Sarah Palin achieved tonight what John McCain couldn’t, she turned an “experience vs. change” race into an “us vs. them” race. Franklin Foer and Andrew Sullivan are decrying this strategy on moral grounds, which is cute in a weepy sort of way. This is good strategy. If you are in politics for “uplift” you are in the wrong business. Obama learned about politics from reading Saul Alinsky, not Chicken Soup for the Soul. Can we grow up and talk about politics as the enterprise of obtaining and exercising political power?
There is a line of argument that a blissful mid-century liberal consensus was torn apart by the novel and evil strategies of Lee Atwater and Richard Nixon. In reality the politics of polarization have been with us since Adams ran against Jefferson. Only that time it was the Massachusetts candidate decrying the immorality of the Southerner. “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced,” said Adams of his opponent. And we in the media are tut-tutting Palin for belittling Obama’s run for presidency as a “journey of self-discovery?” That was one of the most effective attacks on Obama I’ve ever heard.
I’ve been shocked by the reactions to Sarah Palin. Like Barack Obama, the hatred and devotion she inspires is pre-rational. Richard Cohen, disgustingly compared her to Caligula’s horse. Keith Olbermann immediately likened her to Tracy Flick, the villain of the Alexander Payne film, “Election.” Does this mean Keith has the same mixed-up fantasies about Palin as the Mathew Broderick character did for Flick? This plays right into the McCain campaign’s hands. Palin won’t have to pose as a victim, she’ll be too busy being a fighter. The McCain campaign will scold the media for diminishing the accomplishments of “a working mother.”
Until these last two weeks I never thought Republicans had a chance.
After two terms of disastrous misrule by Republicans, and with a presidential candidate whose politics I genuinely fear, I cannot pull the lever for the GOP this year. But Palin just gave a speech that warmed my Machivellian heart. I wanted to wear an Agnew pin by the time she finished. Take that for what it’s worth.
Has the Palin pick been uplifting for the country? Is it going to bring us together? These questions are besides the point. No candidate is ever going to “going to make us feel different about one another.” But one candidate usually reminds us of how we really do feel about one another. And that candidate usually wins.