The Corner

What Happened?

Expect Obama/Biden to get a little desperate and resort to more and more negative campaigning.

There are three reasons for McCain’s sudden surge apart from a successful convention. (In this regard, I think the effectiveness of Giuliani’s comically savage attack on Obama have not been fully appreciated.)

First, the ramifications of not choosing Hillary are now clear: Obama lost a savvy experienced campaigner, who had successfully wooed the white-working class, cemented the Democratic woman’s vote, and would have hit the tarmac running, incorporating the entire Clintonian negative-campaigning mob. Biden brings no upside; he’s not a fresh “change” face, and is the sort of veteran that isn’t popular this year. While the press waits for the first Palin’s slips, it is as just as likely that Biden will return to form and out-gaffe her in the short term.

Second, Palin deflated the Democratic convention bounce. Her charisma and youth sort of out-hoped and hyper-changed Obama. More importantly, she energized and redefined McCain’s stale maverick image into a new “change” tandem—as both he and Palin were now seen as fellow outsiders who bucked the party establishment and would do the same together in Washington. That was a brilliant reconfiguration that was worth at least 1 or 2 points in the polls. She also brought a Zen sort of irony: the more Team Obama talked of her inexperience as a Vice Presidential nominee, the more renewed attention turned to whether Obama himself was any more experienced for the top spot on the ticket. And the more elite feminists attacked her as unqualified, the more we wondered whether they had made it, as did Palin, without patriarchal jumpstarting or matrimonial insider assistance; the more they go berserk over Palin, the more Biden is marginalized.

Third, the liberal media’s attack on Palin was an unforeseen gift and ripped the scab off the old cultural-war wound that usually favors conservatives. Liberal hypocrisy and hysteria were such that the more the likes of a Sally Quinn, Gloria Steinem, Chris Matthews, or Gail Collins went after Sarah, in ways not commensurate with the examination of Biden or other liberal women politicians of the past, the more the public sympathized with a fellow blue-collar victim of predictable elite disdain. There is a deer-in-the-headlights look to CNN/MSNBC reporters in the field as they try to report their Sarah hit pieces—sort of like “I know I look hopelessly biased, and am—but what else am I supposed to do?”

What’s next? The Obama campaign will have to figure out how to deal with a growing paradox. Their natural, and now emotional urge is to go after Palin even more, and hope that the media is ever more relentless in search of a meltdown—even as they accept that in doing so they only further garner sympathy for her ordeal, and lose sight that the race is ultimately between Obama and McCain.

Obama also would like to fall back on his stump riff of “they are going to scare you with (fill in the blanks about his race, religion, or name)”—even though resort yet again to the victim card will only turn off tired voters even more. And the problem with the return to Lord Hope and Master Change is that the airways are crowded with those clichés, as McCain/Palin are not only expropriating that message, but energizing it with the maverick label—something Hillary was never quite able to do.

In this cycle of the see-saw race, expect Obama to take a risk and go really negative as he falls into a gripey, cranky mode.

So now we await the Palin interviews, and, depending on her performances, whether all these short-term trends will either revert or accentuate even more. But don’t count on a Palin implosion: if one examines Obama’s failed House race, and the weird pull-outs of both his primary and general election Illinois Senatorial opponents, then we sense that he has never really waged a knock-out campaign fight until this past year–and that may not be true of Palin’s past scrappy and contested rise to the top.

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