Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Drama on the Right

Having sworn up and down that I would have nothing to say about Sarah Palin, I am about to eat my words. In response to several emails and phone calls encouraging me to say something, anything about this all-too-interesting personality and her pregnant teenage daughter, I politely demurred.

After all, Sarah Palin's private life, her personal choices, is none of anyone's business. I am certainly not going to explain to a woman-- or anyone else-- how to be a mother.

Nor do I want to get involved in the culture wars aspect of this situation. Not because I am not amused by it. After all, some liberal feminists are horrified because Sarah Palin is pro-life, while others, like Camille Paglia, are, at the least, intrigued.

Sarah Palin would not only be the first woman to hold the office of vice president, she would also be the first babe. Who but Camille would notice that.

On the right, many moral crusaders are lining up to say that they are happy Bristol Palin will be having her baby, while others, like Bill Bennett, are horrified at the notion of a high school student having a child.

To the Democrats McCain's choice looks like a golden opportunity. And many Republicans agree. However much the base has been fired up, more sober Republicans have been saying that their party should simply not play identity politics. They are like amateurs competing against professionals.

Since the Palin selection the polls have been running against McCain. This suggests that the general public has not been quite so enamored of this choice. And I suspect that the markets were not very happy about it either. As the polls started coming out today, the stock market began to fall. Eventually it gave up all of its early gains, and more.

Anyway, before the Democratic convention I offered some advice about how we could judge what was happening. It is contained in my post: Forever Nuance.

Why not apply the same predicate to the Republican extravaganza. My hypothesis was simple and unoriginal: politics is about policy-- the word is a give-away-- and the candidate who articulates the clearest policy proposals is most likely to win the election.

For all the hubbub about image and drama, it all comes down to policy. That was my point. I am sticking to it.

I had thought that Obama would be done in by excessive nuance. I should have added that if policy is drowned out by drama, whether during the convention or during the campaign, the candidate's chances will diminish.

How did I think Obama did at his convention? Not very well. The speech to end all speeches did not produce much movement in the polls. First, it did not articulate any clear policies; second, its message was muffled by the tumult of the event itself.

Now, here come the Republicans. they do not have to worry about John McCain's nuance or charisma. Now, however, they have to deal with the outsized personality and unconventional life of Sarah Palin.


The more the public debate concerns the Palin family drama, the less it will focus on public policy. It might just be the case that the nation is ready for an African-American president. And it might be the case that we are ready for a vice president who is a babe.

The trouble is: do we want another administration generating headlines that are worthy of the National Enquirer. We hire presidents and vice presidents to do the people's business, not to regale us with tales of their private dramas.

For Republicans there is still hope. Bill Clinton showed all politicians that it is possible to overcome nasty Enquire headlines and refocus a campaign on policy. It remains to be seen whether John McCain can repeat the feat.

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