Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Riding A Tiger

Today we learn that the word lipstick is a registered trademark of the Republican Party. I’m grinding my molars to a nub over here.

I’d like to keep this short; I’ve been working on a post for days, and every 12 hours or so my opinions change. I’ll say this for Sarah Palin, she has shaken things up, made them interesting. I can’t think of a similar instance of someone going from “Who?” to Most Talked About Politician in America practically overnight. This time a week ago, just hours before she gave her speech in St. Paul, everybody right down to Peggy Noonan and all points leftward was sure that Palin was a disastrous choice and might have to pull a Thomas Eagleton. Now she bestrides our poor land like a Colossus in three-inch heels. Oops, sorry, was that last part sexist of me?!?

Here’s what I want to write on the wall today: There are many twists to come in the Sarah Palin story, and no one can predict or control where the story goes. You can’t tell me this is playing out the way the McCain team expected. I saw Steve Schmidt on TV eight days ago, and there was panic in his eyes. You think they knew about the pregnant teenage daughter? Hell, do you think McCain deliberately would choose a running mate who would overshadow him like Palin has? Not on your life. Sarah Palin unleashed a tornado that swept away all the norms of logic and civilized discourse. It’s like Lord of the Flies in politics right now, and the GOP has an unquestionable advantage when it’s like that. They have the superior instincts for raw survival and fighting dirty.

The other day I mentioned the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, how the Senators on that committee (including Joe Biden) fought so hard and gracelessly to keep up with unfolding events. Thomas had been insufficiently vetted. Nobody had anticipated the appearance of Anita Hill. Hill’s testimony thrust sexual harassment and workplace equality onto center stage, unleashing angers and resentments across America that the Villagers had little idea about. It was a maelstrom that left no opportunity for crafting a response, by anybody of any party, in Congress or the White House or the media. Washington was riding a tiger.

For a few giddy days, we compared the Palin gambit to Tom Eagleton, sometimes to Dan Quayle. The best comparison is to the Clarence Thomas gambit. While mollifying the right wing base of the GOP, Thomas was a choice calculated to confound the Democrats, to be hard to respond to, by virtue of his race. Substitute gender for race, and the same is true of Palin. Palin also was insufficiently vetted, and so issues of gender and family have emerged unexpectedly. They conjure raw emotions and a highly volatile story line.

I take a little comfort in that: the story still holds some surprises. The Thomas analogy isn’t comforting, since the conservative status quo won out in the Thomas nomination battle. He seemed like damaged goods in the immediate aftermath, but 16 years later you’d hardly know it. But maybe the Obama campaign’s Post-Rapid-Response M.O. will flip the script. Maybe Biden learned some lesson from the Thomas fight that will come in handy in the Palin fight. Fingers crossed. In the end, I figure America will get the President we deserve.

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