Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cognitive Dissonance

Virtually all of the conservative commentariat, and a greater-than-would-care-to-admit-it share of the liberal commentariat think that Sarah Palin hit a home run tonight. I guess I'm just going to have to stick my neck out (along with Josh Marshall) and disagree.

You can tar-and-feather me with this later if I'm wrong. I will make this disclaimer: I'm not necessarily offering a prediction about how the polls are going to move over the next several days. Almost all conventions produce bounces, and this one probably will too (though whether it comes from Palin's speech rather than McCain's, or Fred Thompson's or Rudy Giuliani's, we probably won't be able to tell). But I don't think the speech will be effective beyond the very near term (the next 3-7 days) at moving votes in McCain's direction, if it moves them at all. And here's why:

I think some of you are underestimating the percentage of voters for whom Sarah Palin lacks the standing to make this critique of Barack Obama. To many voters, she is either entirely unknown, or is known as an US Weekly caricature of a woman who eats mooseburgers and has a pregnant daughter. To change someone's opinion, you have to do one of two things. Either, you have to be a trusted voice of authority, or you have to persuade them. Palin is not a trusted voice of authority -- she's much too new. But neither was this a persuasive speech. It was staccato, insistent, a little corny. It preached to the proverbial choir. It was also, as one of my commentors astutely noted, a speech written by a man and for a man, but delivered by a woman, which produces a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.

In exceedingly plain English, I think there's a pretty big who the fuck does she think she is? factor. And not just among us Daily Kos reading, merlot-drinking liberals. I think Palin's speech will be instinctively unappealing to other whole demographics of voters, including particuarly working-class men (among whom there may be a misogyny factor) and professional post-menopausal women. As another of my commentors put it:

Not only does Palin's inexperience trump Obama's... her "otherness" also trumps his. Where she comes from, the way she talks, her bio, lifestyle, and all the moose and caribou stuff... it makes her seem more exotic than Obama, who after all lives in the middle of America and has a life that people can readily understand.

Palin may be just as American as anybody, but she still seems to come from Somewhere Else.

This would be fine... even interesting and appealing... if she weren't attacking. But we have a deep, instinctive aversion to people who are part of us (even if we don't really like them much) being attacked by people we perceive as outsiders. Our instinct is to stiffen up, to protect.
This point may be a little bit overstated, but the fact remains that Barack Obama is extremely well known and Palin is largely unknown, and when that is the case, your perception of the known commodity is more likely to influence your perception of the unknown commodity than the other way around. If there's a certain Italian restaurant that you've been going to for years, and some stranger stops you on the street and tells you that they don't know how to cook their pasta, you're going to think that the stranger is a kook -- not that the restaurant is poor.

And not only is Barack Obama exceptionally well known, but perceptions of him are exceptionally well entrenched. In today's Rasmussen numbers, 63 percent of voters had either a very favorable or a very unfavorable perception of Obama. This is an extremely high figure. I looked up the Rasmussen numbers for other prominent politicians, and this number was the highest I could find ... actually tied with Bill Clinton for the highest:
Percentage viewing as Very Favorable
OR Very Unfavorable

Obama 63
B. Clinton 63
Gore 61
H. Clinton 60
Bush 60
Cheney 59
Pelosi 51
T. Kennedy 48
Palin 45
Kerry 45
McCain 43
Romney 38
Biden 33
This is why folks like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton (and Hillary Clinton, for that matter) are Teflon politicians. It's not that they have some magical quality that keeps them out of trouble ... it's just that a very high percentage of voters have already made up their minds one way or the other about them, and can't possibly be persuaded otherwise. With John Kerry, the swiftboating worked because voters didn't have particuarly strong feelings about him. With Obama, the Republicans spent tens of millions of dollars in an effort to brand him negatively, and moved his favorables by ... a point or two at the margins.

Ultimately, it's not that I don't think there aren't people who will find Palin's performance effective -- I just don't think there's much overlap between those people and the universe of persuadable voters.

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A Great Speech, For Both Bases

St. Paul delegates are giddy with Sarah Palin’s speech. The mood is buoyant, enlivened, energized. It’s a party. There are revelers. The faces shine with joy and pleasure at a convention finally fully underway. Their VP nominee did it – she hit it out of the park. There is joy in Mudville, here on the ground.

And it worked wonders – for the Dems.

In the past several hours, Dems I’ve spoken with and who’ve flooded my inbox are energized. A woman friend and Democrat who had not worked for Obama’s campaign: “I am volunteering tomorrow.” An Obama organizer who was operating on fumes five months ago: “They are not getting away with this. 10 hours of call time tomorrow.” A shorter read of the mood: “Let’s get it on.”

The mockery went too far. They played the “Obama doesn’t love America, just himself” card, over and over and over. For people already inclined to believe that (i.e., the hardcore Republican base), the speech was a smashing success. Maybe they will work a little harder, volunteer a few more hours, dig a little deeper into their pockets. But so will partisan Dems, who are far more plugged into watching the election coverage.

So my reaction: St. Paul loved this speech… and so did Chicago. Palin swung for the fences, mocking the very notion of community organizing. So did Giuliani. This was the day after “Service” was the theme, and Republicans fell all over themselves praising their party’s commitment to give back to the community. Jarring.

Fire up both bases equally, it’s not even close. Obama wins going away. In 2008, there are so many more Democrats, numerically.

So, everyone on both partisan sides has reason to celebrate tonight. Republicans can celebrate a true champion in the VP role. Dems can celebrate because the numbers don’t lie, and no energy occurs in a vacuum. Republicans can’t tie this year.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Palin's Speech: Second Thoughts

The way to evaluate a speech like this is by what people are going to remember in the morning, and the only thing that people are going to remember about this speech in the morning is that she went after Obama -- a lot -- and that at times it it seemed fairly personal. It was almost kind of fun at first -- I don't think people saw it coming, and she got three or four really good lines in. But then it became too much -- sarcastic and mean-spirited. Everything else -- the outsider stuff, the family stuff, the media critique -- is going to be forgotten about. In fact, the Republicans will look like whiners if they go after the media after that speech.

I don't think the Republicans are doing as good a job as the Democrats were doing about pairing their speeches to the strengths of the speaker. It's as if they wrote seven or eight speeches, and drew lots to determine who would deliver which one. So you have Mitt Romney -- one of the wealthiest men ever to run for office -- critiquing east-coast elitism, and Mike Huckabee -- who is an economic populist in disguise -- critiquing big government, and Sarah Palin -- who voters don't know one iota about -- critiquing Barack Obama's biography.

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St. Paul: Wednesday Night Liveblog #4: Palin

10:24 CDT: [Sean] I think Nate is onto something. She gave a great speech for someone who would not be vulnerable to hitting back. A keynote, or frankly the Giuliani role. But after giving that speech, if she has any kind of embarrassing moment on the trail, she will be open to serious blowback. That was a Chutzpah Speech for someone with no foreign policy credentials who is fending off the Personal Scandal of the Hour. If she threads the needle and runs a gaffe-free campaign, it might work. But if her amateurism gets exposed in any way during the next few months, look out.

10:13 CDT: [Nate] Not a strikeout. Not a home run. I don't know. A double, and the runner got thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple?

10:10 CDT: [Sean] McCain onstage, ala Obama after Biden.

10:06 CDT: [Nate] This would be a terrific speech if she were still governor of Alaska and were just delivering a keynote. As a speech for a VP nominee, given all the context of the past few days, it's more complicated to evaluate.

10:05 CDT: [Nate] OK, now this is too much. They're starting to overplay their hand.

10:04 CDT: [Sean] Now past prime time. Thanks, Rudy. The attacks are sharp, they are harsh, they are certainly red meat. But what they are doing is painting Obama as someone who is a cynical self-promoter, who doesn't love his country. I was in that stadium of 84,000 people last week, and I have never seen so many American flags in my life. I think she's getting the base fired up. I don't think she's convincing the persuadables that Obama is a selfish America-hater. There are going to be a lot of smiling faces here in St. Paul in a few minutes as the crowd spills out. But I think there may be some smiling faces in Chicago too.

10:01 CDT: [Nate] I think that whole sequence of attacks against Obama was pretty well done.

9:57 CDT: [Sean] Palin plays the Obama-doesn't-want-America-to-win card.

9:57 CDT: [Nate] Why haven't they used that memoirs line before?

9:49 CDT: [Nate] We're having some server problems tonight, BTW, so sorry if we're a little slow on the uptake. That Scranton/San Francisco line worked for me a lot better than the community organizer crack. We're having some server problems tonight, BTW, so sorry if we're a little slow on the uptake.

9:48 CDT: [Sean] C-Span shows someone being forcefully escorted out by multiple police. Small town mayor mocking Obama now. Is anybody really buying that a glorified city council member is more experienced than a US Senator? The base loves it... but really? Doesn't this contemptuous tone of voice open up Palin for a catastrophic (non-sexist) Biden dismissal ala Bentsen-Quayle at the debate?

9:44 CDT: [Nate] OK, she seems more comfortable now.

9:41 CDT: [Nate] "Friend and advocate in the White House" is a good, persuadable-voters line. Otherwise, I think she may be making a mistake to start out so heavy on biography.

9:35 CDT: [Sean] The RNC schedule had a Palin video tribute planned, but Rudy was too busy enjoying his 30-minute prime time speech. They scrapped the video.

9:32 CDT: [Nate] The crowd couldn't love her any more, but for the television audiences, I think she looked a tiny bit lost out there on that huge stage without any sort of build-up.

9:32 CDT: [Sean] 2d American woman accepts nomination of major party for Vice President of the United States.

9:30 CDT: [Sean] Here's the Big Moment.

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St. Paul: Wednesday Night Liveblog #3: Rudy

9:11 CDT: [Sean] Rudy: "... And I accept your nomination to be the Republican candidate for President of the United States!"

9:11 CDT: [Sean] Palin's going to have to sprint through this speech to finish in prime time. "More executive experience than the entire Democratic ticket combined." Doesn't pass the laugh test.

9:11 CDT: [Sean] Public financing. Rudy's emptying the chamber tonight. Flip-flopping? This is where they want to go? The crowd loves the attack. Here comes Rudy saying Obama wants to win an election rather than winning a war.

9:11 CDT: [Nate] ...and a very sarcastic line about Hillary. They're really speaking to the base tonight. Still, I think this is the best speech of the night so far.

9:11 CDT: [Sean] Rudy actually speaking at 9:11 local time. C-Span finds the two black audience members wildly cheering the Obama resume slamming. This is a harsh attack. Nate's right. You can't claim victimhood and put this out there. The delegates are eating it up, loving the red-meat savaging of Obama (by far the most direct assault of the convention), but I don't think it works right before the Sarah Palin speech.

9:11 CDT: [Sean] Open contemptuous mocking of community organizing. Wow, terrible read of the national mood.

9:11 CDT: [Sean] "Hollywood celebrities?" Hey, I remember the 1988 election too.

9:11 CDT: [Sean] We'll be changing the thread timing in a few minutes when it catches up.

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St. Paul: Wednesday Night Liveblog #2: Romney & Huck

9:02 CDT: [Nate] If Palin actually uses that "Alaska is a BIG state" line, I'm going down to the Beachwood Inn and buying everyone a shot of Crown Royal.

9:02 CDT: [Sean] I felt badly for Pat Buchanan last night. The St. Paul night air was chilly. Rachel Maddow and Michelle Bernard had blankets, but Buchanan had a blanket and was hunched over, exhausted, sleeping on the table while Matthews bandied with Keith two chairs away.

9:01 CDT: [Nate] Pat Buchanan and I are kindred spirits. He thinks Palin will likely be a hit, but worries about her being "overscripted". That's exactly what I was trying to say before.

8:57 CDT: [Sean] Holy oversell, Batman! You can fit 250 Delawares inside Alaska! Wow, it's almost like Palin is 250 times more qualified than Biden, except Biden has zero (chant it with us now: "ZERO! ZERO!") executive experience. So... does that make Palin infinitely more qualified to be President than Biden? So implies the math.

8:55 CDT: [Sean] Shorter Linda Lingle: Being a mayor is the toughest-est job in the world!

8:54 CDT: [Nate] I think the media bias balloon gets deflated if/when they start going strongly negative on Obama again. That was a lot of the problem that the Clinton campaign had ... it's hard to tell the media they're not paying fair when you're not playing nice.

8:50 CDT: [Nate] On Huckabee, I'm a delivery guy too, but I just thought it was too herky-jerky thematically to build to a crescendo in the way Fred Thompson did last night.

8:48 CDT: [Sean] To follow up from earlier, Peggy Noonan told me the “chauvinism” line and attack on the media is a hand Republicans can’t play for very long. Al Giordano worries it might work until the election.

8:46 CDT: [Sean] I think Huckabee's speech was strong, but I am a sucker for delivery. I think delivery makes people pay attention rather than gloss over. Speaking of which, Captain's Corner!

8:45 CDT: [Nate] For my money, a lot of B-/C+ speeches so far tonight, but it really doesn't matter because it's all about Palin.

8:37 CDT: [Nate] Great one-liner, but Biden got three times as many votes in Florida -- a state he wasn't even competing in -- than there are people in Wasilla.

8:34 CDT: [Nate] Sean, I generally agree about Huckabee, but he's *not* a small-government conservative, and I just think this rings a little hollow.

8:30 CDT: [Sean] Huckabee is by far the best speaker the Republicans have. Empathetic-sounding. Knows how to pivot.

8:22 CDT: [Sean] Interesting that they're going with "If You're Going Through Hell" (keep on going) as the music. Not very optimistic. Curiously, also Keith Olbermann's DailyKos comment tagline.

8:13 CDT: [Nate] I really don't get the sense that the Republicans understand what the persuadable voters out there are looking to hear this year. The country has shifted to the left on the economy far more than on social issues or even foreign policy. Pretty tone-deaf, especially the hit on unions.

8:09 CDT: [Nate] Romney criticizing eastern elites? Did he get Huckabee's cue cards or something?

8:07 CDT: [Sean] Mitt's up. My emotional scars are only just now healing. This is supposed to be a harsh anti-Obama speech, let's see. Attack the media first, check.

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St. Paul: Wednesday Night Liveblog

8:04 CDT: [Sean] Michael Steele: "Drill, baby, drill, and drill now!"

8:03 CDT: [Nate] Chuck Todd says that Palin's speech is going to be "longer than anyone expected". They're definitely not following my less-is-more philosophy; I think she can accomplish what she needs to in about 15-20 minutes, and that if the speech is 30 minutes long instead, she's more likely to run herself into some trouble.

7:57 CDT: [Sean] Michael Steele: "Are you ready to party in this house tonight?"

7:55 CDT: [Nate] A friend says: "from watching this convention, you almost wouldn't realize that the Republicans had been in power for the past eight years".

7:45 CDT: [Sean] Joe Klein wrote today about the McCain campaign’s war against the press. Steve Schmidt’s war has picked up in the Xcel Center press filing area among furious Republican bloggers as well. Nate noted during last week’s liveblog that he found the cheering in the Big Tent off-putting, but this is equally bad. Citing the RedState and Townhall pushback against the media and the terrible reign of “liberal bloggers,” Sean Hackbarth, the Online Specialist for the Senate Republican Conference, told a sympathetic fellow Republican friend from Wisconsin in the seat next to me, “The Democratic talking points are the DailyKos talking points,” and “I realized today that these liberal bloggers have no soul.”

7:25 PM. [Nate] Whitman's not bad. Not a dynamic speaker, but she comes across as earnest and credible.

7:15 CDT: [Sean] Coincidentally, moments after Peggy Noonan left the MSNBC set, we found ourselves in line together waiting at the River Center press entrance. Nice, smart, gracious woman. She was unaware her private comments had just been aired (as was I, though it was clear something unintended had gotten on air). Noonan told me that if going for a woman was the decision they wanted, Kay Bailey Hutchinson would have been the wiser pick. We also discussed eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who will address the convention this hour and is a likely candidate for California governor in 2010. Noonan was very impressed (by Whitman, and yes, I am using the tongs tonight).

7:10 CDT: [Sean] Welcome back to St. Paul for Ladies' Night. Former HP exec Carly Fiorina and current eBay CEO Meg Whitman (a strong candidate for California's governor seat in 2010) speak early, and with Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle and VP nominee Sarah Palin speaking late. It's also a night for the runner-ups, with Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani sandwiched in between. In fact, there is an excellent chance that Giuliani will be speaking at 9:11 local time. Christy Swanson just finished speaking... not to be confused with the erstwhile movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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Palin's Overreach

In my articulation of Sarah Palin's goals for her speech tonight, I suggested that "it will be imperative for Palin not to overreach." The rest of her prepared remarks look like they should be pretty effective, but this is probably an exception:

And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities."
We'll see how well she is able to deliver this line -- it is sure to get big applause in St. Paul. But it seems awfully petty for a party campaigning on the theme of service (of which there are other types apart from enlisting in the military) -- especially when Obama and Biden, if not always their supporters, have by and large been exceptionally gracious toward Palin . If you want a punchline that underscores liberal "elitism", why not go after Obama's time as the President of the Harvard Law Review instead?

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The Fall Campaign – Oh, It’s On

Beach season is over, the kids are back in school, and the two-month sprint to the finish has begun. A Pew survey released today shows that while the campaign accounted for 27% of the overall newshole during the summer low-attention season, it accounted for 69% of the newshole coverage spanning Denver’s Democratic National Convention through John McCain’s vice-presidential selection of Sarah Palin, crushing the previous high of 55% set during the week of Super Tuesday.

If nothing else, McCain’s willingness to roll the dice with Palin immediately changed the media focus in a way that would almost certainly not have been as intense had he picked someone expected like Tim Pawlenty, as most coverage centered on the risks and potential rewards of the pick. Pew’s study did not include the news of Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy, which broke the day after the survey period ended.

Campaign coverage accounted for 79% of network news airtime and 94% of cable coverage. Additionally, Pew finds that public opinion of both candidates has improved. Most significantly for Obama is the finding that he has impressed the Democratic base. The smooth Denver convention capped with a flawlessly executed final night led Democrats to report a greater satisfaction with Obama as the nominee, up from 39% to 54% reporting a "more favorable opinion" in the span of one week. Solidifying his more numerous base is really the ballgame for Obama.

Pew candidate views

By the same token, Republican views of John McCain became more favorable in that stretch by an even wider margin, improving 21 points to 53% "more favorable opinion," up from 32%. This is undoubtedly good news for McCain, and shows that the pick of Palin was well received among Republicans (those Republicans who had heard "a lot" about the Palin pick split 36-24 more/less favorable toward McCain).

The problem McCain faces is that if Obama's base solidifies, the numeric partisan ID advantage Democrats enjoy threatens to swamp his campaign. A tie in base favorability goes to Obama. That has always been Obama's game. Solidify and turn out the base, keep his constant edge among independents, and McCain is essentially powerless to change the outcome.

As we go forward in the campaign, look for McCain's camp to constantly push toward the middle. Attention is up, Obama's base is solidifying, so trying to stop Obama from carrying independents is now McCain's last, best hope. A National Journal survey of Republican convention insiders confirms an awareness that the swing voters are a much more important group for McCain to win. By a 55%-33% margin, GOP insiders urge McCain to go for the middle. Tomorrow night's speech will tell us whether McCain understands this need.

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Guess Who's a Celebrity Now?

Since her name was announced as John McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin has generated more US-based internet search traffic than Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Michael Phelps and Barack Obama combined:


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In Alaska, Everyone's An Oil Baron

Upon announcing her bid for Alaska's governorship in October 2005, Sarah Palin made a solemn pledge to "put Alaskans first":

Palin declared her candidacy on October 18, Alaska Day, before any other Republican candidate joined the race for Governor, declaring, "It is time to take a stand and put Alaskans first". She has been an outspoken critic of Gov. Murkowski's Canadian gasline deal and wants to see entities compete for Alaska's natural gas so Alaskans get the most value for their resources. Palin said she is committed to putting Alaskans to work on the gas line and wants provisions in any gas deal for Alaska hire and North Slope gas to energize Alaska's homes and businesses first.
The statement reads ironically in light of the McCain campaign's "America First" catch-phrase. For Palin, however, it is more than a matter of rhetoric. The reason is because of an unusual provision in the Alaska Constitution that treats the states resources -- everything from fisheries to oil and natural gas reserves -- as public trusts:
It is the policy of the State to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest.
This is not some sort of trivial, legal matter. On the contrary, all Alaska residents stand to benefit directly from the exploitation of the state's natural resources. In 2007, for instance, all Alaska residents were sent a dividend check for $1,654 in exchange for their share of income earned from the state's leasing of oil- and gas-rich territory. Anybody who has been a resident of the state for a year or more is eligible, including children, meaning that a family of four might expect to bring in about $5,000 in income each year this way.

The provision puts Palin in the unusual position of being sort of a landlord-in-chief, charged with negotiating oil and natural gas leases for the "maximum benefit of all Alaskans" -- which Palin generally seems to have interpreted as the maximum royalty dividend. In her 2006 campaign for governor, Palin won for essentially two reasons. Firstly, her opponents in the Republican primary were a crusty and exceptionally unpopular incumbent governor (Frank Murkowski) and a Fairbanks businessman (John Binkley) who came across as a chauvinist, allowing her to build plenty of momentum en route to defeating former governor Tony Knowles in the general election. But secondly, she promised an aggressive, "Alaska first" negotiating position vis-a-vis the oil companies, pledging that her negotiations would have provisions requiring Alaska's gas reserves to be made available first to Alaskans:
Sarah Palin stated today, "Contrary to Murkowski's recent statements, Alaska's gas belongs to Alaskans. I've been saying for months, we—- Alaskans -- need in-state use of gas. All options need to be put on the table with the goal of providing gas to Alaskans as a central provision in any negotiated contract, just a political afterthought as Murkowski is now proposing."
There is nothing untoward about this; on the contrary, Palin was arguing in essence that Murkowski was shirking his constitutional responsibilities by failing to be an effective, transparent, and hard-nosed negotiator. But these facts are important for placing a couple of things into context:

1. When Palin speaks of how she took in the oil companies, it is not intended in the same way as a Democrat might mean it, as a populist critique of the oil industry's profit margins. Alaskans, on the contrary, stand to benefit directly from the exploitation of their natural resources, and their fortunes are correlated with those of the oil companies. What Palin means, rather, is that former governors like Murkowski and Knowles had not been adequately tough negotiators, and pledged a more hard-line position.

2. Palin's popularity in Alaska is not just a matter of her charming personality. Rather, it probably also had something to do with the large royalty check she was able to deliver to Alaskans in her first year as governor.

3. Because Alaskans benefit directly from the leasing of oil- and gas-rich lands, incentives are aligned differently than they are in any other state. Arguably, higher oil industry profits are net beneficial to Alaska, since higher anticipated profit margins will in turn increase the value of leased lands.

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Today's Polls, 9/3

It's pretty quiet on the polling front today. The only numbers out are the national trackers: Barack Obama now has a 6-point lead in Gallup, down from 8 points yesterday, and a 5-point lead in Rasmussen, a tick down from 6. These polls will not really reflect any happenings at the GOP convention, since Monday's events were essentially canceled, and since Tuesday's occurred to late in the evening to be reflected in most interviewing.

Even though Obama moved down slightly in the trackers, our projection model still has him gaining ground, as it still has some ground to make up before it "catches up" to the current numbers. This is by design: we don't want the model to overreact to a few days' worth of polling (until the very end of the election, at least, when we will tune it to be very aggressive).

Of course, the strong likelihood is that the next move will be in McCain's direction once the Republicans get a convention bounce of their own (if it isn't, the Republicans are in a lot of trouble). But all else being equal, I wouldn't expect the Republicans to get quite as large a bounce as the Democrats did. The reason is that Obama had a lot of low-hanging fruit to pick up among white Democrats, among whom he moved up from 74 percent support to 82 percent support following his convention (per Gallup). I don't see Obama giving most of those points back. McCain, on the other hand, already had the support of something like 90 percent of Republicans, this number actually having increased a bit following the selection of Sarah Palin. I think McCain is likely to gain some ground among independents, however, and that the tracking polls will most likely wind up somewhere in the range of McCain +1 to Obama +3 over the weekend.

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Palin's Goal Tonight: No Potatoe

Sarah Palin's speech tonight exists within a weird middle ground between fairly low expectations and a fairly high degree of difficulty.

Voters have questions about Palin's background, her governing philosophy, her readiness to lead, and her position on a variety of specific issues. It will be impossible to address all of these within the context of a single speech -- particularly for someone who had never spoken to a national audience before last Friday. On the other hand, the pundits, recognizing the rough couple of days that she's had in the press, will most likely be inclined to react sympathetically toward her. So may voters at home, buoyed by what will inevitably be an enthusiastic response in the Xcel Center.

Under these circumstances, it will be imperative for Palin not to overreach. I would avoid any specific claims -- like her arguably false claim in Dayton on Friday that she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere -- that won't hold up to a vetting. And I wouldn't make any assertion to expertise in foreign policy. A claim, for instance, along the lines of what Cindy McCain said the other day -- that Palin is a foreign policy expert because Alaska is close to Siberia -- will ring hollow even if articulated well, and if articulated poorly, could easily become her Potato-e moment. The debate against Joe Biden, which Palin will have much more time to prepare for, is a better forum than that, an opportunity to demonstrate rather than assert her working knowledge of foreign policy.

I do think she has to convey a certain seriousness of purpose -- one overly cute reference to mooseburgers is probably one too many -- but there are ways to do that without invoking foreign policy, such as talking about "small town values". A throwaway applause line or two critiquing the media is probably worthwhile, so long as it seems good-natured rather than defensive.

But basically, she shouldn't try and do too much. If she pours the media half a glass, they'll most likely be inclined to call it full.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

St. Paul: Tuesday Night Liveblog #2

10:18 CDT: [Nate]. The CNN pundits -- Candy Crowley excepted -- are critiquing the Republicans for being too "political" in the wake of Hurricane Gustav. I'm not really sure I buy that. In a world where there is a new news cycle every six hours, Gustav was something that happened four news cycles ago. And the Republicans played it pretty safe -- just a couple of indirect and fairly generic hits against Obama. Nothing below the belt. Then again, it may not be Gustav that's boxing them in, but the fact that Sarah Palin really renders their primary critique of Obama moot.

10:10 CDT: [Sean] The emotional centerpiece of the night was clearly Thompson giving McCain’s bio. Sure, he’s a professional actor, but he did that part very well. He was less effective hitting Obama (and the Democratic Congress), as that part actually read better on paper. As for Lieberman, I’m less convinced that his bipartisanship schtick sells. People don’t think the country is in bad shape due to partisanship, they think it’s George W. Bush’s fault. Maybe his act would’ve sold better in the Gingrich-Clinton government shutdown era.

10:01 CDT: [Nate] Grades: GWB A- (hell yes, there's a curve), Thompson A-, Lieberman C.

9:59 CDT: [Sean] Somewhere, Zell Miller is rolling in his grave, my friends.

9:58 CDT: [Nate] Last couple of minutes of this speech have been better. "Speaking directly" to Democrats and independents may have woken them up from their slumber.

9:55 CDT: [Nate] It's more in the delivery than in the message, but I'd challenge any conservative who thinks this speech is working to a polygraph test.

9:51 CDT: [Sean] “Eloquence is no substitute for a record.” Fortunately for Joe, Harry Reid doesn’t have the guts to kick him out of the caucus, despite the rules established to keep Dems in the committee chairs if Republicans get their 50th caucus member.

9:43 CDT: [Nate] I think Lieberman's intro about the hurricane came across as a little cliched and insincere.

9:42 CDT: [Sean] Joe: “My friends…”

9:39 CDT: [Sean] Joe looks resplendent.

9:37 CDT: [Sean] We're starting a new thread for Joe Lieberman and the night's recap.

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