Thursday, 4 September 2008

Back to the culture wars: Palin's brilliant debut

I just watched the Sarah Palin RNC speech on CNN Europe, and all I can say is wow. A star is born.

The speech was brilliant. In one fell swoop Palin managed to deliver one of the most vicious political speeches in modern history while at the same time coming off as sweet and domestic. While trumpeting her own "small town values" of compassion and simplicity, she outlined a series of blisteringly cynical attacks on Obama's 'elitism.' Trust me, this will play in Peoria.

Every European should watch this speech if they want to fully understand the current American political climate. The strategy employed here is classically American, and I think it will work. For a week the McCain campaign let the media criticise the Palin choice because of her inexperience (she's only been governor of Alaska for 20 months, and before that she was a suburban housewife - she's only left the United States twice) without seeming to offer any defense of her. Throughout the revelations about her teenage daughter's pregnancy, her questionable dealings while in the governor's office and her past as an Alaskan separatist, the McCain campaign refused to put her forward to answer reporters' questions, and even McCain himself was unavailable for comment. From the outside, it looked like the campaign was in full implosion.

But in reality, it was a set-up. The campaign was using the media circus around Palin to draw a record number of viewers for her speech last night (early speculation is that viewership will rival Obama's speech). Once they were there, she made herself out to be the victim of media elitism. How dare they question her lack of relevant experience for the presidency! They just don't appreciate small-town values like you and me. They are "entrenched interests" who don't want to see a "Washington outsider" come in and shake things up. It was brilliant, and the anti-elitist message will play big in the US.

The crowd went nuts. It's definitely been a long time since a group of Republicans felt so enthused. You can see from the reactions of the crowd, as the camera pans to their faces and they mouth "I love her!" This woman is going to be a force to reckon with.

What was also clear from this speech is that the GOP intends to once again frame this election in the context of the 'culture wars,' an us-versus-them mentality which seeks to capitalize on the fact that one half of the country seems to despise the other half. It's small-town, regular Joe Americans versus those liberal urban elites, and it's a tried and true tactic.

Yet the fact remains the idea of Palin becoming president is almost absurd, with her complete lack of relevant experience. This was echoed by the fact that she didn't bring up a single policy issue in her speech. And yet with McCain's age and his history of melanoma, this is a very real possibility. I'm reminded of the fictional situation that was presented with the short-lived NBC drama "Commander in Chief," in which Geena Davis plays a woman who was selected as vice president as a gimick, but then shortly into her running mates' term he falls ill and dies. She's expected to resign and allow the speaker of the house to become president, but instead she stays on. One can imagine that if something were to happen to a President McCain, such a situation would present itself.

It will be interesting to see what happens after this speech, but its hard to see how the McCain camp won't get a huge poll boost from it. And yet, it will be a tough act to follow for McCain's speech tonight. Perhaps all the enthusiasm and excitement that Palin has generated for the demoralized GOP will fizzle if McCain delivers a lacklustre acceptance speech.


Anonymous said...

Dead on

Kevin said...

I don't think she was brilliant, I think she was terrifying!