By last night (Sunday) it had become clear: Despite almost exactly opposite reporting in the mainstream media, the Democrats two weeks ago had their second failed convention in a row. It was the Republican convention that proved a huge success. How so and why?
First the “how so.” Politicians live and die by polls. A convention succeeds if it produces a bounce, the bigger the better. By Tuesday last week in the aftermath of his convention, Barack Obama’s lead over John McCain in the Real Clear Politics average of polls had opened up to the largest margin since late June, 6.4 percentage points. By last night, in the wake of the latest Rasmussen tracking poll showing a tie and the Gallup tracking poll showing McCain up by three points, the RCP average spread was 0.8 percent, the smallest margin since early June.
The Democrats’ bad news may soon become worse. Thursday night word spread around St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center that not only was a CBS poll showing the race tied (some dismissed the survey as a fluke), but a California poll had the race within nine points in the largest and most Democratic state in the nation. Some began to wonder if, with a little more momentum, the Golden State might go into play.
Apparently Republicans weren’t the only ones to notice a major movement in public opinion, even, perhaps, in California. Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle (hardly a GOP mouthpiece) ran an op-ed by former city mayor and former Democratic Speaker of the California Assembly Willie Brown (hardly a GOP ally). His lead was, “The Democrats are in trouble.” Coming out of the McCain convention, he warned, “the Republicans are now on the offensive and Democrats are on the defensive. And we don’t do well on the defensive.”
That’s the how so. Why?
Brown and many others chalked up the sea change in GOP fortunes to the magic of McCain’s selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Not that the mainstream media picked up on it right away. When they weren’t looking down on her SMALL town roots, her leadership of a SMALL state government and her (by the MSM’s elevated standards) SMALL-minded religious faith, the mainstream media was launching artillery salvos of sometimes all-but-pornographic accusations at Governor Palin. As to her gender and its significance in light of the bitter Democratic primary race, they sniffed that no former Clinton supporter could vote for someone like THAT, though at the Denver convention, even before McCain nominated her, it seemed like every other Clinton delegate told reporters that they intended to go over to McCain in protest of their candidate’s treatment.
But then Palin delivered her Wednesday night speech and the power she brought to the ticket became undeniable. In one of the most bizarre twists in campaign strategy on record, by Sunday, Barack Obama himself (the presidential nominee of his party) was taking on Governor Palin (the vice presidential nominee of hers) in the media as if she were his opponent, rather than Senator McCain. Never has presidential campaigning seen such an act of self-diminution from a major party candidate.
But McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin – inspired though it was – could not in itself have turned the contest around so. After all, as we were told many times in the preceding weeks, the country picks presidents, not vice presidents. Instead, the time was right for the American people to take a second look at Senator McCain, and last week they did.
This readiness to look again shouldn’t have come as the surprise that, for media and Democratic Party operatives, it was. Several weeks ago a poll surfaced that asked voters how much they knew and wanted to know about the candidates. A large proportion said that they knew all they needed to know about Senator Obama – not surprising given the saturation coverage of the prior few months. They wanted to hear more about John McCain. So of the five most telling statements from the podium during the week, four concerned and three were by McCain himself.
The one of those five that had to do with Palin came from Rudy Giuliani. In his witty and cutting speech, the former New York mayor observed that the attacks on Palin regarding family and the fitness of a mother to serve in high office would never have been leveled at a man. It is safe to say that nearly every working mother in the country cheered as the former New York mayor spoke that line.
Equally effective and meaningful was Governor Palin’s note that with all the talk from the Democrats about fighting for “you”, only one candidate in the race had actually ever fought for the American people. As the crowd roared, one could almost feel the stature of the Democratic ticket shrink.
Finally, as Senator McCain himself laid out his agenda, he began with an indictment of his own party in Congress. He said, we came to change Washington and Washington changed us. And he added, we lost the people’s trust. It was accurate and remarkably candid assessment of why the GOP lost both houses on 2006 – and established as the culprit the insider dealing and a self-dealing culture that afflicts both parties. In a moment, he seized for himself the post-partisan mantle from the increasingly partisan Senator Obama.
Then McCain went through the differences between Obama and him: He (Obama) wants to raise taxes, I want to lower them; he wants to increase spending; I want to cut it; and so on, not just on economics but national security and social issues, too. With that he laid out a clear contrast both in programs and in views of the nation’s future – and he did this much more clearly, directly and effectively than his opponent had in Denver.
Finally, he told his personal story not as heroic but as sacramental – a confrontation through suffering with his sins. When, after that, he consecrated himself to his task and called on those who followed him to so as well – to do what’s right — one felt a depth of personal commitment to restoring the honor of our democratic government as deep as that of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson to creating our democratic government.
Voting is in nine weeks and a day. As the cliche has it, even a day can be a lifetime in politics. Still, the election took a profound turn in St. Paul. It may turn yet again, but for the moment, it has been redefined in a manner that few had expected and even now, among our friends in the mainstream media, many don’t understand.