Back from the Dylan concert, I watched two of the Republican National Convention speeches on tape delay on MSNBC. First was Rudy Giuliani's speech. Rudy has gone off the deep end, and after that speech, any lingering crumbs of goodwill from his 9/11 performance have been cleared away.
But the speech everyone is talking about is Palin's. As a vessel for rallying the conservative base, she was perfect. She was remarkably self-assured, and if disregard for irony is courage, then she was fearless in her assault on Obama. If the VP's job is to attack the opposing presidential candidate, Palin seems as eager and willing to take on Obama as Amy Winehouse was to beat up her husband. That crowd was fired up, and the Republican party seemed to get its mojo back.
Of all the politicians who've spoken at the conventions, her life story was best at conveying that she's just like one of us (whether it's true or not). George W. Bush seems like one of us because he comes off sounding like an underachieving frat president. Palin seems like the tough hockey mom she says she is. Democrats saw Dubya win the last election in part on his folksy charm, and Palin has an element of that. Her life story allows the Republicans to put some weight behind their elitist attacks against Obama because she serves as a foil to his best-selling book-writing, Harvard Law Review President past.
But the Republican party always gets behind its candidate, so the Democrats had to expect it, even if the candidate is McCain. How did her speech play to independents, and Hillary supporters, and Democrats in general?
I think it will rally Democrats just as much as it rallies the Republicans. The few Democratic friends I've spoken to are livid over her speech and its largely facile attacks, and two of them jumped online immediately to make big donations to the Obama campaign. I caught myself with fuming from time to time at what seemed to be a certain smugness on her part. Who does she think she is? If you look to Palin's speech as a roadmap for how the Republicans are going to approach the next two months, we should expect a clear return to the type of divisive attacks that Obama has wanted to avoid. Palin fired up her party, but she also lit a fire under the opposing team.
I was struck, in the Democratic Convention, by how many times speakers stopped to praise McCain. I heard no such concessions from Giuliani or Palin. They had no qualms about resorting to a sarcasm which left them looking particularly vicious and petty. In my mind, this helps the Democrats because it opens the door to attacking Palin more aggressively. If she is as tough and antagonistic as she seemed in this speech, the Democrats should be able to take off the kid gloves. Charges of sexism won't stick. Hell, she made Biden look like the one who should wear a cup to the first VP debate. This is an important opening that the Democrats need to seize. The Democrats need to go after Palin's vulnerable spots, and there are many, so that she can't remain this abstract, attractive attack dog.
Palin's attacks also crossed a line. They tried to paint Obama as a egotist who cares little for America. Whether you're for him or against him, I doubt many independents will buy that he's a preening narcissist. The bluntness and exaggerated nature of her attacks made her seem tough but simple-minded.
Criticizing Obama for being elitist while belittling his work as a community organizer is the type of obliviousness to irony that Republicans are very good at (honestly; their focus on message is just good politics). It plays great when preaching to the choir. But does Palin have the weight to make the charges stick?
I don't think she does. I kept thinking throughout her speech that I was impressed by her command of the crowd and terrified at the possibility that she might become our President. Her speech was so light on actual policy talk that I couldn't help but feel that she was a movie character, from the story of any average person thrust into the White House unexpectedly who impresses everyone with their folk wisdom. If there's a war breaking out between two foreign countries, she's not the one I want answering the 3am phone call. Maybe if there's a rabid moose on the loose, but not if she needs to jump in and mediate between, say, Georgia and Russia.
Did her speech play well to Hillary's sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits? I'll be curious to see the polls. I suspect just as many professional women are appalled by Palin as thrilled. Finally, despite her youth, in attacking Obama with arguments that seem so partisan, she only offers more of what has turned so many young people off of politics.
I could be entirely wrong. I'm no political expert. But I can't help but be drawn in. This Presidential election is the best new drama on TV. Can it win an Emmy?