Monday, September 15, 2008

the sarah palin show

We all shared a laugh at Tina Fey's deadringer impersonation of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, because Fey mocked some of the obvious holes in Palin's candidacy.

But will Middle America overlook these holes, among them zero foreign policy experience? Are they more interested in her family life than her politics, and if so will that help her or hurt her in the long run?

Americans have certainly tuned in to the Sarah Palin show, and as long as it continues the public will continue to eat it up.

The past eight years have been riddled with war and scandal, but Palin's life on display translates into a more understandable narrative that is more likely to resonate with the public. Sure, the majority of people have turned on the president and believe we should end the war in Iraq, but I'm willing to bet that a majority could also recite details on Britney Spears' rocky road to recovery and Lindsay Lohan's sexual orientation. Those are the kinds of stories that get readers and viewers, and we're learning that it doesn't really matter if we're stalking celubtantes or politicians through the media's omniscient eye, we still salivate over every luscious detail.

In the same way that the English relish in royal scandals, Americans love to dissect the personal lives of their own ruling class. But there's a difference in the Palin narrative when compared to say, the Clintons or John Edwards. While a sex scandal could potentially end a politician's career, family drama could prove to propel it.

While some in the blogosphere have dismissed Palin, Middle America has embraced her as one of their own. She's a Westerner, she's folksy and gutsy, sure, but as Eileen Smith explains at Poll Dancing, there's more to it than that: she's normal.
They raise their kids, go to work, go to church and do the little things that so often don’t garner media attention, but keep much of America stable and functioning. They feel slighted by a left-wing that has (fairly or unfairly) become the party of elites that scoff at IHOP patrons and can’t step inside Wal-Mart without trepidation (the selection of Joe “I have a much higher IQ than you” Biden doesn’t help). And Palin is the perfect stand-in for their ambitions: someone who has five kids, ran a city, now runs a state and, hell, hunts moose in her free time. She embodies the overlooked potential of normal people.
I've spoken with several Texans who feel that Sarah Palin is "one of us." They don't necessarily have to have or have had a pregnant teenager in order to empathise with her. They don't have to have a son going off to war in order to know how that must feel. They don't have to have raised a child with special needs to understand and appreciate how tough of a challenge it is. But they have done it, or their sister has done it, or their neighbor has done it. These are challenges that real Americans face on a daily basis. Middle America is not judging Palin for her family woes, they're rewarding her for them. They're defending her against media slights, and in some cases, pledging to give her their vote.

In a commentary for CNN today, Ed Rollins describes the situation perfectly:

What the country wants to know is do these candidates understand what's going on in their lives and in their neighbors' lives, and are they willing to try and fix it.

They want to get our soldiers home from Iraq as quickly as possible and leave that country as stable as it can be without us being there for another decade. They want someone who understands ordinary Americans are hurting and will try to find solutions to the economic mess we are in.

The leading "mainstream media" including ABC's condescending Charlie Gibson and The New York Times' Maureen Dowd have raced "North to Alaska" to find out what makes this woman tick. But alas, they show again and again that they just don't get it.

Nobody cares if Palin knows the Bush doctrine. I defy anyone to tell you what the Bush-Cheney strategy has been over the last seven years (other than getting re-elected) or what doctrine has been practiced by this "gang that can't shoot straight." And who cares? They are gone in 126 days.

What the media doesn't get is that Palin is one of us. She got to the top of the heap because she could relate to ordinary people, because she is ordinary people and through extraordinary efforts made it.

An unnamed Dallas area professional woman told me that she would be more likely to vote Republican with the addition of Palin to the ticket. Why? "She gets it." Obama and the Democrats are once again relegated to the elite class, and while McCain may be aloof, he is experienced and he can "train Sarah Palin for the job." The source went on to say that politicians usually lie or are corrupt, so if you can actually trust them and know that they understand your needs, specific policy becomes less important.

The woman said she had voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary, but is usually Republican-leaning. So we have to realize that the Palin pick may not be drawing away potential Obama voters in droves, but it's certainly inspiring previously disenchanted Republicans to make plans to support their party this time.

Clinton is reminding her voters why it's so important for them to choose Obama, but many women voters did not choose Clinton in the primary or do not have loyalty to her and are beyond her grasp. Clinton is taking the right track, though, and should continue to pound out the differences between potential Obama and McCain administrations, to really highlight it for anyone on the edge. Joe Biden needs to step up his game, as well, because he has hardly gotten half of the coverage that Palin has gotten since their respective VP announcements.

Polls show that McCain is suddenly leading the race among white women, though. This bounce can only be contributed to Palin's addition to his ticket. While black women (along with the vast majority of black voters in general) are pretty much locked up for Obama, white women have become a voting block to be reckoned with, and presently McCain holds the advantage.

It's true that the Palin bounce could be temporary, but Democrats would do well not to underestimate it.

[This post is part two of our Sarah Palin series. Be sure to read part one, The Palin Pick.]

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