The Palin Speech, Part 1 - On TV, narrative and the GOP

Two weeks ago, I wrote:

While a great deal has been written about the lessening impact of TV, I think the McCain campaign is demonstrating its lingering power and influence. What is the McCain campaign other than a series of TV ads and videos (that then get played again and again on TV)? Their candidate has receded. They have been speaking through a much more reliable set of messages - edited video, which unlike their candidate, doesn't have that nasty habit of getting way off message. And it has worked - the race has tightened now, and we appear headed into the two Conventions pretty close to tied.

As we look forward to the VP picks of both parties I get the sense that given the way the McCain campaign is being run now, they will attempt to pick a new spokesman for their campaign - someone good looking, telegenic, articulate. Their current spokesman, McCain, has, let us say, lots of limitations. So let him be that vague presence at the end of the ads, show up for the debates and Convention heavily scripted, and let the new guy do a great deal of the heavy lifting.

As television, last night's speech was pretty powerful, and Sarah Palin established herself as a potent political weapon in the GOP's aging arsenal. There was great art in that speech - the small town girl up from the bootstraps narrative, the crisp text, strong lines, her confident delivery, and her overall just plain good looks and likeable personality. It was just an awfully good show, and reminded all of us just how good the Republicans can be at this game of politics.

It also reminded me of how differently modern conservatives view political candidates than those on the left. Starting with Reagan, there has been this consciousness on the right that a candidate can be a vehicle, a spokesperson, a figurehead for a set of ideological arguments; that there is artifice, theater, story-telling at the core of politics; that because of this, the modern GOP has excelled at the marketing, television side of the business; but as we found out this decade, all this rhetoric, ideology, powerful TV and well-rehearsed speeches by good looking people have not left American better off than these conservatives found it. They have been long on marketing and advertising and short on governing. And it is this inability for the conservative movement to mature into a powerful governing force, moving beyond its immature rhetorical stage, that in many ways is the story of the election. Those who argue each day that government is the problem have turned out not to be very good at the governing part.

So Sarah Palin arrived last night on the national scene, the latest and most modern character from conservative central casting. But like so many other elements of today's conservative movement, her story, however compelling, is more fiction than fact - she raised taxes, has had very little responsibility for governing, supported the Bridge to Nowhere, lied repeatedly about Obama's record. So even that self-proclaimed straight talker, John McCain, has been unable to liberate his Party from the very worst of its traditions - the deep and profound belief that they should never let facts get in the way of a good story.