Setting the Palin Narrative, Part 1.
There's a lot of speculation on the internet about Thursday's VP debate.That's to be expected given the extraordinary way that Sarah Palin was presented to the nation at the GOP convention. Nobody knew who she was, and she delivered a laconic speech complete with a homespun delivery and a series of snarky little witticisms. Naturally the speech was written for her (and she had read it adroitly off the teleprompter), but people responded as if she had created it herself. It injected a shot of adrenaline into the moribund Republican party, and once people found out about her staunch social conservatism, Palin was built up into the physical representation of the future of the GOP. It was as if people were watching the discovery of the next Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher.
Right Wing pundits across the land became melodramatic in their excitement. They proclaimed the speech a "Grand Slam" heralding a new direction in politics. They worked overtime to build expectations for the unknown governor of Alaska. The McCain campaign, realizing the benefit of letting the energy cycle within the closed system, wisely kept Palin's appearances limited to pep rallies. Meanwhile the conservative-leaning media outlets concocted a narrative that had resentful Hillary Clinton-supporters flocking to the "historical candidate" (no matter that the glass ceiling was actually broken by Geraldine Ferraro and the Democrats 24 years ago). "Palinmania" and "Palin Derangement Syndrome" (a term that accurately conveyed the unquestioning zeal of her fans) became household words.
Opponents of the McCain/Palin ticket were stunned into an awkward and mute silence. Nobody had anticipated this choice. The Obama camp, along with his enthusiastic base, began to search for any information they could find about this little-known politician. It was his fanbase, and not his staff, that landed the first blows against the "Palin Factor". Scurrilous accusations, mixed with valid criticism, flooded the Web. The more scandalous and exploitive rumors (such as the suggestion that Palin's Down's Syndrome-afflicted infant was actually her daughter's baby) caused a backlash of appalled censure. Although the Obama campaign disavowed the salacious charges, the Palinmaniacs tried to hold it to account for the ever-intensifying smears.
As the Democrats tried to formulate a strategy to confront this novel sensation, cool heads initiated a more evenhanded examination of the claims coming out of the McCain/Palin campaign. It became clear that many of the Governor's reforms and "accomplishments" had been presented in a misleading light. Palin's record was picked over, and there emerged a new narrative- that of a typical (albeit inexperienced) politician with the facade of a "reformer". Many of the statements Palin had made during her GOP Convention speech turned out to be misleading (at best). Skeptical observers wondered whether the young candidate had been properly vetted. The sheen of the "maverick" began to dull underneath the gaze of the media.
While Palin's handlers tried to keep her sequestered from any genuine press scruitiny, eventually mainstream interviews would be inevitable. How would she perform without a script? A chous of "conservative" commentators rose up to defend her, and reassured audiences that Palin was smart and well-spoken, and would look even better under pressure. They warned her detractors not to underestimate her. Television journalists like Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric took this advice to heart, and abandoned their usual softball tactics. When their conversations with Palin were aired, the perception of the candidate changed quickly and decisively. The GOP's narrative was almost immediately challenged. And the "Palin factor" evolved.
Read Part 2
Read Part 2