Saturday, August 30, 2008

Possibly a Master Meta-Stroke

With the obvious caveat that some scandal or closeted skeleton could make this into an Eagleton event, I am prompted to ask: How is McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin politically smart? Anglachel has counted the ways. Let me add two more:

Every moment spent talking about experience in this campaign helps McCain – regardless of whether it comes in the form of persuasive attacks on Palin.

Every moment spent discussing women in politics hurts Obama – regardless of whether it comes in the form of reminders of Palin’s opposition to choice.

That is, what McCain’s campaign seems to be doing is what the best political and PR efforts always try to do – frame the debate, define the field of play, determine what game is being played there. Once you’ve succeeded at doing that, you’ve usually won, even if you get out-riposted or lose a skirmish here or there.

In this case, simply having a sizable chunk of the next two months taken up with discussion about experience and women pushes aside the discussion Obama should be seeking – which ought to be entirely “I’m a Democrat and he’s not.” Indeed, the brilliance of this meta-stroke is that it takes one’s mind back to the primaries; it keeps the Obama-Clinton contest in the air. So even though Hillary herself will continue to stump for Obama, and even though she will do a strong, professional and even stirring job of that… she can’t unmake what actually happened over the past year. And McCain has made sure none of us forget it.

Indeed, the effect of this jujitsu is that Hillary's own appearances on Obama's behalf -- which may get ramped up to counter Palin -- may now serve mostly to remind people of the primaries. And the energy of her advocacy of Obama may be flipped on its head. It may cause many voters, especially women, to feel primarily admiration and sympathy for her, remembering how vilely she was treated. Yes, the two-year Governor of Alaska is an, er, Palin imitation of Hillary Clinton... but if she does nothing more than remind people what the real Hillary went through, it may be impossible to hear Hillary's words through the emotions of Hillary's heroic presence. In fact, the very crassness of the political move is integral to its brilliance. We don't really want to know Sarah Palin, much -- unless it turns out there's something in her story that requires us to pay attention to her. She's not the point. She is merely a reminder -- and as a mere reminder, she's a walking tickler-file for thinking about how Hillary Clinton was trashed.

By itself, that’s not enough to swing the election – but, then, no VP pick ever is. Granted that neither of them helped himself with an important state, McCain is getting a lot more bang for his buck here. Biden merely shores up Obama’s weakness (and therefore, of course, calls attention to it). He sure as hell isn't a skillful or compelling campaigner. In chess terms, this was a defensive move. Obama protected his king. (Protecting his queen is out of the question. The choice of Biden sacrificed her.) McCain, in contrast, is playing offense. He moved a bishop or a rook to a square that changes the complexion of the whole board, and dictates his opponent's moves in response.

No comments: