Friday, September 05, 2008


I've said a lot of negative things about what transpired in Minnesota this week, but, frankly, I'm worried. I still think John McCain has a real shot, not because he has ideas that resonate with the public (he doesn't), or because of his speech last night (it's being widely panned), but because he's not really at the top of his own ticket anymore. He's just a figurehead now, a stand-in for two running mates: his younger self (who took over his body last night after he'd spoken for a half hour and gave a much better speech) and, of course, Sarah Palin.

I'm especially worried about Palin -- for all of our mockery on the left, she's really working it right now, and Democrats are at risk of losing the race to frame her. That's important because, apart from his biography, Palin is the principal reason McCain says you should vote for him. And Americans really might buy that argument.

It's bizarre -- in my adult lifetime we've had several tickets (not just Obama/Biden but Reagan/Bush and Dukakis/Bentsen) in which the #2 candidate was chosen because he had more experience than #1, and now here's a GOP ticket that's exactly the opposite, and yet I've never seen a presidential candidate use a running mate as a justification for his candidacy to quite this extent. Today's New York Times nails it:

...Mr. McCain firmly signaled that he intended to seize the mantle of change Mr. Obama claimed in his own unlikely bid for his party's nomination.

Mr. McCain suggested that his choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate gave him the license to run as an outsider against Washington, even though he has served in Congress for more than 25 years.

"Let me just offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first-country-second crowd: Change is coming," Mr. McCain said....

McCain as change agent? His whole argument collapses without Palin. And because Palin is the new It Girl and she and the GOP have sold her so relentlessly as a reformer and an executive, Americans might actually be persuaded.

The Obama people reportedly want to downplay Palin and keep running against McCain. I get it -- but I'm not sure it will work, because McCain is effectively saying, "I am Sarah Palin. Voting for me is how you get her. Look at her to see what I'd do and what my administration would be like."

Which means that if voters believe her narrative of her time as governor, and see her as personally appealing, then McCain absolutely has a shot.


I think I know what the Republicans would do if the tables were turned: while tarnishing her record, they'd use anecdotes and innuendo to frame her as overly aggressive, pushy and nasty rather than "feisty." (And emasculating -- I'm sure they'd work hard to make her seem emasculating.) It would be ugly, but give them this: they certainly wouldn't let her become America's Sweetheart without pounding a counternarrative into America's collective brain. They'd see the need to hem her in with a counternarrative so she'd second-guess all her moves, worrying whether they'd run headlong into the negative frame. (That's what the GOP has done to Obama, with a fair amount of success.)

I'm worried that the Democrats aren't doing anything like that, at least not successfully, and so America's Sweetheart is what she'll become now, as her party keeps her away from the press and puts her before nothing but crowds that are likely to be large and very enthusiastic. Her harsh convention speech will become, in memory, a warm-fuzzy. And she'll use her platform to build her spunky-reformer brand and possibly get in the campaign's main digs at Obama and the Democrats.


I'm happy to read that Hillary Clinton and other Democratic women are going to take Palin on. But I think the Democrats should do more.

I think they should expressly compare her to George W. Bush.

Remember, America? Eight years ago? Governor? Washington outsider? Regional accent? Feisty and glad-handing and a little pugnacious? We were told that the key thing about him was that he was a reform governor? And (based on his education proposals rather than his biography) that he cared about families? But he hadn't traveled much? And he didn't know much about foreign countries?

Remember how that turned out?

This is where, in an ad, you might show newspaper headlines about Palin's interest in book-banning, and the stonewalling of investigators, and the fact that she's being praised by the likes of Ann Coulter.

Really, just do it, Democrats. Our side has to frame her or John McCain might chivalrously let her be the top of the ticket and do all the framing -- of himself, herself, and us.

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