Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sarah Palin: Obama's New Enemy

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The attempt by the Obama administration to make Rush Limbaugh an enemy of the people, in the style of 1984's Emmanuel Goldstein has failed. So, casting around for a new devil to excite their base with, the Obama people have hit on Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin, the current governor of Alaska and former candidate for Vice President, created considerable excitement for the McCain campaign. She was electric on the stump, bringing huge audiences to her feet with stem winder speeches. She was solidly conservative, butSarah Palin: Obama's New Enemy of the People with a reformist slant. And, very important, she was a telegenic, attractive woman.

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Nevertheless, according to the Washington Post's Plum Line, Democratic strategists think she's a good fit to rile up the Democratic base.

"James Carville, a key architect of the Limbaugh strategy, says Dems will be seeking to elevate Palin more and more, because she's "an identifiable person who has a hook," unlike GOP leaders like Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell.

"'Her name conjures up all kinds of reactions in people's minds,' Carville told me, adding that her association with the campaign will be used to portray the GOP as hidebound and to alienate moderates. 'She's an uncomfortable figure for a lot of Republicans,' Carville says. 'They want to move beyond her. We like her.'

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"'Luckily, she seems to present us with an opportunity every few days,' added a senior Dem strategist. 'You could say it's a turkey shoot.'"

The Democrats may have decided that the campaign against Rush Limbaugh backfired because Rush has a rather large megaphone in the form of his radio show and was able to respond to attacks. The publicity engendered by the attacks only served to swell Rush Limbaugh audience, finally making the Democratic attacks seem ridiculous.

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Sarah Palin, on the other hand, has been spending the aftermath of the election quietly attending to state business in Alaska and weighing options for either 2010 (a Senate run) and/or 2012 (a run for the Presidency.) She won't be able to respond to a coordinated smear campaign, goes the reasoning, as effectively as Rush Limbaugh.

The problem with attacking Sarah Palin is the same as attacks launched thirty years ago against Ronald Reagan in advance of the 1980 election. The portrayal of Sarah Palin as some kind of mad right winger (and stupid to boot) is likely toSarah Palin: Obama's New Enemy of the People be at variance with reality. Liberals, when they attack conservatives, tend to stick to their personal stereotypes. Sexist, racist, homophobe, heartless, and stupid. Sarah Palin is smart and personable, which is the real reason she has become a target.

Only in this case, it is the attackers who run the risk of seeming sexist. Chris Matthews, the MSNBC screamer, who apparently has a school girl crush on Barack Obama (remember the "thrill up my leg" remark), has already crossed that line. Chris Matthews has already called Sarah Palin "McCain's mail order bride."

All that serves is to rally women, even liberal women, to Sarah Palin's defense. A lot of women, especially professional women, have stories of put downs by insecure men who are jealous of their accomplishments. If Carville et al go after Sarah Palin with too much enthusiasm, women will see themselves in Sarah Palin and will react accordingly.

The really big problem is that the strategy of picking a devil to get people to hate is only a distraction from President Obama's accumulating problems. Calling Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin names is hardly going to make those problems go away. Only addressing the problems will make those problems go away.

Unfortunately, for a purveyor of attack dog politics like James Carville, every problem seems to require an attack dog approach. It worked to a certain extent for Bill Clinton after the Gingrich revolution. But while Clinton's minions were making Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole the devil, Clinton had moved hard to starboard toward the center. Barack Obama persists in tacking to port. That's why the strategy will not work this time. In fact, it might make Sarah Palin so popular that it will make her President.