Much has been said about her speech, but a few points. “The difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull? Lipstick” is pure American and goes straight into Bartlett’s. This is the authentic sound of the American mama, of every mother you know at school who joins the board, reads the books, heads the committee, and gets the show on the road. These women make large portions of America work.
She has the power of the normal. Hillary Clinton is grim, stentorian, was born to politics and its connivances. Nancy Pelosi, another mother of five, often seems dazed and ad hoc. But this state governor and mother of a big family is a woman in a good mood. There is something so normal about her, so “You’ve met this person before and you like her,” that she broke through in a new way, as a character vividly herself, and vividly genuine.
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Her flaws accentuated her virtues. Now and then this happens in politics, but it’s rare. An example: The very averageness of her voice, the not-wonderfulness of it, highlighted her normality: most people don’t have great voices. That normality in turn highlighted the courage she showed in being there, on that stage for the first time in her life and under trying circumstances. Her averageness accentuated her specialness. Her commonality highlighted her uniqueness.
She seemed wholly different from, and in fact seemed a refutation to, all the men of Washington at their great desks who make rules others have to live by but they don’t have to live by themselves, who mandate work rules from which they exempt Congress, for instance. They don’t live by the rules they espouse. She has lived her expressed values. She said yes to a Down Syndrome child. This too is powerful.
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What she did in terms of the campaign itself was important. No one has ever really laid a glove on Obama before, not in this campaign and maybe not in his life. But Palin really damaged him. She took him square on, fearlessly, by which I mean in part that she showed no awkwardness connected to race, or racial history. A small town mayor is kind of like a community organizer only you have actual responsibilities. He wrote two memoirs but never authored a major bill. They’ve hauled the Styrofoam pillars back to the Hollywood lot.
This was powerful coming from Baberaham Lincoln, as she’s been called.
By the end, Democrats knew they had been dinged, and badly. After the speech they descended on cable news en masse with the dart-eyed, moist-browed look of the operative who doesn’t believe his talking points. They seemed like they were thinking, “I’ve seen this movie before and it doesn’t end well.” Actually they haven’t seen it before in that Palin is something new, but they have seen it before in terms of what she said.
Which gets me to the most important element of the speech, and that is the startlingness of the content. It was not modern conservatism, or split the difference Conservative-ish-ism. It was not a conservatism that assumes the America of 2008 is very different from the America of 1980.
It was the old-time conservatism. Government is too big, Obama will “grow it”, Congress spends too much and he’ll spend “more.” It was for low taxes, for small business, for the private sector, for less regulation, for governing with “a servant’s heart”; it was pro-small town values, and implicitly but strongly pro-life.
This was so old it seemed new, and startling. The speech was, in its way, a call so tender it made grown-ups weep on the floor. The things she spoke of were the beating heart of the old America. But as I watched I thought, I know where the people in that room are, I know their heart, for it is my heart. But this election is a wild card, because America is a wild card. It is not as it was in ’80. I know where the Republican base is, but we do not know where this country that never stops changing is.
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It all left me wondering if this campaign is about to take on a new shape, with the old time conservatism on one side, and a smoother, evolved form of the old style liberalism on the other.
It doesn’t get more dramatic, or dramatically drawn, than that.
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I don’t like the new media war. I don’t like what it has the potential to do to the election, and the country.
The media overstepped. The Republican party resented it. GOP strategists saw a unifying force rising: anger in the base. They too had seen this movie before. They slammed the media. The media shot back: “You’re attacking us for doing our job!”
How did the media overstep? By offending people by going so immediately and so personally into issues surrounding Mrs. Palin’s family. They did not overstep by digging, by deep reporting, by investigating Palin’s professional record.
Campbell Brown of CNN did nothing wrong for instance in pressing a campaign spokesman on Palin’s foreign policy credentials. She was unjustly criticized for following an appropriate and necessary line of inquiry. But endless front page stories connected to Mrs. Palin’s 17-year-old daughter? Cable news shows that had people insinuating Palin, whom America had not yet even met, was a bad mother, and that used her daughter’s circumstances to examine Republican views on abstinence education? That was ugly.
In the end it made Palin the underdog, and gave her the perfect platform for the perfect dive she made Wednesday night.
We have had these old press fights in the past—they were a source of constant tension when I was a child, when Barry Goldwater came forward as a conservative and the press scorned him as a flake, and later when Ronald Reagan came up and the press dismissed him as Bonzo.
But this latest fight commences on a new and wilder battlefield. The old combatants were old school gentlemen, Eric Sevareid and Walter Cronkite; the new combatants are half-crazy cable anchors, the lower lurkers of the Internet, and the anonymous posters on the comment thread on the radical website.
This new war on new turf is not good, and carries the potential of great harm. Everyone really ought to stop, breathe deep, and think.
I am worried they won’t. A friend IM’d the day after Palin’s speech, and I told him of an inexplicable sense of foreboding. He surprised me by saying he shared it. “Calling all underworlds reporting for duty!,” he wrote. “The bed is about to fly around the room, the puke is about to come out.” He meant: this campaign is going to engage unseen powers and forces. He meant: this campaign, this beautiful golden thing with two admirable men at the top and two admirable vice presidential candidates, is going to turn dark.
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It is starting to look to me like a nation-defining election. And in this it seems almost old-fashioned. 1992 for instance didn’t seem or feel nation-defining, not as I remember it, nor did 2000. 1964 did, and ‘80 did, but they both ended in landslides. Landslide is not what I’m seeing here.
Where are the Democrats going to go? I suspect to foreign policy. In politics it used to be called Tolstoy: war and peace. McCain-Palin will mean more war, Obama-Biden will mean peace.
This campaign is about to become: epic.
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John McCain also made a speech. It was flat.