Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Gifts That Keep on Giving

I came to the much-ballyhooed speech by Sarah Palin at about the halfway point--around 10:35PM eastern time. But I have a good excuse: I was so completely floored by the most recent off-stage bombshells in the unfolding Sarah Palin demolition derby that I couldn't pull myself away from reading about them for long enough to click the link to stream the convention.

In case you missed it, much-venerated Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan became the latest victim of the hot mic, saying (at a moment when she thought no one was listening) that the Palin pick was a desperate mistake. "I think they went for this--excuse me--political bullshit about narratives," Noonan said. "Every time the Republicans do that, because that's not where they live and it's not what they're good at, they blow it."

If she'd left it at that, being Peggy Noonan, the damage would've been bad enough. But she didn't leave it at that. When fellow Republican operative Mike Murphy commented on the need for McCain to run to the middle, saying, "I come out of the blue swing-state Governor world, Engler, Whitman, Thompson, Mitt Romney, and this pick, it's not going to work," Noonan chimed in with her own report on the state of the race by saying, "It's over."

Meanwhile a report has surfaced suggesting that the National Enquirer will go front-page with the story of an extramarital affair by Governor Palin--a brand-new bombshell that carries with it the inescapable verisimilitude of the Edwards fiasco of earlier this summer. The McCain team, in response, has risen to the challenge by threatening to sue. And never mind the fact that they have no legal standing to do so. Truly, folks, this is not the sort of stuff that even a vindictive imagination like mine can think up.


Ms. Palin is in full swing, at this moment, attacking the media, and claiming that she's reformed the government of the State of Alaska, and proving that she can deliver a zinger-line as well as anybody else. Convention speeches, it's easy to forget, almost always work: they are so tightly choreographed, so elaborately orchestrated, and written by such supremely smart-thinking and poll-conscious writers, that it's almost never possible to gauge a speech in its immediate aftermath.

You could be forgiven for thinking that she got through it without a major gaffe. There's only one problem, and this time I don't think I've misread the media mood. At the roughly three-quarters mark of what might've otherwise passed into history quite quickly, Governor Palin delivered once again her most buzz-friendly line from Friday's address in Dayton: "When the folks in Washington said they wanted to build a bridge to nowhere in our state, I said, 'Thanks but no thanks.'" It was, at that hour at least, the defining centerpiece of Palin's claim to the mantle of the Vice Presidency as, if not a voice of change, then certainly a voice of reform. It had been a very powerful moment for her last Friday, to be sure--probably her best.

Except for one small problem. It is unequivocally untrue. The next day it was reported on the front page of the USA Today, in fact, that not only did she accept the funding for the bridge (and then later decide not to build it), she also made repeated trips to Washington to plead for a panoply of unjustifiable earmarks, dating all the way back to her days as the Mayor of Wasilla. In four years of trying, she has netted over $35million in wasteful spending for her homefolks.

My read is that the negativity of her current stance, particularly her decision to blame a media with whom she has no pre-existing relationship, will earn her no safe harbor from a full-frontal reprise of the story, and, depending on how annoyed the opinion editors have decided to get over Palin's defensiveness, perhaps even some barbed questions about the matter will dog her all the way to the conclusion of her candidacy, successful or otherwise.

Meanwhile, the overall convention went from being comically inept on Monday, to strange and and almost self-parodying (and demonstrably ineffectual) on Tuesday, to, tonight, one of the meanest and most personally nasty convention nights we've ever witnessed in this country--and with these guys that's a pretty high standard to try to reach. Guliani was so mean that he got Bill Schneider wondering in print if he'd cause McCain/Palin to actually lose votes. Romney, for his part, seems to have forgotten that he is a guy from Massachusetts who's worth $500 million, whose father was the president of American Motors, the Governor of Michigan and a cabinet secretary, and, having forgotten all of that, spent twice his allotted time on stage to spin a towering vitriol criticizing the "Eastern elite." Again and again he invoked the word "liberal" as if he were describing professional puppy-eating hijackers, despite the fact that his own record as Governor of Massachusetts could best be summed up as pro-choice, pro-gay-rights, and pro-universal health care.

To speculate that the American public won't buy it this time around is, sadly, to overestimate the American public. Much, much stranger (and more depressing) things have happened in our political history than for the guy who picked his VP using google to win an election on a one-issue platform of sound judgment. But first these fine patriots up in Minneapolis this week have to overcome a loss of momentum, a sudden and intense acrimony with their own traveling press, a penchant for repeated disregard for front-page facts, and, perhaps most importantly of all, a loss of public interest that has already registered itself in the form of television ratings barely half that of the Democrats' equivalent days last week.

...And all while accepting public funding caps, playing a desperately defensive campaign in places like North Carolina, and hoping against hope, literally, that the sum-total of all this Palin-induced incoming doesn't register in anyone else's mind -- after Peggy Noonan's -- as a monumental miscalculation that will cost McCain his chance at the Presidency.

Dave O'Gorman
("The Key Grip")
Gainesville, Florida

1 comment:

vader said...

May I suggest:

Gov Palin
The gift that keeps givin'