Sunday, Oct. 5, 2008 | 2:02 a.m.
After all the post-debate chatter about Sarah Palin’s resurrection (I bet a lot of folks were saying “Jesus” during her performance) and about her potential 2012 presidential candidacy (paging Mitt Romney & Co.), the real story of last week’s encounter was that the true elitists were revealed.
The McCain campaign has affixed that label to Barack Obama for months, and he has helped the cause with his inartful San Francisco comments (now who’s bitter?) and his support from traditional elitist constituencies, especially those Hollywood do-gooders. But on Thursday evening, as Palin gosh-darned and doggoned her way to an alternately vacuous and evasive performance, it became clear that the Republicans’ last, desperate hope this cycle is that the American people are morons.
Let me expound: The thesis of Palin’s act Thursday was that if she smiled, called Joe Biden by his first name and stuck to talking about the only two winning issues left for the GOP (taxes and energy) no matter what the question was, an increasingly skeptical public would buy it.
Victory in St. Louis was measured in one simple metric by the GOP: If Palin doesn’t kill us with her ignorance, we will live on, still on life-support but at least breathing. She could have ended the campaign Thursday; she did not. (One of the reasons for her nondestructive performance was the restrictive format — no wonder the McCain campaign fought so hard for it — that did not allow for real debate and reduced moderator Gwen Ifill to a handcuffed interlocutor.)
The McCain folks counted on middle America, supposedly enthralled with Palin’s explosion on the scene in St. Paul, Minn. (“I’ve only been at this five weeks,” she exclaimed with revealing pride Thursday), to reconnect with the poor, battered victim of the media elites if she would only smile and seem, well, so real. Gosh, it sure made sense at the time.
But with post-debate polls showing that most people, including undecided voters, thought Biden cleaned her clock, the miscalculation is clear. I think voters in Peoria or Wasilla or Ely love seeing a politician who seems like someone who lives down the street. But do they really want their neighbor sitting the proverbial heartbeat away, poised to take over the most important job in the world? I hope not.
Sometimes first impressions don’t last; they change with experience. The more you get to know Sarah Palin, the more the mythology evaporates — as quickly as her support for the Bridge to Nowhere did in this campaign.
Palin proved Thursday she is a cross between an Ira Levin character — no, not “Rosemary’s Baby” or one of the “Boys from Brazil,” although some might make those cases — and a Coen Brothers creation. Sarah Palin is a true Stepford candidate, a cyborg that will say whatever the men in McCain’s campaign want her to say. And she is almost like Margie in “Fargo,” her accent belying not a piercing mind of Holmes-like prowess but a skillful actress of Frances McDormand quality.
It is a measure of the continued dumbing-down of politics that Biden was criticized in some quarters for having too many facts or being too abstruse (Who is Dick Lugar anyhow?) and Palin was lauded for flawlessly disgorging her programming with a smile, plainspeak and even a wink. Governor, we are in on the joke; the wink was unnecessary.
And it is laughable: No principled conservative or McCain supporter would seriously argue that Palin is qualified for the job the GOP nominee picked her to apply for with the electorate.
And that’s the overarching point, whether you are an Obamaite, a McCainiac or undecided. Even if you believe McCain is at heart a true maverick who loves his country, Sarah Palin’s being on that St. Louis stage is about the Arizona senator’s judgment — a man running a “Country First” campaign who so clearly, so incontrovertibly put politics first in choosing a person he hardly knew to be a potential president of the United States. As Palin might ask him, “Doggone it, Senator, what were you thinking?”
Despite all of the anticipation and dissection, the debate did not fundamentally alter the dynamic or the electoral map, which has been moving steadily toward Obama. So that means McCain has little choice in the next two debates and in his campaign but to try to change the subject back to Obama from the economy. He must portray the Illinois senator as a callow man with a murky past — Muslim? Terrorist? Or worse, taxer and spender?
With Palin now a nonissue (presumably) and only the most benighted Americans left to condescend to, it’s all the GOP elitists have.