Of pitbulls

Sep. 4th, 2008 12:23 pm
aparrish: (Default)
[personal profile] aparrish
First off, I want to emphasize that Obama is not my ideal candidate, and he hasn't (yet?) earned my vote. He started out as the (ostensible) "liberal" alternative to Hillary Clinton. But as his positions slide toward centrism, he's been hanging more and more leftist liberals out to dry. It's a politically expedient strategy for the big O, I suppose, but it's a drag to be continuously and relentlessly rendered invisible.

Still, the strongest effect of Sarah Palin's speech last night was that it made me long for Barack Obama's acceptance speech. Nearly forty million people watched Obama's speech, and countless more on the Internet, but that's not even close to the amount of attention it deserved. It was an example of expert rhetoric and oration, and its last few paragraphs—complete with thoughtful, ambiguous scriptural reference—still give me chills.

Palin's speech, on the other hand, relies on an almost pornographic structure to extract its response, moving from money shot (i.e. sarcastic remarks about Obama) to money shot, only loosely linked by any kind of narrative. A good example (and this is the passage that I think will attract the most flak):

Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown.

And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves.

I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organizer," except that you have actual responsibilities. I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening.

Contrary to a number of liberal commentators or whatever, I think that having been a mayor of a small town is a kind of compelling qualification for national leadership—or, at least, that it's not a priori clear that this isn't a qualification. But Palin's speech doesn't bother to make the case either way. She mentions being a mayor only to set up two potshots at Obama—that "community organizer" is a made-up and unimportant position, and that Obama is a two-faced elitist.

Now, Palin's performance did convince me that she is a credible candidate in national politics[1]. Moreover, I don't expect the Republicans to "address the issues" in this election, because they don't have to (and they'd lose if they tried). But Palin's speech was just preaching to the choir (the "base," though I don't know why anyone would want to self-identify with that term), and I'm inclined to believe that's all the Republicans are capable of.

Obama, though, at least when he's on his game, is a masterful advocate—not just of his policy positions, but of the core philosophy and metaphors that form the foundation of liberalism. If he sticks to that kind of advocacy, if he doesn't get bogged down in defending his character and his policies, then McCain doesn't stand a chance.

[1] The speech was, of course, prepared for her, which isn't at all unusual. It's telling, though, that the turn of phrase most associated with the speech ("What's the difference between a pitbull and a hockey mom? Lipstick.") was ad-libbed. It doesn't appear in the transcript and it wasn't on the teleprompter.
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