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.little
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.
Percentage viewing as Very Favorable
OR Very Unfavorable
B. Clinton 63
H. Clinton 60
T. Kennedy 48
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 tends of millions of dollars in an effort to brand him
negatively, and moved his favorables by ... a point or two at the
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.