Tuesday, September 30, 2008

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

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just read the last week or so and
I always have to thank you for your insights and knowledge.
Right from he start, when McCain picked Palin I recognized the irresponsible decision.
Obama picked the guy I would have voted for President.
I hope America rises to an overwhelming win for
right candidates.
Get out and vote!

8:33 PM  
Blogger rainywalker said...

In a small way I feel sorry for Sarah Palin. As an Alaskan woman she would be envied by most men in Alaska. Not in a sexual way, but for her valuable talents of Alaskans. Attractive and able to skin out a moose would excite any Alaskan man. Alaskan women make good partners and can do almost anything in the bush. She is an Alaskan woman and not a woman of the world or Outsiders. I once ask an Alaskan woman why she didn't have any mirrors in her cabin in the bush. She said, "I don't have anyone to impress out here." I miss Alaska and an Alaskan woman at 40 below, watching the Aurora on some mountainside, wrapped up in my parka.

10:04 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Thanks MP. Always great to hear encouragement.

10:28 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


I want to make it very, very clear that I don't see Sarah Palin as representative of Alaskan women in general. In fact, that's just the kind of horseshit that bothers me about the public persona that the GOP has manufactured around her.

Furthermore, I have NO DOUBT that a mirror is never more than an arm's length away from Sarah Palin.

10:31 PM  
Blogger rainywalker said...

Merge Divide,
You see her through different eyes. Its an Alaskan thing. I wouldn't vote for her if she was running for dog catcher. But she has the Alaskan thing. 8-80, blind, cripple or crazy, she has it.

11:02 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I'll have to take your word (and her inexplicably high popularity rating) for it.

11:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having not been faring very well in my predictions of who would be nominated and who would respond well to what, and amidst the Palin-surprise, I m keeping an open mind about what's going to happen in the VP debate. However, just some off-the-top thoughts re this chess match of a campaign.

Her speech at the convention was well done (OK, it's MY opinion), and a big boost for energy of the right side (as opposed to left side) of the Republican party. That being said, media clips from some of her interviews are worrisome at best. I think the (and I take liberty with her words here) "Well, you know you can actually see Russia from Alaska, or so I've been told since I've never been to the island in question, but then not many people have, so that gives me more foreign experience than Obama...don't you think?" really bothered me. Just be honest and forthright Sarah, don't try to make yourself into something you're not. You have some qualifications and experiences, so play with those rather than venturing into gross and unbelievable exaggeration. It doesn't become you. Just tell everyone you're a fast learner, cite Reagan's and Clinton's lack of foreign experiences when they were running for the top office, and let it go at that.

On the other hand, can Joe "you've got everything in your favor" Biden tiptoe enough to pick her apart without heaping criticism on himself? Is being subdued in his nature? Can he stick we the script? I think not. Perhaps I'll be surprised.

This should be a very interesting and entertaining moment in television.


9:51 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


"Her speech at the convention was well done (OK, it's MY opinion), and a big boost for energy of the right side (as opposed to left side) of the Republican party."

While I thought the GOP speech was massively overhyped, there were certainly a lot on the Right that agreed with you. The crowd ate up all of that "sexy" moose-hunter aggression.

"You have some qualifications and experiences"

High praise indeed.

"On the other hand, can Joe "you've got everything in your favor" Biden tiptoe enough to pick her apart without heaping criticism on himself?"

I think you are suckered by the McCain campaign's talking points a bit here. They've been trying to build low expectations for over a week, and they have had help from her interviews with Couric. All Palin needs to do is sound reasonably articulate, not make any fatal gaffes, and avoid answering every question by parroting talking points, clich├ęs, and platitudes. She's a former sports broadcaster and beauty queen, and she's used this very strategy to great effect in her Alaskan debates (just YouTube them).

If she manages to execute this completely undemanding strategy, her supporters and campaign will declare her a huge winner, the media will go along with it so as not to appear sexist, and viewers with "concerns" will think that she's not so bad as they feared.

She has ALL the advantages in this debate. Biden can't even be himself, because if he is the slightest bit tough, everyone will rail against him for being condescending and bullying. Palin will be able to kick him in the balls repeatedly, and he won't be able to do anything but take it.

If Palin can't come out of this looking good (given the lowest expectations of any VP debate in history), then she is completely incompetent.

4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With your comment, "If Palin can't come out of this looking good (given the lowest expectations of any VP debate in history), then she is completely incompetent." I think you're doing two things. First, you're not specifying who you think she would look good to. Do you really think she'll come out looking good to you? To Obama supporters? To those who name Obama as their choice in the polls (which by the way is a pretty good majority)? Seriously, who will see her as looking good other than those who already support McCain? OK, perhaps some who sit on the fence, but in that respect, perhaps you're not giving them enough credit for not seeing her for what exactly what and who she is.

6:18 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Well, my point is that anyone who hasn't made up their mind about Palin hasn't likely watched too many of her interviews. Those people may have heard that she didn't look good, but they have no real idea of the extent to which she came off as clueless. If she goes the "I'm just like y'all" route, and manages to get around answering the tough questions, then they aren't going to understand what all the fuss is about. They'll just assume it was more "media bias".

I don't think the vast majority of the populace (especially those "still on the fence") are all that critical as viewers. Think about the television and movies that are popular nowadays, and that will give you some idea of what I'm talking about.

6:53 PM  

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