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Election Wasteland Part III: Media Fallout and the New Election Landscape

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National Conventions Drop Like Nukes: Examining the Fallout and Election Wasteland, Part III

The election landscape has suffered a dramatic change after the Republican National Convention, as I was able to predict when Sarah Palin was chosen as John McCain’s running mate. The Palin strategy has worked, so far, without a single setback, turning the poll numbers sideways and shifting the focus of this election from Barack Obama’s crusade to take back the nation from the Republican war machine to McCain, the old soldier who has managed to woo the press into eating up his image as a maverick candidate, despite the fact that he has no policy disagreements with his party or its financial backers and that he chose a truly frightening vice presidential candidate just to spread his numbers and build support in the conservative base.

The Palin story is huge. An extremely divisive and controversial figure, she has become an instant media star. I don’t get a lot of traffic on my blog, but the two articles I’ve written on Palin have put a huge spike in my numbers. I don’t know how many people are actually reading this stuff, but I’ve gotten twice as many hits in the last week from my analysis of the strategic reasons Palin was likely chosen than from my previous top post, my analysis of marriage rights following the California decision in May that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

What follows will be an analysis of both conventions followed by the impact they’ve had in the public dialogue and on reshaping the political landscape at the beginning of the conclusion of this election cycle. This is the third part.

Part I: The Democratic National Convention

Part II: The Republican National Convention

Part III: Media Fallout and the New Election Landscape

The Republican Party has used the nuclear option with their choice of Sarah Palin as vice presidential candidate and the direction they are taking their campaign. As a presidential candidate, John McCain had a good shot at running against Barack Obama as the honorable veteran war hero archetype of candidate, forcing even his political opponents to openly recognize his goodness, human decency, and capability to lead, making them have to rely solely on making the case for change, but the Republican Party, strategically maneuvering and always willing to put political expedience above the good of the nation, will have it both ways if they can. They’re twisting the public dialogue to its breaking point, and the faithful among their constituents are having to swallow an ever more convoluted storyline in order to maintain their unwavering loyalty. The current election landscape is a barren radioactive wasteland, and we’ll all be lucky to make it out alive.

Palin’s media appeal was apparent the moment she was announced as VP candidate. The big night at the Republican National Convention was her speech. All eyes were on her, overshadowing even the actual presidential candidate’s rather flat call for sameness. When she came out on the stage at the RNC, she didn’t have to say a word. Facetious preliminary reticence on the part of the media as to whether or not the Republican Party would accept her made it clear to everyone attending the convention that they were to wear their support on their sleeves. The RNC has always been a theatrical affair, the Republican Party may be responsible for inventing the effect of releasing helium balloons from the floor and dropping air balloons from the ceiling simultaneously, and all Palin had to do was show up, and the Party hoisted her up to the hero status they knew she needed to have in order to serve her strategic purpose in the Party.

The media set the bar low for Palin. Leading up to the speech, media commentators repeated that her acceptance speech would be an important test for Palin. And since she read the words written for her intelligibly, she “really hit it out of the park”. The delivery of the speech was praised very highly, and to me it just seemed like a parent sticking a child’s drawing to the fridge.

The above YouTube user saw Fox’s coverage of Palin’s speech as biased toward the left because they mentioned the fact that someone else wrote her speech, while I saw CNN’s coverage as far too enthusiastic in suddenly defining her as some kind of grand orator because of how she delivered the speech. I think it’s fair to talk about the speechwriters and give them credit, and the speechwriters are often mentioned, but the fact is most candidates work with speechwriters rather than having a speech handed to them to read, especially in such important occasions.

I don’t understand why the media insisted that there was anything amazing about the delivery of this speech. It was far from inspiring from the standpoint of a national figure or leader. It was largely sarcastic and she delivered it as such, so maybe we can hold her to the same standards as a stand-up comedian rather than a vice presidential candidate, but even there she would fall short. She certainly served her purpose, but talking about the delivery of the speech seems an odd way for the media to go. I doubt they had anything of substance to say.

Let’s compare Palin’s oratory styling with that of some other female public figures of note. They’re not all speaking in English, but you get the idea.

Eva Peron

Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Cristina Kirchner, President of Argentina

I’ve said my peace on this speech, so I’ll let Keith Olbermann respond. I used the term “smarmy”, he goes with “sarcastic”.

He’s not someone I knew much about before all this mess, but I was quite impressed with what I’ve seen of his convention coverage, all highlights by internet of course, I live in Argentina and the only English language coverage I get is CNN International and BBC International. When the Republican Party showed what any film student, my wife included, will instantly recognize as a propaganda film on the September 11th terrorist attacks (and bin Laden’s resume in general), he was the only reporter who was willing to say what needed to be said. He hit the nail on the head; more than an appeal to our fear in order to convince us to vote for a party that will protect us, as people on my side of the fence may tend to think, or a call for bravery and service in the face of adversity, as the Republicans would have us believe, but an evocation of pain. Why? Simply to associate their party with that patriotic catharsis and falsely gain our trust. And according to this article, it seems Olbermann got in trouble for doing his job. Self-censorship is alive and well, “my friends”.

Meanwhile, Sarah Palin enjoyed a short press honeymoon, with kind of a “should we, shouldn’t we” attitude on whether to talk about her as a politician rather than just as a family woman and hockey mom. The fact is, she’s running as an outsider, and she’s fair game like any other candidate, but the initial reluctance to really analyze her in depth by the mainstream media has given her a real head start toward defining herself as the Mom Candidate.

During her convention speech, she told a little white lie that she sold the Alaska governor’s jet on eBay. She did not sell it on eBay, but just simply using the word eBay invokes a reaction in the American people. During these tough economic times, a lot of us are getting into stuff like that, and eBay is a name that’s as wholesome in the American mind as Oreo cookies. I myself am scraping my pennies together doing transcriptions on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, when I can’t find translation work. But my situation is a bit different and there’s no room for it here.

The next step was to build excitement yet lower expectations on further appearances by the new star candidate. The McCain campaign refused to let Sarah Palin talk to any reporters until her interview with a traditionally forgiving Charles Gibson. He was a little tougher than he used to be on Good Morning America, but as our attorney general would say, there was no organ failure during this interrogation. The choice to use the word “hubris” was interesting.

The timing of this interview was an interesting choice. Both presidential candidates made a huge deal out of the fact that they were taking the day off from partisan politics and electioneering to observe the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. The McCain campaign, however, chose this day to launch their vice presidential star candidate into the media fray, doing their best to redirect the public discourse from the economy to the war on terror. Palin went into the interview and did her best to both separate her campaign from Bush policy and yet defend Bush policy at the same time, being sure to point out that some “mistakes” had been made in the war in Iraq, and defending the Bush doctrine while making it clear that she doesn’t actually know what it is. She also delivered the now famous claim that she has foreign policy credentials due to the fact that Russia is visible from Alaska. I’ll add an analogy to the plethora of those available. If I look up I can see the stars, so I guess my childhood dream of being an astronaut has come true.

Palin wants to say, without saying it, that we are fighting a holy war against the Jihadists. Holy war is out of vogue with the more mainstream voters, so she has to be careful how she says it. Saying that she’s praying THAT it is a mission from God may simply be the talking point given to her. The actual quote itself is a bit more complicated. The sentence structure is ambiguous, and like I said before, I’m a transcriptionist. This can be interpreted in two ways, the one she’s claiming is the correct one being a bit more complicated and harder to believe.

It could be written: “… pray for our military men and women, who are striving to do what is right, also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God.”

Or: “… pray, for our military men and women, who are striving to do what is right, also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God.”

Taking out some of the extra clauses to simplify, it’s: “Pray for our military men and women that our leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God,” or, “Pray, for our military men and women, that our leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God.” In the first example, a more poetic, archaic, or possibly clumsy use of the word “that” would be equivalent to “because”, ie, pray for them because we are sending them on a task from God. The second would be what she is referring to, that for their sake, pray that this task is from God.

Either option is kind of creepy and evokes the same image of holy war, which is why they had to add in the part about Lincoln, that I find it difficult to believe she was directly referencing when she made the quote. Remember, she likes to lie about little things like that to make them sound better, like selling planes on eBay. The thing is she has to be careful because her job is to appeal to the conservatives without losing voters in the middle. And today, among the voters in the middle, being on a mission from God is reserved for Muslim extremists, George W. Bush, and the Blues Brothers.

In this section she waffles on global warming. She never actually says one way or the other whether human activity affects climate, she simply says it may or may not with varying degrees of commitment, maybe some of it is man-made, I never said none of it is man-made. If she doesn’t know, it’s probably better that she admits it, but she doesn’t mention asking a scientist either. She even makes herself an authority on dealing with the effects of climate change because she’s from Alaska. This is one of the reasons she’s on the ticket.

Nothing but praise for Hillary Clinton here. Hillary’s the only Democrat Palin seems to be able to stand. Palin knows that her role is to appeal to the more conservative voters and attack the left, while McCain appeals to the center and plays the uniter. She is also attempting to gather up any disgruntled Hillary votes she can. It’s tempting to hope that women who would have voted for Hillary wouldn’t be so easily manipulated, or that they weren’t just voting for Hillary because she’s a woman in the first place, but the fact is that if Palin picks up even one Hillary vote that would have otherwise gone to McCain, she’s served her purpose. And she’ll get more than one. I hate to be sexist, but since it’s a literary quote that makes it OK: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Some of them will not cool off between now and Election Day.

She talks about reducing the growth of government, and it’s about time I put up my essay on the myth of the “big government” problem, but the fact is that her political advancement really resembles that of Lyndon Johnson’s. Johnson grew up in parts of Texas which, at the time, were very underdeveloped, much in the same way that parts of Alaska lack infrastructure resembling that of the more developed states today. His ambition was to collect power in any way that he could. He chose the Democratic Party because there was a power vacuum in his district that he figured out how to take advantage of, and used the Roosevelt model of infrastructure development to build up partnerships with large construction firms, specifically Kellogg, Brown and Root. As he advanced in his political career, KBR grew as an industry leader, and the two fed off eachother mutually until Johnson was offering important defense contracts and eyeing the presidency. The fact is that Johnson did a lot of important work in Texas, supporting New Deal initiatives which built roads, power grids, and promoted employment and education, but he did so in order to generate profits for his financial backers. The prevalence of military bases and infrastructure in Texas are the work of Lyndon Johnson, and he put those installations to work in Vietnam.

Sarah Palin has earned a lot of federal money for her hometown and for the state of Alaska. Her only response to the fact that her state received $231 in federal earmarks per person in 2008 was that they had drastically reduced earmark requests. Was this drastic reduction before or after that figure? If it was before, how much were they getting before? If it was after, then it hasn’t been that long, has it? She left Alaska in debt, showing her faith in the Bush deficit spending model.

She wants to make the bridge to nowhere the “posterchild” for McCain’s war on earmarks. We all know she supported the bridge to begin with, and the fact is, she was right to support it. That kind of infrastructure is important, and people have the right to the infrastructure necessary to circulate, although this is a right which doesn’t get a lot of attention. However, rather than being a lesson in wasteful spending, when Congress denied the earmark for the bridge, Alaska received the funding anyway. What was done specifically with this funding is as of yet unknown, as are the specifics of whether this funding is funding they would have received without the initial bridge proposal or not, although the way Gibson phrases it, it seems the funding came with the bridge proposal. Demonizing earmarks is kind of silly, especially when the money still ends up leaving the treasury without a specific destination. That’s the proper function of an earmark, to specifically name the purpose of funding. Every dollar we spend should be earmarked. It is true that they are one method of getting public funds into the hands of a politician’s business affiliates, friends, or financial backers, but they’re far from the only method. Another good example is starting unnecessary wars.

Palin talks a bit about abortion; it’s her personal opinion and no explanation is given. A few other questions follow with fairly standard wishy-washy answers. There are so many abrupt cuts in this interview that it shows that it was difficult to put this interview together into a presentable product, and it makes me wonder how Palin speaks unscripted without the benefit of editing. I’m looking forward to the debates, both VP and presidential.

The tradition of adding “gate” to the end of nouns related to political scandals continues with Troopergate. There’s an investigation, and there could be an abuse of power issue, but I don’t think it’s going to affect Palin much politically, at least not when it comes to her actual purpose on the ticket, which is to appeal to the right, who will support her faithfully and are famously blind to hypocrisy, to lure over a few disgruntled Hillary voters, and to not scare off the middle that McCain is trying to appeal to. So much scandal over this issue may actually provide some stimulus among her supporters; here come the liberals/power elite/rule sticklers/bureaucrats/whatever to try to get in the way of a woman who’s doing whatever she can to protect her family. If half the things they say about the guy are true, the fact is he probably shouldn’t be on the police force. Of course, as is customary, the Republicans are trying to have it both ways on this one, making two mutually exclusive arguments at the same time. Palin makes it clear that the trooper should have been fired, then goes on to point out that she never asked for him to be fired.

And then the economic situation could no longer be contained, and the focus was switched forcefully and abruptly back to the broken economic system. McCain is struggling to keep up, since he was attempting to switch the focus away from any real economic reform to more amorphous matters of general leadership qualities and defining himself as the face of the nation and the war hero POW candidate ready to wage a century of warfare against our enemies.

I’d like to see what more economists are saying about the economic situation before I say too much about it and make myself look like an idiot, but this economist thinks that we’re living in a species of communism centered around the upper class rather than the proletariat. That seems about right. We’re spending a lot of money bailing out these businesses, and I wonder how badly we really need them. I know there are ripple effects and employment suffers, but the fact is that with minimum wages remaining stagnant, a total economic overhaul could be exactly what we need. We’re working to protect the debt infrastructure when what might be a better idea is to let these companies fall and drop the debts owed to them. Many of these companies in the real estate loan market have taken advantage of a weakening economic system to mortgage the foundation of the middle class, as much of their property as they can get their hands on, and when people started defaulting, the problems in the housing market, including dropping prices but mostly the fact that fewer Americans can actually conceivably purchase a home, made it no longer such a profitable thing for the lenders. If this model of business failed, I say let them fall. If the middle class loses their mortgage debt, and more Americans get to keep their homes and really own them for once, that’s the kind of windfall profit that could make our nation stronger.

As for the election, poll numbers are all over the place, probably because people no longer know what the hell is going on. It’s amazing that, after such definitive proof of the incapability or disinterest of the Republican Party to maintain a healthy economy by even the most neoconservative standards, anybody could possibly want to give a member of this Party the chance to govern thinking that they will enact change. But when things are already changing so quickly, people get confused, and there’s no telling what may happen. We have to take this election extremely seriously and not take any outcome, any state, any district, or any vote for granted.

“You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country. We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage, whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President, when the average American family saw its income go up seventy-five hundred dollars $7,500 instead of down two thousand dollars like it has under George Bush.

We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500 but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off and look after a sick kid without losing her job, an economy that honors the dignity of work.” – Barack Obama, presidential nomination acceptance speech.

We couldn’t ask for more.


3 Responses

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  1. Hi, Alex. I’m sparechange from TNation. I would have commented here sooner, but I’ve had a bout with meningitis, lost part of my hearing and much of my ability to concentrate. I’ve put your blog in my favorites. When I’m better, I’d like to come back and really dig into it. You write very well. Thank you for posting the link.


    October 1, 2008 at 1:35 pm

  2. Hi, Sparechange, I’m so sorry to hear that! I hope it’s all temporary and I hope you get better soon. Thanks for checking out the blog and I’m really glad you like it, I hope it will help you pass the time while you recover.

    Sorry I haven’t responded sooner, but I’m doing a translation with a deadline coming up really fast. I am really sad to hear that you’re not feeling well, though, so please do keep me informed when you start feeling better.


    October 3, 2008 at 7:57 am

  3. I’m better now. Thank you for your kind remarks. I agree with what you said about the economy. Allowing middle class Americans to truly own their homes would be the biggest, most successful “economic stimulus package” ever. It wouldn’t be just a short-lived shot in the arm. It would have a long-lasting, sustaining effect on the economy.

    It seems to me that a bailout is going to enable the undermining of the middle class to continue. If it does, our middle class is likely to crumble. We’ll become a nation made up of a few people who are extremely rich, and millions of others who have absolutely nothing. And we might be closer to that unhappy circumstance than many people think.


    October 13, 2008 at 2:38 am

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