IS NOT TAKING ON PALIN THIS YEAR'S NOT TAKING ON THE SWIFT BOAT LIARS?
(This post may be obsolete already -- see the updates below.)
Four years ago, John Kerry decided to follow sound traditional thinking when the Swift Boat liars emerged. He wouldn't take them on -- after all, taking them on would just elevate them to his level and give what they were saying more exposure.
Unfortunately, they got all the exposure they needed, thank you very much, and to many voters Kerry looked both wussy and guilty as charged.
To me, the conventional wisdom about Sarah Palin sounds a lot like the conventional wisdom about the Swift Boat liars: Ignore her. Don't elevate her to the candidate's level. After all, we're told, the race is between Obama and McCain, not Obama and Palin. And no running mate is ever the deciding factor in an election.
Well, no divorced guy could ever win before Reagan. A confessed adulterer/draft-avoider/pot-smoker wasn't supposed to be electable before Clinton, and being a draft-dodging reformed drunk who hadn't done a damn thing in his life before age 40 wasn't exactly a selling point for a presidential candidate before W. And, well, no non-white ever got elected before this year and a lot of people expect that streak to be broken. So why couldn't another "impossibility" turn out to be somewhat less than impossible? Especially given McCain's extraordinary, unprecedented attempt to make Palin the star on his own ticket?
Look, Sarah Palin is not just part of the opposition to Obama -- she's a living, breathing opposition narrative, like the narrative of the Swift Boat liars. Hers, of course, consists of alleged ordinariness and "executive" effectiveness and outsideriness and hyper-mommyness.
Part of the public is buying, and -- this is more important -- a lot of the press. So somebody has to burst the balloon of her reputation now, or it's just going to keep rising.
At the very least, get a damn ad up in response to the one in which the McCain campaign claims -- still -- that Palin "stopped the Bridge to Nowhere." Point out that Palin was for it before she was against it and that the state kept the money. (And go for the cheap seats -- use a cash-register sound on the last point.)
Take advantage of the serious concerns a lot of swing voters have about her qualifications and her attack-dog posture and more-of-the-same (and even-more-to-the-right-than-the-same) positions. These voters need to see their skepticism publicly reaffirmed or they might start doubting their own judgment. Aim ads at Palin skeptics the way Hillary Clinton aimed ads at Obama skeptics. (That had an impact, no?)
And take advantage of what I suspect is Maureen Dowd's great skill at grasping the thoughts of issue-averse voters: Dowd's last column portrayed John McCain as a wuss dominated by Palin. I'd go for that -- hell, I'd start calling it "the Palin-McCain ticket." What does that say? It says John McCain is too weak even to spearhead his own campaign. I think, on a reptile-brain level, that that would really sting.
I'd tie it to other campaign themes: "After decades spent as a Washington insider, and as someone who votes with George W. Bush 90% of the time, John McCain knows he can't convince you that he's suddenly transformed himself into an agent of change. So he found a charismatic but unqualified running mate, hoping her few years in Alaska will distract you from his many, many years in Washington, and now he's hiding behind her skirts."
I know, I know: Don't talk about Palin. Talk about the economy and the war. Well, the damn press isn't going to let anyone talk about issues right now -- it's all Palin all the time.
So talk back. At least don't look as if you're "afraid of a girl."
UPDATE: Well, OK, this isn't bad. It shows me that Obama is starting to grasp the fact that McCain is building his entire argument for himself on the Palin pick. More, please. And move the anti-Palin message into the advertising.
UPDATE: OK, they get it:
More, more. (Hat tip: nepat in comments.)
AND: Biden in Kalispell, Montana, is really, really good. Hey, let's break all the rules -- as long as the Republican #2 is the real top of the ticket, why not do a Biden ad that sounds like this clip? (Hat tip: nepat again.)