Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin Reax

Her speech was almost universally well thought of by the commentariat, conservatives are shaking their fists and liberals are shaking in their boots. I thought it was well delivered, for the most part, and she's pretty charming, but I thought the rhetoric was pretty lame and the attacks jarring. I still feel you should only be gushing about this speech if you thought she would come out and act the drooling idiot... and you would pretty much have to be a drooling idiot to think that... but then I also don't come from a small town or have 5 kids or go out hunting so the "folksy" and "homey" stuff goes right over my head, which is why the former Mayor of New York sneered at "cosmopolitan" cities(!!!), I guess. We just don't get it... and thus the Culture Wars are back on, but that's a topic for another post.

So anyway, I thought this was an ineffective speech and a poor strategic choice for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don't think most Americans will think she has the status to attack Obama. I'll let Nate Silver lay it out since he said it first and better:
I think some of you are underestimating the percentage of voters for whom Sarah Palin lacks the standing to make this critique of Barack Obama. To many voters, she is either entirely unknown, or is known as an US Weekly caricature of a woman who eats mooseburgers and has a pregnant daughter. To change someone's opinion, you have to do one of two things. Either, you have to be a trusted voice of authority, or you have to persuade them. Palin is not a trusted voice of authority -- she's much too new. But neither was this a persuasive speech. It was staccato, insistent, a little corny. It preached to the proverbial choir. It was also, as one of my commentors astutely noted, a speech written by a man and for a man, but delivered by a woman, which produces a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.
I think this is exactly right. Nobody knew who she was except for movement conservatives until she was announced amid a media firestorm of controversies... if people who weren't already convinced of their view points were tuning in last night, it was to see what all the fuss was about... and while I'm sure they came out with a much better opinion of Palin (which is obviously good for the GOP), she's still a complete unknown from a small town in Alaska, railing on somebody they've known for months now. He is a "celebrity" after all. ;) I just don't think this works... and I think it's why we haven't seen many "complete unknowns" in the VP slot these days, as it undermines their attack dog status.

Nate then goes on to look at combined "Very Favorable OR Very Unfavorable" percentages as a marker of "entrenched opinion" - people who just either love or hate the person and are not changing their minds no matter what happens. He then compares Obama at 63% to Kerry at 45% and concludes that this is why Swift Boating worked on Kerry... lots of persuadable voters who had no strong feelings for him... and why similar tactics by McCain against Obama have had no real impact on what was basically a static race all summer. I tend to think Kerry was more about underlying fundamentals than Swift Boating, but Nate makes a good case. Regardless, the ineffectiveness of bald character attacks against Obama underlines the strategic mistake of going Stereotypical GOP Smear Machine in a "change" election... they tried very hard all night to have it both ways with talk of reform one minute and blaming "liberals" for their runny eggs the next, but I just don't think that flies. You just can't run as a reform candidate as an incumbent... and while McCain/Palin have a better chance than many other GOPers to come across as anti-establishment, each Rush Limbaugh quote and Rove attack deadens that effect. Mark Schmitt makes the historical case of what happens to the GOP when they get hyper-partisan:

It was the face of the Republican Party that got so carried away with itself that it impeached Bill Clinton. It was the face of the self-righteous, nasty party of Tom DeLay, John Boehner, Bill Frist, and George Allen. It was the face of Newt Gingrich and Dick Cheney, not the softer and superficially more accomodating tones of Ronald Reagan and, to be fair, the election-year George W. Bush.

This was exactly the face of the Republican Party that people have been voting against since at least 1998, when Democrats gained in congressional races amidst impeachment. It's certainly the face of the Republican Party that voters rejected in 2006, when they turned out Allen, Rick Santorum, DeLay, and others.
It will be interesting to see whether McCain goes for the jugular in a similar way tonight... and I suspect he will, as he's got Rove advisors and a deep personal animosity for Obama... but I think it's fundamentally a bad call. As Schmitt says, when people vote against the GOP, this is what they vote against.