Hopefully, of course. One never knows.
For the past two weeks, as I’ve mentioned here and there, work commitments as well as many other things have kept me from commenting much about the political season as it moves into a home stretch. Part of it had to do with the complexity of other things going on — the fact that it seems the only thing people can agree on w/r/t the larger economy is that it sucks isn’t reassuring, though then again when exactly do economists ever fully agree on anything? And part of it was me realizing that I needed to be careful of what I wished for — having spent much of summer feeling bored by the sluggish and incremental progress of what campaigns there were, the past month of high octane nuttiness was absolutely exhausting at a certain unavoidable point.
What little I’d had to say about Palin focused primarily on the subject of greatest initial interest to me, the question of the Wasilla library, and how while the claim that she actually single-handedly banned books was false, lingering questions remained, not least being why she thought it was a good idea to raise the question about it in public discussions. Nothing more has really surfaced about that to my knowledge, so I chalk it up to something that we’ll never know the full details about — not surprising as well given the continued wish for silence on the part of the former librarian.
Around the time that I’d had my last to say about that, the first of Palin’s mostly strange and strained interviews began to appear — which prompted a friend to say in a private group conversation that the writing was already on the wall for her. I’d initially thought she could only be a base motivator in the end rather than a winner-over of the uncommitted, but I admit by mid-September I’d wondered slightly if somehow she’d found some way beyond that. My friend would have none of it, instead arguing the earlier conclusion more forcefully — that she would be nothing but a limiting drag instead over time, and that the hoped-for game-changing choice would be a busted flush.
At this point in time my friend seems to have called it. Palin as base-energizer remains important for the McCain campaign, but that also seems to be about it — and on the larger front, it doesn’t seem to have been enough. The real game-changer so far instead is the economy, and as enough polls and discussions about how this has all been breaking Obama’s way as a result have already been posted, I won’t go into them here — a site I’ve only just started paying more attention to, FiveThirtyEight, contains much more on this from the poll-wonk front, so that’s a good starting point. With a month to go, it would be foolish to assume that things will stay exactly as they are, but at the same time it would be equally foolish to say that somehow Palin has turned into a concrete net gain for the GOP — the evidence simply isn’t there.
Palin herself meanwhile has discharged her only remaining duty required of her for the campaign, the debate with Biden. The best assumption as to what she will do with her time if she’s not distracted by other things — and she will be — is to apparently give stump speeches to crowds already disposed to like her and to avoid talking to the press any more than necessary. It’s the approach of the cowardly, of course, and has already been ragged on as well, deservedly so — the pitbull comparison was already fatally undone by the events of September and a continuation through October extends this.
So what’s left? Well, nothing — nothing, really. Palin is an empty shell of a politician, given to generalities and cant, ‘folksiness’ and winks. It says something that the most well-known comment on the right about Palin’s debate performance was Rich Lowry’s fundamentally embarrassing post with these words:
I’m sure I’m not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, “Hey, I think she just winked at me.” And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America.
Pathetic doesn’t begin to describe this. It’s puppy-love as political commentary, an attempt to square the circle of where personal charisma ends and concrete demonstrations of thought begin, and as such fails miserably. At least he wasn’t so simple-minded as to say that every male in America must have thought like he did; nonetheless the subtext is clear — he likes her as a politician because she turns him on. In his book Mike Nelson’s Movie Megacheese, Nelson summed up this attitude a decade back, after discussing Lucy Lawless as Xena in his usual hyperdry style: “I realize the preceding paragraph only serves to illustrate the sad reality that most men believe deep down that all women, even those that see on television, are potential mates.” Lowry probably thought he was making a droll observation, but he’s the butt of the joke.
Responses to all this came thick and fast but two good ones came from female readers of Andrew Sullivan’s site. The first, in part:
The fact that so many other qualified women in the party, like Olympia Snowe (whom I admire greatly), Kay Baily Hutchinson, Christie Todd Whitman (my former governor) are able to communicate and connect with the American people, were passed over for this disaster of a candidate, is greatly disheartening to me as a young woman. Say what you want about Hillary Clinton, but she didn’t ask to be treated differently. She was able to take on the big boys and even throw some elbows, too. I just can’t believe this is the example that the Republicans want to set for the future and for young women especially.
The second, in part:
I just want to point out that women of any intelligence recognize Palin as a female archetype we’ve had to deal with for years. In modern vernacular, she’s a “mean girl,” who is ambitious and has no trouble stabbing people in the back to get what she wants. This type of woman is terribly divisive, splitting women between adoring acolytes who want to be “just like them” and women who see clearly what’s going on and can’t believe that no one else (especially males) can see through it. If Rich Lowry has a girlfriend with a brain, I bet she’d like to strangle him.
My mom, who is a serious fundy and believes the Bible is a scientific review of creation, had not seen much of Palin prior to the debate.
Her only sense was that Palin was being persecuted for believing in the Bible. Even she was appalled by Palin’s performance at the debate and thought the flirty phoniness was totally unbecoming a national political figure. You could almost hear a collective embarrassed groan from educated, non-neoconservative women all over the world who have worked their asses off to be taken seriously only to have this bimbo blatantly and on camera attempt to reduce the role of women to their ability to flirt.
A more generous assessment of Palin’s actions in this vein would take into account the type of thing that Andrew Halcro has been saying all along — that her greatest gifts as a politician and communicator are the ability to connect on a broad scale, to play to a crowd, to deal in generalities in a way that ‘real’ people can recognize. In otherwards, she was doing this kind of stuff, along with all the folksiness and what have you, to show how much more down to earth she is rather than all those lamers in Washington (like her running mate, for example) — all under the assumption that it is enough just to show up and be that way. There’s a logical reason to think she thinks this — it worked for her already, after all. But this is being called out in interesting ways.
Over at the London Review of Books, Jonathan Raban brings in a figure from French political history, Jean Poujade, as a point of comparison. The efficacy of the comparison seems sound — to quote two key parts:
Sarah Palin has put a new face and voice to the long-standing, powerful, but inchoate movement in US political life that one might see as a mutant variety of Poujadism, inflected with a modern American accent. There are echoes of the Poujadist agenda of 1950s France in its contempt for metropolitan elites, fuelling the resentment of the provinces towards the capital and the countryside towards the city, in its xenophobic strain of nationalism, sturdy, paysan resistance to taxation, hostility to big business, and conviction that politicians are out to exploit the common man.
Palin doesn’t need to say what Poujade used to tell his listeners, ‘Look me in the eye, and you will see yourself,’ and ‘I’m just le petit Poujade, an ordinary Frenchman like you’: all she needed was her trademark blink from behind her librarian glasses, and to turn on her pert, wrinkle-nosed smile, in order to convince a crucial sector of the American electorate, male and female, that it sees in her a looking-glass reflection, suitably flattering in both form and content, of itself. Sarah, c’est moi.
Seemingly a slam-dunk for Palin, you’d think — or you might think. The thing about this assumption is that it trades in the presumption of a stable stereotype as set against another stable set of stereotypes. As Raban notes, the impulse itself is not organized, but the state of active figures in it, the us vs. them, is. It has to hold for it to work.
But…it isn’t. Not entirely.
On the one hand, you have some expected reactions — thus the see-sawing Peggy Noonan, who has spent the last month doing everything from speaking her mind into a live mic, trying to cover for that ever since, and then finally venting a bit earlier today on Meet the Press, as John at Balloon Juice noted (with some appropriate scorn). To quote her:
She is a natural. I, I will tell you, I, I feel increased concern about her, I think, what she thinks of populism, as her populist approach. There are two ways—you know, her stuff about “I’m Main Street, you’re not, you’re the elite. I’m not the East Coast, I’m Joe Six-Pack.” She actually says, “I’m the Joe Six-Pack candidate.” This left me thinking, “Gosh, would Lincoln say, ‘I represent the backwoods types?’ Would FDR say, ‘Yeah, the New York aristocracy deserves another moment in the sun. Vote for me.’” It—there’s something weird about it. But there’s also something, for me, concerning populism as a tactic is justified often in politics. “I need this program, the people want it.” Populism as a strategy, “We’re the good guys, you’re the bad guys,” is not good, and, and if that’s the road they’re going, that’s not a good road to be on. It’s not helpful to the country.
Now, whenever Noonan’s voiced opinions like that in past, she gets dumped for being an out-of-touch elitist from the types at the likes of RedState and that won’t change.
But would they say that about Pam Fleck, a resident in Michigan? Read on:
Pam Fleck has just finished vacuuming and scrubbing her mobile home into potpourri perfection when her phone rings and it’s her sister, Sherry. Sherry lives over in Brighton. She drives a school bus, likes to hunt and votes Republican.
“Hi,” says Fleck, an assistant manager at a Dollar General store. Her mind is on the 18-wheel delivery truck she’ll have to unload at work later that night. Lifting cases of bleach take its toll at the age of 55.
Sherry is on the phone talking politics, trying one more time to talk sense into her sister. Anyone who votes for Barack Obama will not be welcome in her house — a joke, but Fleck knows exactly where her younger sister stands. She takes a sip of coffee.
“Yeah, I’m still listening,” she says.
If Obama gets in, Sherry says, he will take away everyone’s guns and control what roads they can and cannot drive on.
Fleck interrupts. “We are not going to be able to afford any guns to shoot or cars to drive on the roads if things don’t change, Sherry, honest to God.”
It’s just the start of an essential, must-read article. There’s lots to say about it on a number of levels — a friend said privately, referring to Fleck’s precarious existence and that of most of her family and friends, “I wish Pam’s story was unique, but that’s become the norm in Michigan….there are so many families that are struggling because of how the automotive industry has tanked.” Hers is the kind of story — of a conditional existence, of tensions that shoot through even the closest bonds — that rightly reminds me not to dwell on self-pity, to be thankful for what I do have.
There’s also something else to say about the article as well, though — if you believed in stereotypes being true, then you might think that Fleck would be a perfect person to be receptive to a message from Palin, perhaps even an ‘automatic’ supporter. White, working-class, female — a grandmother, like Palin will be in a few months time. You might even think that the whole story would have Palin running through it as a thread. Fleck’s quoted extensively on a variety of issues and subjects, political and otherwise.
Palin comes up only once:
The Dollar General sits in the corner of a concrete plaza in Southfield. Fleck works the register, restocks and rides herd over the part-time employees who work the aisles of discount life. The customers are mostly working-class and African American.
Fleck was at the register recently when two female customers picked up a copy of the Globe tabloid with the headline “SARAH PALIN SEX SCANDAL: the lies, the baby secret, the raunchy photos.” One of the women said to the other that if a black candidate’s 17-year-old daughter were pregnant, America wouldn’t be so charitable. Fleck glared at the customers but kept ringing them up. “If I said something like that in front of a black person, do you think I’d get away with it?” she later asked. If she was willing to put race aside, why couldn’t they?
And that’s it. Nothing more. Perhaps more was talked about, of course — articles based on interviews are just as important for what they leave out as for what they leave in. But could you imagine such an article running if Fleck didn’t have more to say about Palin?
One voter is one voter. An anecdote is not a trend. Though consider — shortly before Thursday’s debate, McCain’s campaign made an extremely startling announcement:
Republican presidential candidate John McCain conceded battleground Michigan to the Democrats on Thursday, GOP officials said, a major retreat as he struggles to regain his footing in a campaign increasingly dominated by economic issues.
These officials said McCain was pulling staff and advertising out of the economically distressed Midwestern state. He also canceled a visit slated for next week. Michigan, with 17 electoral votes, voted for Democrat John Kerry in 2004, but Republicans had poured money into an effort to try to place it in their column this year.
The decision marked the first time either McCain or his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, has tacitly conceded a traditional battleground state in a race for the White House with little more than a month remaining.
Only the spinners tried to play this off as something else. This was nothing less than surrender. The McCain campaign took the general pulse of the Flecks of the state and many more and realized they were, essentially, dead meat.
Oddly enough, one voice was raised in immediate protest on the GOP side at this decision:
Sarah Palin questioned Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s decision to abandon efforts to win Michigan, a campaign move she only learned about Friday morning when she read it in the newspapers.
In an interview with Fox News Channel Friday, the Alaska governor said she was disappointed that the McCain campaign decided to stop competing in Michigan. In an indication that the vice presidential candidate had not been part of the decision, she said she had “read that this morning and I fired off a quick e-mail” questioning the move.
“Todd and I, we’d be happy to get to Michigan and walk through those plants of the car manufacturers,” Palin said, referring to her husband. “We’d be so happy to get to speak to the people in Michigan who are hurting because the economy is hurting.”
Palin acknowledged the GOP ticket’s lackluster poll ratings in the state, but said: “I want to get back to Michigan and I want to try.”
Connect some dots, though. She’s already been to Michigan, in the first flush of her post-convention heyday. She was there to make some sort of an impact. Perhaps she did — but not the one she expected, if the Flecks of the universe remain unmoved. Even a recent story speculating more on whether or not this is some sort of ploy contains this:
“Our activists are calling me and saying, ‘We’re going to be working twice as hard now,'” (Chuck Yob, co-chair of McCain’s Michigan campaign) said. “My people are going to be out busting butt. My personal opinion is if we were to run full bore here, we’d have a good shot at winning Michigan.”
While he disagreed with McCain’s decision to leave the state, Yob said he understands it.
“It’s a business situation,” he said. “Michigan was on the bottom of the five states they targeted. When you’ve got eight polls that show you’re down, I agree you’re down.”
And back to those polls — and back to FiveThirtyEight, mentioned earlier. Play out the larger logic again of the Palin selection — it’s meant to fire people up and win them over. It’s meant to change a game for the good. On Friday, FiveThirtyEight ran this story about another state currently up for grabs, Missouri — to quote a part:
We’re getting used to this relentless Obama operation: organizers trained in both tactics and campaign culture, working so hard they have trouble remembering what happened 48 hours ago – it’s too distant – and convinced that if they stay in their lane and trust the structure it’ll pay off in the end.
Obama has 40 offices now open in Missouri, and Justin Hamilton, Obama’s Press Secretary for Missouri, told us that while he couldn’t confirm below or above the published reports of 150 organizers (it didn’t come from the campaign), the campaign is only adding to its ground force. Organizers have now recruited 2500 neighborhood team leaders statewide, folks who do the far more effective work than any 30-second ad or yard signs, actual face-to-face contact and persuasion of their neighbors.
Something interesting is happening with John McCain’s campaign. Up until now, we’ve had no trouble gaining access to field offices and volunteers. Here in St. Louis, we were told by Tina Hervey, Missouri Republican State Party Press Secretary, that she had never heard of FiveThirtyEight, and while they trusted Politico, we were people who they had to decide whether we “shouldn’t or don’t need to be talking to.” (McCain’s Missouri press secretary actually works out of Iowa, and did not return calls or email.) I told Tina that’s not a story we wanted to write, that this was our first Republican resistance, and that while she may not have heard of us, we’d probably go over 2.5 million site visits this week, now that we’re regularly past 400,000 per weekday. I told her I’d hold off writing her flat refusal and give her the opportunity to change her mind.
No budging. We were told that we’d be asked to leave public field offices we now attempted to visit. We did not get any promised follow-up helping get access to the post-debate Palin rally last night, and we were locked out. Hmm.
Let’s be clear. We’ve observed no comparison between these ground campaigns. To begin with, there’s a 4-1 ratio of offices in most states. We walk into McCain offices to find them closed, empty, one person, two people, sometimes three people making calls. Many times one person is calling while the other small clutch of volunteers are chatting amongst themselves. In one state, McCain’s state field director sat in one of these offices and, sotto voce, complained to us that only one man was making calls while the others were talking to each other about how much they didn’t like Obama, which was true. But the field director made no effort to change this. This was the state field director.
You could take every McCain volunteer we’ve seen doing actual work in the entire trip, over six states, and it would add up to the same as Obama’s single Thornton, CO office. Or his single Durango, CO office. These ground campaigns bear no relationship to each other.
And Sarah Palin was supposed to boost things up, and she’s had a month to reenergize down the line for the GOP. To get the base motivated, to get involved.
My question is in part rhetorical, of course. No doubt she has done that for some. But I’d like to conclude with a reminder and an observation, both looking towards Palin’s home state.
First — assuming Andrew Halcro is correct, and there’s very little he’s gotten wrong so far on this whole thing, after a series of increasingly flailing and desperate moves on the part of her aides and some allies, including lawyers deputized from McCain’s campaign, it seems pretty clear that they are about to lose big time to prevent a report on Friday from being released — the Branchflower investigation, put into play by a bipartisan Alaska state legislature, into what has been called Troopergate. (Halcro’s own post shortly after the firing of Walt Monegan remains a pretty crisp analysis of the abuse of power questions at play.) Rather than delaying the investigation until well after the election, the date for release has been accelerated and all attempts to draw out things in the courts have been disposed of in swift decisions.
It would be foolish to assume, as I think some wishful thinkers too easily are, that Branchflower’s report will somehow singlehandedly destroy Palin and the GOP campaign. One hopes people have learned the lessons of the damp squib of Fitzmas — for instance, Branchflower may well simply conclude that there’s a lot of questions that need to be further investigated, enough wiggle room for Palin to say simply that the ‘truth’ will eventually come out. But everything about how the investigation has gone forward — Palin’s initial swearing for complete transparency, her stumbling admission that there was at least some involvement of her office in the question, the sudden lockdown silence among her staff and associates and refusal to answer to subpoenas following her nomination, the hamhanded work of the appointed Attorney General and finally these attempts to contest the investigation — is a hell of a lot of smoke. If there is a fire, it’s pretty big, and will be big enough to probably require Palin to return to the state for at least some short time.
But that is simply to remind all that Friday will be an interesting day, at the least. I will conclude with the observation, courtesy of that other essential Alaska blog, Mudflats. The success of Mudflats, having gone from one person’s low-key but persistent observations on state politics from a progressive point of view to that of international resource for events and actions on the ground in the state is precisely the kind of reaction that Palin and McCain didn’t want to have happen — another in the series of examples that suggests that the real energizing took place not on the GOP side, but the other.
Yesterday, the latest in a series of rallies was held in Anchorage, each of which was designed to demonstrate that disenchantment with Palin — as governor and as candidate — was thicker on the ground than anyone was giving it credit for. This particular rally, unlike the ones before it, was a specifically pro-Obama rally — it bears keeping in mind that Obama and company had considered making a play for Alaska at one point, though they’ve understandably refocused since the VP nomination (possibly before it). In response, a pro-Palin rally was planned to take place at the exact same time, presumably to drown out or steal away some of the attention. Both took place yesterday, a Saturday, therefore a weekend when everyone was free, presumably — and the Obama rally was outside in chilly (for Alaskans perhaps very balmy) crisp weather while the Palin one was comfortably indoors. And keep in mind that, after all, the now-famous Wasilla is a suburb of Anchorage, so presumably there’s plenty of hometown support to draw on.
AKMuckraker, the proprietor of Mudflats, visited both and took photos. Her link says it all. To quote:
The Obama rally was all set up and running when I arrived – tents, face painting, t-shirt sales, voter registration, postcard writing to swing states, a huge stage and sound system. By 1:00, there were more than a thousand people milling around with signs, kids, dogs and huge smiles. This was definitely a feel-good place. Hundreds lined the roadside waving signs to appreciative honking motorists, and hundreds more milled around the tent area. Anchorage mayoral candidate and former legislator Eric Croft got up and spoke, so did Kat Pustay who’s heading up the Obama campaign in the state. Then came Ethan Berkowitz, Democratic candidate for the U.S. House seat currently held by Don Young. Ethan welcomed his “fellow revolutionaries”. The crowd went wild.
I looked at my watch. It was after 1:30 and I knew if I didn’t get to the McCain Palin rally soon, I’d never go. So I ripped myself away from all the positive energy and the fresh air, and hurried over to the Dana’ina Center. 3 people stood outside waving signs. I figured I had to smile, so I did. “Come on in, we’re having a rally!” one of them effused. I took a big cleansing breath, and in I went.
I just had a feeling this rally wasn’t going to have as big a crowd as the Obama rally, because the rally that was held for Palin herself, when she was in Anchorage a few weeks ago only had about 500 people show up. But I walked into the room and I really was stunned. I felt like I had entered an empty chair convention. It was really bad. I actually felt sorry for the organizers for a minute, before I snapped myself out of it. A head count yielded about 250-300 people. Clearly they had been hoping for more.
There are a slew of photos to refer to in the entry, but perhaps these two say it best:
But Palin herself was there…in spirit, and by telephone. Apparently she said something like this:
“Gee, I miss you guys… I heard there were a few flakes today. I miss that weather. It’s been so amazeen travelin’ across this great country and meetin’ people, and even Alaskans down here also as we travel across the country also meetin’ people… I miss you guys SOOO much.”
Apparently the feeling is not mutual. But there did appear to be a few flakes around.
Short of something spectacular involving her — and it could easily happen — I have resolved not to talk about her on the blog again until after the election. Either I’ll say, “Well, this’ll be interesting with her presiding over the Senate” or I’ll be wondering how quickly political vengeance at home will be wreaked.
No guesses as to which one I’m thinking is more likely at present.
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