Palin's identity politics


Everyone expected Sarah Palin's speech last night to be long on biography and short on concrete policy proposals. Focusing on herself and her story -- with occasional jabs at Obama -- was what she had to do to keep from being defined by that gosh-darn liberal commentariat, which doesn't think she's qualified to be VP. But what I realized last night was that focusing on her personal story -- to the complete exclusion of anything substantive -- was not just a defensive move but brilliant political offense.

That's because this year's Republican strategy is not about policy, not by a long shot. Voters know that George Bush has made a hash of governing the country, and they're becoming more and more concerned about the issues -- climate change, economic instability, the availability of health care -- on which Democrats have a clear policy edge. So instead of talking policy, the Republicans are offering us conservative politics as the new identity politics.

One of the standard attacks on the traditionally liberal voting blocs -- blacks, Latinos, environmentalists, whatever -- is that they vote not for the candidate who has the best policy proposals but the candidate who is one of their own. But identity voting is a behavior that cuts across the political spectrum. And last night it came to its logical -- and absurd -- conclusion, not among Democrats but on the main stage at the Republican National Convention.

Behind Palin's utter lack of a message, there was in fact a very strong message -- one directed at the white small-town voters who make up an important swing constituency, especially in the West. That message: I'm one of you. Never mind that you know almost nothing about my policy positions. You can trust me because my husband's a blue-collar working stiff and I'm a PTA mom. 

Implicit in this feel-good message to those of us who live in the rural stretches of the country is a second message that's a lot more sinister: Obama is not one of us. He's got a funny name and a Harvard Law degree. Most of all, he's black.

Will identity politics work in the West this year? I'd like to think not. I'd like to think we still have a touch of that independent frontier spirit that allows us to judge people on their merits, not the sound of their names or the color of their skin. But the truth is that we won't know until November 5th.

Sep 05, 2008 03:42 PM
I know the Democrats came out attacking, but the attacks paled in comparison to the sewer-dwelling lies and fear peddling of the right. It was downright astonishing, even when I fully expected these Rove tactics. Fred Thompson, Rudi Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin offered lie after vicious attack. The Republicans have shown that they want to conduct their campaign just like they conduct their foreign policy: Attack, mock, and bully.

Sarah Palin’s speech had to be the biggest disgrace to American politics I’ve ever seen (okay, maybe I’m forgetting a Bush speech or two). I wanted to come away from Palin's speech with an idea what she stood for. What policies does she advocate? How would these policies bring about the change even the Republicans admit we need? Instead, I saw that Sarah Palin stands for insults, smears, and attacks. Fear Obama! Your taxes will go up (despite his tax plan). Terrorists will win! Gas prices will skyrocket and Saudis will win! FEAR OBAMA! This was the same drivel levelled at the Democrats speech after speech. Please, America. Not this time. Let's make sure the fear peddling and lies doesn't work this time. Not this time.

McCain’s speech was better than Palin's. I was hoping McCain would utilize the same sleazy gutter tactics as his running mate did Wednesday night. While her speech "energized the base," the below the belt attacks did nothing to gain their ticket more votes, only to sicken everyone but hard core Repubs.

The Republicans NEEDED to acknowledge the failure of their party the last 7 years. To continually attack the Democrats for spending and fiscal responsibility run very hollow and hypocritical. McCain's honesty about the failed Bush administration was just what those undecided voters needed to hear. McCain showed some of the McCain of old, the Maverick, who had been in hidding since the campaign started.

McCain's delivery wasn't dazzling, of course, and the content was light, but there was more than Palin's (um, that’s not hard). I think the McCain speech was the only thing that saved the RNC from being a complete disaster (of course, I’m a bit biased).

Now that the Republicans have co-opted the Dem's theme of change (which is wise), will the public really turn to the same party for change? The same party that has pretty much been right in line with Bush policies, or the party that at least has shown some effort to change things the last few years?

McCain wants to return to the Maverick of old. If he does, that’s great, but he’ll have to flip-flop BACK to his original positions, which he left aside a while ago. If McCain is serious about change, why are his policies all the same as the Bush administration? Why is he still insisting on 100 years in Iraq? Why did he move away from opposing Bush’s tax cuts for the richest Americans? Why does he discount diplomacy is a viable foreign policy tool? Why is he in lock step with Bush on energy issues? Sorry, John, but one speech isn’t enough, and it’s not consistent with the policies you now support. Unless you actually show some real change and change your views to be different from George W. Bush’s why should we really trust you to change Washington?

In addition, if he is indeed tired of the political rancor, then he needs to put a muzzle on his attack dogs. Really, how hypocritical is it to talk about stopping the division and fear, why did his running mate do little but peddle fear and lies Wednesday night? So John, are you going to release the Karl Rove campaign team now that you’re tired of partisan bickering? I doubt it. And I’m not upset about it, as this will once again expose him as a hypocrite.

McCain is going to have a hard time living up to that speech. I feel the GOP is going in two directions at once, with McCain wanting to push his Maverick image while other interests in the party want nothing to do with change. This is going to be hard sell.