September 3, 2008

Quote Proves True

I picked as my quote of the moment an anonymous but ethusiastic GOP staffer who effused that Sarah Palin "completely changes the narrative," lifted from a report in the increasingly-partisan Political Animal. This has proven true -- Sarah Palin is indeed a game-changer. She has not changed the game in ways that the McCain camp would have liked, necessarily. Here's how the game has changed:

  • McCain's best avenue of attack -- Obama is not experienced enough to be trusted with high office -- has been blunted to the point of uselessness. Something big will have to happen before we get to candidates attacking one another on that subject again; I think that particular chess game is now stalemated. If Democrats attack Palin's experience, Republicans can attack Obama's. I think that steers us back to arguing policy preferences (a good thing) and personalities (a bad thing).
  • She has managed to suck all the air out of the room on both sides of the aisle. No one is talking about anything but Sarah Palin -- unless they're talking about her family. She's drawn out a tremendous amount of ugliness from both sides of the aisle, although I must exonerate the national candidates and their campaigns from this nastiness.
  • The presence of a newly-elected Governor of a small (in terms of popularion) state highlights the fact that aside from Gov. Palin, no one else nominated for national office has any executive experience at all. This makes me fidgety because executives use a different set of skills than legislators -- extensive, Biden-like knowledge about policy is not relevant to one's skills as an administrator.*
  • As I thought, women voters have been quick to say that a candidate's gender is not enough to attract their votes. Hillary Clinton voters are much more concerned with Palin's stance on issues than they are with the fact that she is female. This, by the way, is as it should be.
  • The religious right, formerly the weakest part of McCain's electoral coalition, is really on board with him now. They recognize in Gov. Palin one of their own. This pushes McCain's campaign towards the same strategy, forming the same coalition, as the two Bush-Cheney campaigns in 2000 and 2004.
That last point doesn't mean that a McCain Administration would be Bush-Cheney III, but the campaign will. And it doesn't mean that McCain's move towards the 'same old thing' was a bad one. The Bush-Cheney strategy got Republicans in the White House twice in a row. It's hard to be too critical of emulating a winning strategy. But it remains to be seen if the Democrats will be able to tag McCain-Palin with the "incompetent" meme that has adhered so well to George Bush over the past several years (especially after Katrina stuck New Orleans). But this election has begun to look a lot more like 2004 than I would have hoped for.

I thought 2004 was a particularly dismal and insipid election while it was going on and in fact, 2000 wasn't really all that exciting, either, at least not until after Election Day. Looking back on it, 1996 wasn't really all that interesting, either, since Bob Dole was such a weak opponent to Bill Clinton. We haven't had a really interesting election, with a real old-versus-new sort of debate about ideas, since 1992. This was shaping up to be a really interesting season, but that appears to not be the way things are going right now.

So yes, Palin has proven to be a game-changer. She's made an unpredictable, new sort of game look more like the games we're familiar with from election cycles past. Some changes are guardedly good for McCain, some are obviously bad.

* That's not to say that a President should be an ignoramus about policy; the President should have an ample understanding of all of the areas of public policy that the Federal government attends to. But the President should be a policy generalist rather than a specialist; there is a threshold of detail beyond which knowledge and decision-making must necessarily be delegated to subordinates.


Thomas said...

Have you noticed how much more McCain has used the words God and prayer since Palin came on board? Especially around the time Gustav hit. Just an observation.

Thomas said...

I suspect Palin will do well in her speech tonight. The media has done such a good job of casting doubt and consternation over her selection that she doesn't have much place to go except up. In reality, she's probably a natural at playing the political game.

Burt Likko said...

Yes, I have noticed McCain's references to God. I'm not the only one -- at, there is a monitoring blog called the "God-o-Meter." McCain has shot up from a 3 to an 8 (scale of 10) in less than a week.

Palin should do well at the convention -- it's an ideal audience for her. We forget that Dan Quayle gave good speeches, too. I'm interested in seeing her performance in a less controlled environment.