The shadowy arch villain in "The Godfather Part III" (a film almost as miserably underrated as Sarah Palin) opines before his demise, "He who builds on the people builds on mud." This grandfatherly nugget from the lips of an arch-Mafioso should serve to dispel the vulgar illusion that gangsters are all about populism. But this bracing aphorism might serve as a sort of warning for the American electorate in 2008. Sen. Barack Obama built a left-leaning coalition that pushed his nomination through, largely by exerting weighted importance in the caucuses and through the madly unhinged (dis)proportional representation math that helped him "carry" the delegates in states that Sen. Clinton actually won. Now in the general election, amidst the turmoil of a still-unraveling set of financial crises of uncertain real extent and damage, Obama is riding a wave of economic unease just as Bill Clinton did in 1992. The "economy, stupid" issue of '92 proved laughably ephemeral, while the damage done to America's reputation abroad by the leadership of an inexperienced governor proved rather more serious and lasting. Once again, an elder statesman of the GOP is pitted against a brash, ambitious young Democrat who's playing the card of economic populism. What will be the consequences?
Without the economic freefall, this election would almost certainly be close to tied, possibly with John McCain out in front. The alleged chagrin of “moderates” to Gov. Palin is largely, I feel, trumped up and ephemeral. Her unveiling before the media should certainly have unfolded differently– whatever the status of her learning curve in out-of-Alaska domestic and international issues, she is certainly feisty, poised, and folksy all at once, and she could easily bat policy speeches out of the ballpark just as she did her magnificent initial addresses. The anti-Palin backlash is largely a subsidiary product of the Obama Media-Industrial Complex’s appeal to the snobby elitism of WaPo-reading upper-middle class professionals who innately believe that “one of them” should be governing the country. And that, in fact, is exactly what they see in Barack Obama.
The problem is that Obama's credentials, while jam-packed with the sort of academic and professional accolades coveted by upwardly-mobile professionals who preen themselves on their hipster IPod playlists, is dauntingly thin when it comes to actual legislative accomplishment-- the area of politics in which Obama was supposedly active (on however provincial a scale) in the ten years before he announced his candidacy. But the Internet Grassroots, afloat with loose cash, doesn't mind that so much. What do they care about "politics as usual"? They have cemented the mud of their "popular" support with wads of green, making Obama a viable candidate, and now a nominee with an advantage in the polls. The difference between the sort of popularity contest Obama excels in and the one in which John McCain and Sarah Palin score highly is this: McCain's supporters aren't looking to gaze longingly into the mirror of a candidate's face. John McCain is quite palpably different than most of us. He's seen and lived horrors most of us have never even imbibed of. He's been kicking around some of America's thorniest issues for decades. He's been cruising on the Straight Talk Express before Obama, or Howard Dean, ever made a pass at a pretense of such a thing. And Sarah Palin? Well, Camille Paglia can do a better job of invoking the governor's Amazon, goddess-like qualities than I can (though I'll take a stab eventually). What Sarah Palin can get through in a morning readily trumps what I get through all year-- so yeah, I'm not supporting her because she's "one of me." I'm an enthusiast because she's so palpably superhuman at getting the job done. Obama's editorial and puditocratical battalions seem hypnotized, in contrast, by Obama's ability to stand transfixed before an issue: on the one hand this, on the other hand that . . . . This supposedly invaluable ability to "see every side of the issue" might conceivably qualify Obama to go debate philosophy in the agora, but he should take that up with the directors of the University of Chicago rather than foist himself upon the Presidential stage. Great leaders are not distinguished by the ability to sophistically take every side of an issue, but rather by their ability to seize the better side and run with it, forcefully, overcoming every obstacle. The very "methodical" quality that makes Obama an effective-- and very sheepish-- campaigner, makes him odious to contemplate as commander-in-chief. Do American voters really want a Jimmy Carter Redux right now? [ever?] McCain and Palin's temperamental fierceness, their thick-skinnedness, and their willingness to buck orthodoxy is precisely why they should be in charge in this period of multi-pronged calamity. Do you think this ticket has to wipe the sleepers from its eyes at 3 in the morning? Hillary's revision of Napoleon's famous adage still rings true, and should make an effective ad while there's still time. The Republican ticket doesn't have to screw up its courage to face crisis. True leaders never leave the saddle, and these two are not easily dismounted.