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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Red Meat Banquet

Well, it took a while, but the Republican National Convention sure woke up last night, inspired by Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin into a howling, sneering, fist-shaking state of rage at the temerity of Barack Obama in offering himself for the presidency.
National political convention delegates of either party, heavily weighted with activists, always love red meat and whine or sit sullenly when they are deprived of it. But I witnessed nothing in Denver, not even during Brian Schweitzer’s stemwinder, that resembled the reaction to Giuliani and Palin. Feral roars greeted every thrust at Obama. At one point, delegates anticipating Palin’s pre-leaked shot at Obama’s community organizer background made so much noise that she struggled to get the line out. Since television tends to understate crowd noise, I can only imagine what it actually felt like down on the floor. These people are really furious and contemptuously dismissive about Barack Obama in a way that significantly exceeds Democrats’ antipathy towards John McCain. And you got the sense that they cheered (much more mildly) the positive lines about McCain’s supposed “reform” and “maverick” credentials as little more than the essential framing necessary to make invidious comparisons to Obama.
The big question is whether the attitude towards the Democratic nominee we saw expressed from the podium and the floor last night is communicable beyond the ranks of the party faithful.
Throughout Giuliani’s speech, I kept thinking, as a sometimes speechwriting professional: “He really needs to dial this down; he’s overdoing it.” Like the late comedian Red Skelton, Rudy was so cracked up by his own snarky humor that he interrupted his lines repeatedly to chortle at himself, and at the unbelievable thought that anyone could consider Obama qualified for the presidency. Giuliani’s always struggled with the perception that he’s at bottom a gloating bully who lives to humiliate his many enemies, and his performance last night may well have been undercut by his manner. More practically, his self-indulgence at the podium forced the cancellation of a biographical video about Palin, which might have tilted the balance of her presentation in a more positive direction.
As for Palin herself, no question, she’s passed her first big test, as most everyone anticipated. Her rapturous reception from the floor would have happened even if she had read the delegates the Minneapolis-St. Paul phone book, thanks to the strong belief among conservative activists that her selection represented a major victory in their struggle to control the GOP. But she delivered her lines well, and showed an impressive ability to keep smiling as she savaged Obama and excoriated the shadowy demons of “Washington.” Some people I know think her voice is grating, and while she did occasionally sound like she was channeling Frances McDormand’s character in Fargo (“You Betcha!”), maybe that will attract some votes right there in Minnesota.
But as with the whole evening, Palin’s performance must ultimately be judged by reactions outside the arena. At least two focus groups of persuadable women convened by Stan and Anna Greenberg reportedly showed a mixed response, with some viewers uncomfortable with Palin’s “mudslinging” towards Obama and still unconvinced of her own qualifications for high office.
Up until now I’ve been discussing these speeches in terms of style and tone. But it’s the substance, or lack thereof, that will now begin to get some serious scrutiny.
The Obama campaign quickly got out a very thorough truth-squad piece on the various attack lines deployed by Palin. Suffice it to say that those lines spanned the spectrum from light snarky jibes to distortions of Obama’s record and views, to bold-faced lies. Palin’s already getting hammered near and far for her fully rebuttable claim that she fought the “Bridge to Nowhere,” and to a lesser extent, for her naked pander to the parents of special-needs children (not the best appeal to make explicitly, given her record in Alaska). But more important in the long run are the assertions both she and Giuliani made about Obama’s lack of legislative accomplishments (much of the Obama truth-squad document is composed of a long list of these), and the gross mischaracterization of his tax proposals, which would actually cut taxes for families earning less than $250,000.
On a much broader front, the speeches we’ve heard in St. Paul are remarkable for how little they’ve involved discussions of policy, particularly on the economy. In Palin’s speech, oil drilling and the ancient totemic appeal to the magical properties of tax cuts were the only prescriptions offered for the U.S. economy. Health care? Not a word. The housing crisis? Ditto. Income inequality? Nada, or, to use the word chanted by delegates during Rudy’s attacks on Obama’s record, “zero.” As for foreign policy, the main thrust of the entire Republican Convention has been the dubious claim, unshared by a majority of Americans, that we are on the brink of total victory in Iraq, unless Obama takes office and continues the troop withdrawals that both Iraqi and U.S. leaders are already undertaking.
Finally, the entire “maverick” and “reform” and “change” mantras of the GOP convention, which we’ll hear a lot more about in McCain’s own speech tonight, are astonishingly audacious. You’d never, ever know from last night’s speeches that John McCain and Sarah Palin represent the incumbent party in the White House, the party that’s largely controlled “Washington” for the last eight years (and in Congress, until 2006, much longer than that), or that both of them support virtually all of George W. Bush’s domestic and international policies.
In the end, the Obama campaign’s big challenge now is to rebut the lies and slurs about his own record and views; expose the pattern of evasion and deception about the McCain-Palin ticket’s relationship to a deeply unpopular GOP; and get the contest refocused on issues, particularly the economy. Those delegates last night were undoubtedly “energized” by the Giuliani-Palin show, but they only get to vote once in November. It’s their friends and neighbors on the fence that matter now.

4 comments on “Red Meat Banquet

  1. Ciccina on

    @ThinkingGuy
    Exactly. Liar, cheat, fraud and tyrant are gender-neutral terms that have been applied to men and women. The terms speak directly to the charge you are leveling. Those terms do not make her femaleness part of the “problem.”
    This is not “giving a pass” to Palin because she is a woman. Rather, this is not maligning Palin *because* she is a woman. The fact that she is female is not part of the problem, so there is no reason to use language that makes her gender part of the criticism.
    Community organizers can be men or women (or some of both, for that matter). Using the term as a pejorative – whatever else you might say about it – does not bring a person’s gender into the picture. “Bimbo” and “Beauty queen” conjure up a specific stereotype of a ditzy, frivolous “girly girl” whose value is purely ornamental. Using stereotypes reinforces them as valid and normalizes them. And that is a disservice to all women.
    I recently spoke with an up-and-coming member of the Jamaican parliament. She is very smart, has a masters degree, has a strong background in international development work, has initiated development programs within Jamaica, is a PR professional, and as of 2007 is an elected representative – all before the age of 35. She is also a former Miss Jamaica and Miss World (1993).
    Get my drift?
    You have the vocabulary to attack Palin without making life more difficult for other women. I presume you would prefer this manner of discourse.

    Reply
  2. ThinkingGuy on

    Would you prefer, “liar”, “cheat” “fraud”, or “tyrant” then? All of these claims can be backed up.
    And while you are at it, would care to explain to me why Palin should be given a pass because she is a woman? I know McCain has already said no vetting should take place, and the media should not ask a question about her background ever. (Cowardly.)
    For all you or anyone knows, I voted for Hillary Clinton. So before you go shooting off about Democrats and old boy networks, try considering the fact that maybe there is plenty about the Beauty Queen to loathe that has nothing to do with gender.
    After all, if she can make community organizer a bad term, I have no problem at all using the term Bimbo. None.

    Reply
  3. Ciccina on

    “Thinking” Guy: you are the problem with the Democratic party right now. Calling the Governor of Alaska a “MILF” and a “bimbo” tells me that men who have misogynistic attitudes feel at home in the Democratic party. Somehow the Democratic party has become the He-Man Woman Hater’s Club.
    You may think you scored a point against Governor Palin by using sexist language and referring to her daughter as “knocked up.” You didn’t. The point is scored against you, because you are the best argument for why we need a woman in the White House, regardless of party. Until the Democratic party sheds the likes of you, it is not fit to call itself a friend of working women.
    And by the way, Obama the Community Organizer had TWO bosses on that foundation-funded project (which adds up to 2 bosses and a funder to report to). By your standard that means he was more clueless than Palin; at least she was the one doing the hiring.

    Reply
  4. ThinkingGuy on

    I understand that a book banning, right wing Jesus freak in a dress has little need to read books, newspapers, magazines, or even a dictionary, I still would have thought that between making speeches and forgetting to teach her daughter how to not get knocked up, the MILF would have had time to figure out what exactly a community organizer is…and that in fact it does involve considerable responsibility, if taken seriously.
    You see, fans of the Bimbo do not seem to understand that a community organizer doesn’t get to chicken out and hire a city administrator at tax payer expense to do their job for them, as Palin did when she was too clueless to run city hall herself during her stint of leading the village of Wasilla.

    Reply

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