I watched Sarah Palin’s Republican Convention speech, and the word that I thought characterized her tone and demeanor was: disenchanted.
In other words, she comes across as a “don’t tread on me” conservative who is dismissive of urban liberalism, and the hope that Obama represents for millions.
Her dismissiveness of Obama’s community service work was especially snarky—a bit of red meat for whites who don’t see much value in devoting time or money to helping the urban poor. (It should be noted that only 36 delegates to this year’s Republican convention are black).
And given her professed commitment to Jesus, the dismissive moments in her speech did not strike me as—how can I put this politely—exactly in keeping with the values enumerated in the Sermon on the Mount.
Palin embodies, in short, the snarky cynicism of the talk radio right.
And she provides, in the place of liberalism, an unironic affirmation of small town patriarchal values and patriotism, which will no doubt play well in Red State America.
My wife, who is British, watched the speech with me, and said afterward that Palin’s manner had unnerved her.
There was something fake about her.
She said that Palin struck her as a Republican “fembot,” and imagined that if her face fell off, there’d be wires under there.
And indeed, Palin is smooth as silk in her rhetorical delivery, slow and measured and confident. She is an almost perfect embodiment of smugness, imperviousness, and inflexibility.
And let’s face it, there are a lot of people in this country who like these traits in a leader.
She will more than hold her own against Biden in the debates, and she will certainly deliver the Republican base to the polls.
But I find it difficult to imagine that she will draw Hillary Clinton voters to John McCain, and on balance I still think that she is going to prove to be a net negative for McCain on election day, energizing more people to the polls against McCain than in favor of McCain.
In this sense, an election that stood to be a referendum on Obama, will now also prove to be a referendum on McCain.
And I think Obama wins that kind of parallel referendum.
In short, Palin is a formidible rhetorical presence, but her far-right ideology and other obvious liablilities (zip foreign policy experience, lack of full vetting by the McCain campaign, troopergate etc.) neutralize her power to be a game changer in McCain’s favor.
Advantage still Obama.