When you ask Barack Obama’s admirers what they like most about him, you will typically hear of his personality traits before any specifics about policy. Obama’s fans say that he is so “smart… cool-headed… articulate…” To point out that in terms of policy, Obama isn’t that different from most other conventional Democrats–or even that different from George W. Bush–does little to dissuade the president’s most ardent champions, and any failure to live up to liberal ideals does little to change Obama’s current popular status as liberalism personified.

Sarah Palin is the Republican Obama. When you ask Palin’s admirers what they like most about her, you will typically hear of her personality traits before any specifics about policy. Palin’s fans say that she is “warm-hearted… down-to-earth… a good mom…” To point out that Palin’s actual politics aren’t that different from most other conventional Republicans, or in some ways, not much different from Obama’s, does not dissuade the former Alaska governor’s most ardent champions. And any failure to live up to conservative ideals fails to change Palin’s popular status as conservatism personified.

Obama and Palin represent opposing versions of the same identity politics. Based primarily on personality, love, or hatred for the other, it is politics driven primarily by emotion–not logic. If you don’t believe me, try telling an Obama-loving Democrat that he is no different from a Palin-loving Republican or vice versa. Even the soundest reasoning will do little to quell the forthcoming rage.

And it was precisely this sort of partisan rage that fueled the anti-Palin backlash in the wake of the recent Arizona shooting tragedy. In attacking Palin’s midterm election television commercials in which a bulls eye graphic was placed over vulnerable swing state districts–when has “targeting” politicians for electoral defeat been considered controversial or beyond the pale? Next to never. This is conventional political speech used by both parties for eons. But for the sake of argument, even if such speech was “irresponsible,” what evidence did we have that the alleged gunman even admired or was influenced in any way by Palin? Little to none. In fact, the New York Times reported Sunday of Jared Lee Loughner, that “his anger would well up at the sight of President George W. Bush,” making the gunman sound more like a liberal Democrat (if it’s even proper to label a mentally disturbed man using conventional political terminology).

So why the focus on Palin? Why so much conversation about a conversation not even worth having? Because liberals now project everything they hate about the GOP, the Tea Party, and conservatives onto Palin. This time the longstanding hatred became so ferocious that it also became blinding, resulting in accusations that were completely baseless.

I dislike Obama because of his big government policies, which are in large part an even more ambitious continuation of the last Republican president’s agenda. I dislike Palin because her rhetoric is little more than sound bites and catchphrases, making it hard to imagine that she possesses a genuinely sound conservative philosophy to substantively refute and reject the same big government policies. Palin also seems willing to ignore the conservative hypocrisy that ruined the Bush presidency and Republican Party–meaning perhaps she would also be willing to endure another round of it. This simply will not do. That Obama is charismatic does not excuse his horrible policies–and that Palin is cute or charming does not excuse her less than comprehensive conservative politics. Palin is the Republicans’ Obama, Obama is the Democrats’ Palin, and this ongoing triumph of style over substance continues to reveal the unfortunate nature of identity politics.

Today such nonsense is what dominates American political discourse. Turning on any of the many television news outlets in the last week, viewers were overwhelmed with stories or conversations about the need to “tone down” the “vitriol” and “hatred” in American politics–yet by far the most vitriolic hatred was that generated by the media toward Palin. The same liberals who rightly bemoan over-the-top Tea Party signs depicting the President as a communist or fascist dictator were no less over-the-top in their denunciations of the former governor, most implying that Palin was somehow culpable for the Arizona tragedy. In ridiculing conservatives obsessed with absurd non-issues like Obama showing “weakness” by bowing to foreign heads of state or the president’s supposed lack of a birth certificate, the Left loves to point out that sometimes conservative hatred for this president knows no bounds.

But last week, liberals proved that–in their own hatred for conservatives–they are no different.