The Palin Speech

P.S. Alex Massie is more insightful than yours truly.

Andrew Sullivan concludes his live-blogging of Sarah Palin’s speech with an exasperated sigh: “Reality television has become our politics.” Perhaps. More likely, politics has been a reality TV show since before John Logie Baird invented the damn goggle box. Because, yes, you choose the candidate you like best or the one that has impressed you most after a long, painfully drawn out period of interrogation, speculation and hype. Just like on American Idol. That is the way it works. Talent matters, but it’s not enough without personality, authenticity, charm, something else…

Of course Andrew’s so committed to Obama that it’s unlikely Palin could have done anything to convince him she’s not painfully out of her depth. There’s lots to like about Obama, but let’s not pretend that he’d be favourite to win this election – or have Andrew’s backing – if he were a first term Irish-American Senator called Barry O’Bama.

This race has been framed in terms of personality and biography from the beginning. Sure, Obama’s opposition to the war was vital to him gaining traction and yes he has tremendous political gifts, but, really, the Democratic primary was a Reality TV-style beauty contest and November’s election will be as well. That’s why people are tuning in.

For my money, Alex is one of the best, most insightful observers of US politics out there — he has some distance, yet he also has a keen eye and a level of self-awareness that is very valuable.

For a more critical take, Ezra Klein writes:

Over the past week, Palin had begun looking like a character from Twin Peaks. Tonight, she looked like an up-and-coming Republican politician. It was an auspicious debut, the sort of address that would be judged a success if she were a newcomer keynoting the convention. She landed clean punches, temporarily silenced some of her critics, and retold John McCain’s story with a keen sense for the drama of his experience. But I expected more. As delivered, the speech was effective as theater but curiously hollow as an enduring campaign argument: It contained the seeds of a medal ceremony for McCain, and marked Palin as a politician to watch, but it said nothing about the presidency she hopes to be part of.

Ezra’s basic take is that Palin’s speech would have been more effective had it been more specific — I hesitate to say more substantive, as I don’t think the post-Clinton Democratic trope of a laundry list of micropolicies (clean-coal-powered American-made supercars, V-chips, etc.), is substantive, exactly — and I can see where he’s coming from. But as Chris Hayes writes, there is an enduring logic to “political cant”:

So the rhetorical trick that convention speechwriters try to pull off is to have just enough substance within a statement that it seems to carry some semantic force, but remains nearly impossible to disagree with. The result? cant. “Families that work hard and play by the rules” Cant. “We honor his service.” Cant. “The choice is clear.” Cant. “This election isn’t about the past it’s about the future.” Cant, cant, cant.

What did I think of the speech? Well, I thought it was dynamite, but I just instinctively like this woman and her family, so I’m hardly the harshest judge.