Elvin Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com. In the article below he comments on Palin’s nomination. Read his previous OUPblogs here.
John McCain’s campaign has turned a 7 point deficit into a 4 point lead according to the new USA Today/Gallup poll. This post-convention bump did not come from McCain’s acceptance speech, which only received an “excellent” rating from 15% of those polled, compared to the 35% Obama received. The bump came from Sarah Palin. Here is the poll’s most important result: before the convention, Republicans by 47%-39% were less enthusiastic than usual about voting. Now, they are more enthusiastic by 60%-19%.
The new McCain campaign message is that change is about reforming Washington, aided in no small part by a Number 2 that has developed/created quite a reputation for reform. This new configuration appears to be overshadowing Obama’s definition that change requires a change in party control of the White House, because it has tapped into the anti-Washington sentiment felt among the Republican base.
Palin is running not as the back-up plan (as most vp candidates have), but as right-hand woman, and this is why Barack Obama took the risk of appearing unpresidential today by attacking Sara Palin directly himself. But Obama’s response – “You can’t just make stuff up” – sounded like a petulant kid crying foul rather than an effective counter-punch. As the campaign fumbles for a working riposte, it will become clear that the answer was always right before their eyes. By an ironic twist of fate, Hillary Clinton, though unsuccessful in her own presidential bid, has become the queen and kingmaker. Sarah Palin would not have risen from political obscurity into national prominence but for the schism generated by Clinton’s candidacy within the Democratic party. Yet Joe Biden cannot perform the role of attack dog as viscerally as he would if Palin were a man, and so ironically, Clinton will have to be dispatched to play this traditionally vice-presidential role. The question is whether the media will give Clinton the time of day now that the primary season is decidedly over.
Safe for the October surprise still to be discovered, the tectonics of the match-up are now mostly settled. With the VPs now selected, two previously toss-up states have moved into the “leaning” category: PA has moved in Obama’s direction because of Biden, and MO has moved in McCain’s direction because of Palin. The only vice-presidential debate sceduled on Oct 2 will be more critical than the first of three presidential debates on September 26. There’s been a lot of talk of Gallup polls conducted immediately after the conventions only getting it right fifty percent of the time, but less acknowledged is the fact that by the first week of October – the week the vp candidates shall debate – these polls have gotten it right almost every time since 1952. On October 2, Biden and Palin will have their one chance to get it right for their respective campaigns.