trick on that third point is simply this: I believe that the core strategy of McCain's team should be -- and I suspect in fact is -- to sucker Barack Obama into campaigning against Sarah Palin. Therefore Palin ought not talk about her own lack of experience explicitly; instead she should talk about McCain's experience and her role as his apprentice, precisely in order to dangle herself as bait in front of the more and more obviously outclassed and amateurish Obama campaign team.

McCain has basically found his party's Barack Obama -- the young, potentially history-making newblood with immense talent and immense charisma and immense resonance in the base and immense crossover potential, but with hopelessly inadequate experience -- and has brought her into the race in precisely the apprenticeship role that would be perfect for Obama. Head-to-head against Obama, Palin wins in an ordinary year, though not in this year in which a poodle ought to be able to win the Presidency as long as it runs on the Democratic ticket. Granted, this year she doesn't beat him -- but she doesn't have to beat him. She just has to (a) energize the base and (b) come across to swing voters as the Republican Obama.

Here's the core thing I think has to be understood about this race; I think McCain understands it and I think the Obama campain hasn't got a clue. The dominant line that McCain is selling to the American people is, "This Obama guy is very impressive; he has a ton of promise; with a few more years of seasoning and experience he could be something really special; but he isn't ready yet, and now is not the time to gamble the leadership of the free world on a pretty but inexperienced new face."

In fact, the core line McCain wants to get across to the American people is simply that Obama may be the right guy, but he's running for the wrong office at the wrong time: he is not yet ready for the Presidency. Isn't it too bad that the Democrats put him at the top of the ticket, instead of running an experienced old hand like Hillary for President and letting the youngster serve as Vice President in order to learn the ropes?

Now as that is the core message that McCain needs to sell, the overriding goal of the McCain campaign should be to get as many voters as possible to subconsciously identify Barack with Palin. Conversely, the overriding goal of the Obama campaign should be to do everything possible to keep voters from associating the two -- and therefore every time Barack campaigns against Palin, rather than McCain, he subtly and unintentionally reinforces the core Republican point that it's Palin's spot, not McCain's, that Barack should be campaigning for.

We've already seen that bear fruit: Barack was asked by Andersen Cooper to compare his experience to Palin's, and what was Barack's answer? "Well, I'm qualified to be President because I've run a successful political campaign." That will no doubt sound convincing to Barack himself; and it will sound convincing to his political advisors and to the effete, elitist political junkies among whom he has lived as his life -- because those people are actually impressed by political campaigning, seeing it (as they do) as an intrinsically valuable activity. But to the blue-collar swing voter in Ohio, that response will prove (I believe) knee-slappingly risible.

What Barack should have said is simply, "I don't think experience in that sense is actually relevant in this race. I think what matters is character and conviction and being on the right side of history..." or whatever. Barack's line should be, "I have no objection to Palin's lack of experience because I don't think experience matters for the Presidency. I'll be a great President, and I have no experience. It's not inexperience that will make her a bad President; it's her medieval views on the right to choice [blah blah blah on to the talking points]."

By nominating Sarah Palin, McCain took the risk of making his "inexperience" argument an irrelevance. But all he was really doing, was giving Obama's campaign a chance to make it irrelevant. If the Obama campaign had instantly welcomed her to the race and said simply, "We don't mind her inexperience," then the race would have ended, right then. But they're too damned stupid to have said that. Instead they instantly screamed like banshees about her inexperience, and then Barack himself, like a lamb to the slaughter, endorsed the importance of experience by trying to argue that he was more experienced...than Palin. Even if he can win that argument, every moment he spends arguing that he's more experienced than Palin (a very debatable point indeed, and I think actually by any rational standard Palin actually has the more relevant experience and certainly the more encouraging track record), he quietly reinforces both of McCain's core assertions: that experience matters (else why would Barack be so desperate to argue that he's adequately experienced?), and that Barack can't even begin to compare with McCain in terms of experience (else why would Barack be spending all his time comparing himself to the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate when he's supposed to be running for President?).

Unbelievable. You'd think a moderately intelligent ten-year-old would have been able to see that trap. But then, of course, that's not relevant, because Barack is not a moderately intelligent ten-year-old; he's a very bright forty-seven-year-old...who has spent the bulk of his life being assured by those around him that he's God's gift to a desperate nation, which is the best recipe I know of for taking a promising young individual and turning him into an adulation-addled fool.

Well, we'll see what line Palin takes in her speech. But I think if she's wise, she'll hammer those three points. Because if the American swing voter comes to see Palin as being more or less the Republican Obama, then the Democrats are, I think, totally and 100% toast. For analogies are, in the end, simple but powerful things, and the analogy the Republican Party wants the American people to draw is:

Palin is to Obama as McCain is to...oops, sorry, the Democrats have nobody in the running against McCain.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

I think she did #1.

I don't think she did #2, but there were hints. I'll have to wait for instant replay to be sure.

She certainly did the first part of #3; I don't think she ever explicitly emphasized the apprenticeship nature of her own position.

There was certainly a buzz in the hall, wasn't there? And on my station, two of the three follow-on commentators felt the buzz, too. She can sound tough, she can be charming, she has nothing if not confidence. She doesn't play like a rookie, not one bit.

As to your analysis...wow, just...wow. I think you've hit it on the head.