Thursday, September 4, 2008
Palin as Bitch Slap
I just got through watching Sarah Palin's speech to the Republican convention, and frankly, I don't think anyone has really gotten the nature of the threat she represents to the Obama-Biden ticket. In the context of Josh Marshall's "bitch slap" theory of politics (which I find repugnant if regrettably relevant), Sarah Palin is the ultimate bitch slap. For anyone who didn't catch the operative line of the speech the first time around, here it is:
There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you in places where winning means survival and defeat means death.
The short version is what the McCain campaign will be running on: There's only one man in this election. They've already done the groundwork for painting Obama as an effete, Paris Hilton-esque celebrity. Now, for the next two months, the McCain campaign is going to be running not McCain, but Palin against Obama. They've already started with this ad, via Andrew Sullivan. The subtext of the ad is simple: Obama isn't even man enough to warrant sending out McCain. We'll send the hockey mom to take care of him.
While it's obvious Palin wasn't vetted, it's still unclear just how calculated her nomination was. But if there was a calculation, it was pretty brilliant and pretty cynical. I imagine the McCain campaign figured that whatever damaging stuff trickles out between now and November can be spun. In the meantime, Palin is going to be hitting Obama hard and, what's even more damaging if last night's speech is any indication, with loads of scorn and derision. The impact of that coming from a woman is enormous. And if you think that because Obama weathered Hillary Clinton's attacks, he's somehow immune from Palin, think again. Palin is not Clinton. She's tough enough to hunt moose (how long before she condescendingly invites Obama on a hunting trip?), but fundamentally she's a mother (ie. a real woman).
Those are the optics, and Obama and Biden will have trouble responding. Hit back too hard and they're bullies, too soft and they're wimps. Even Hillary showed what a difference a display of "feminine vulnerability" (the tears in New Hampshire) can make, and her brand is far more Margaret Thatcher than Sara Lee. The McCain camp is simultaneously using Palin's gender in the most progressive and regressive ways imaginable. Cynical? Yes. Effective? We'll see.