As expected, Charlie Gibson’s interview of vice president candidate Sarah Palin has the cable news world tied up in knots. As expected, they’ve missed the overall point.
It matters little to the vast majority of voters what answers Palin gave the the pop-quiz style questions Gibson asked. She could have said that Barry Manilow was the president of Russia and Britney Spears is the ambassador to Mars and no one would have much cared. In the end, her views on much of anything aren’t going to change anyone’s mind, uUnless, of course, ABC News had the foresight to put Palin in front of Barbara Walters. Given the level of political discourse in this country, it seems like more people would have been far more interested in what shade of lipstick she’d wear if she were a tree than they are in her views on Israel. Walters would have been the perfect choice to elicit the real hard-hitting stuff most on the minds of Americans.
Palin has been the focus of so much media attention since her rather oddball selection by John McCain as his running mate, it’s easy to see why she has Democrats nervous. Even before the McCain camp’s series of ads diminishing Barack Obama’s status as a celebrity, Democrats knew that much of their candidate’s appeal was just that—he’s a political rock star. Now they’re nervous that Palin is the new flavor of the day in a country with the attention span of a puppy. She is. Big deal.
Democrats need to better study the typical celebrity trajectory before they overreact to Palin’s emergence on the national scene. In a relatively short time Palin will have all the allure of Richard Hatch unless or until she demonstrates that there is something tangible behind the hype. Indeed, what really has sustained Obama through the campaign is the sense that the status his celebrity affords has been well earned. However thin one may view his actual accomplishments to date, it’s a resume that offers promise. Even if they don’t realize it, what is sustaining Obama supporters at this point is not a desire to see past successes repeated but a desire to see promise fulfilled.
Whatever one thinks of Bruce Springsteen and his politics, no one would dispute his status as a historical figure in rock music. But in 1975, he was just a scruffy kid with two minor albums under his belt and another waiting just released when he simultaneously made the covers of Time and Newsweek. It was dismissed as hype by those who felt that such accomplishments are only earned in retrospect. But all Springsteen has done in the 33 years since is prove that those who saw greatness then, despite a thin resume himself, were absolutely right. From a guy who seemed to be singularly obsessed with cars and girls as a youth has come some of the most mature and thought provoking music ever written. Who knew? Well, lots of people as it turns out.
The same fate is Obama’s to have, or so the theory goes, unless he blows it. Palin is really a symptom. The idea that Obama may choke is what is making Democrats nervous. Thus comes from every corner a similar almost singular piece of advice; channel your inner rage, fella. Arianna Huffington is just the latest to weigh in. Her premise is that Americans are in a rage over the last seven and a half years and need to see someone who not only can share that rage but express it far better than they can. While her individual points are well taken, her premise is faulty. If the success of the McCain campaign to date has demonstrated anything, it’s that people aren’t nearly as fed up as Huffington would like us to believe.
The fact that McCain can resonate with any voter is proof that far too much of the populace either is living under a grand delusion that all is well or that they just don’t much care. In fact, if there is any real conclusion to be drawn it’s that the populace really is a reflection of the cult of George W. Bush. He may be the worst and least popular president in history, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped him from turning us into a nation where results are far less important than the effort expended.
The Bush record is a disaster in so many ways that it should have resulted in McCain’s campaign having all the traction of a junk-yard tire. Instead, if the latest polls are to be believed, he’s running neck and neck on a platform where staying the course is the new change. Couple that with his new celebrity plaything that he marches out like the programmed Lenscrafter model she resembles and it’s enough to make you wonder exactly which Harlan Ellison novel we’re living in.
And while all of this may make many of us uncomfortable, it hardly seems to be reason enough to have Obama play against type and express a phony rage that the average person just doesn’t feel. Listening the other day to Joe Scarborough on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, he thinks that what people want to see is Obama call out McCain for the bully he’s become and challenge him to look Obama in the eye and call him a sexist. While he’s at it, maybe Obama can ask McCain to knock a battery off his shoulder, too.
Except for the media, which always likes a good fight, no one else is looking for any such thing. Obama had it right early and needs to hit on it often. Elections are won or lost on hope, always. His ability to articulate it in a way that resonates beyond the phony promises of McCain will win or lose the election.
Obama’s campaign will continue to evolve and it ultimately will go where the candidate takes it. He’ll win on his own terms or not at all. But stepping out of character to satisfy the wrongheaded advice of those who otherwise mean well in order to address another sleazy meaningless McCain ad has much more of a chance of being counterproductive as it does to being helpful. The same holds true with respect to Palin. Obama found away to tamp down the candidacy of a woman far more qualified and far more substantial without a whole lot of difficulty. Treating Palin as an even greater threat only elevates her at his expense. Give her all the attention she deserves and pretty soon she’ll be back in Alaska firing state troopers again in no time.Powered by Sidelines