John McCain’s Wunderwaffe

His “wonder-weapon”: that would be Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, whose personality dominated the Republican National Convention last week, and who apparently has much to do with the McCain campaign lately coming up neck-and-neck in the opinion polls with Obama.

That’s at least how Marc Pitzke, New York correspondent for Germany’s Der Spiegel, assesses the situation (Palin-effect turns forecasts on their head). He even maintains that the Obama campaign is now in Alarmstimmung – i.e. in a state of alarm – as the final, and toughest, 58-day period of electioneering up to November 4 gets underway. (First, however, there will be a brief non-partisan interlulde as both candidates appear on Thursday at New York City’s “Ground Zero” for a 9/11 anniversary commemoration.)

That Tundra-Trapper is a Game-Changer!

Yes, to Pitzke what McCain managed at the Republican convention was “a brilliant Sarah-Palin coup”; the choice of this “tundra-trapper with a gun-license” was what he has no hesitation in calling “a game-changer,” using the original English. This is primarily because of the motivating effect she already has had on the Republican Party’s Christian fundamentalist base. Whereas the McCain campaign itself has gone for months without being able to generate much enthusiasm among the party’s rank-and-file, now volunteers are joining the campaign at four times the former rate and money is pouring in to the Republican National Committee. (The McCain campaign itself cannot accept any more monetary contributions as of 1 Sept., unfortunately, having opted for public funds.) On a more profound basis, the Obama campaign has apparently lost its former monopoly of a widespread and rabid base of supporters. The enthusiasm gap that used to mark the difference between the two campaigns has closed; the crowd of 13,000 which showed up last weekend at the Colorado Springs, CO airport to great a joint appearance by the GOP candidates is a phenomenon that used to mark only Barack Obama’s campaign appearances. (Except that Colorado Springs is a poor example to use to make this sort of comparison. It’s the site of James Dobson’s evangelical Focus on the Family organization, and what Andrew Sullivan calls “the Christianist world capital.” Talk about going to find a super-friendly choir to preach to!)

By the way, Pitzke uses a small section of his on-line article for the public service of offering a series of summaries of Sarah Palin’s positions on various issues. Don’t get too excited: you won’t find “foreign policy” here, for example, or even “the credit crisis”; the tab headings instead read “Environment,” “Economy,” “Abortion,” “Education,” and “Weapons.” OK, “Environment” and “Abortion” are already easy (she’s against), as is “Weapons” (she’s for). “Education” turns out solely to describe her stated positions against sex-education and for an impartial, evenly-weighted debate between evolution on the one hand and the Biblical account of creation on the other. And then “Economics”: she’s a fiscal conservative who believes in the free market. That’s it, and that “fiscal conservative” claim itself may not stand up to scrutiny.

Now a quick note in passing on our old friend Tom-Jan Meeus and his weblog in the NRC Handelsblad with its latest entry: Why Obama is losing. Why, pray tell? Well, according to him it has nothing to do with Sarah Palin, other than – at a secondary level of importance – through what he calls Hillary Clinton’s present disinclination to attack her. No, Obama’s trouble can be traced to a higher plane, to the grand puppet-master himself, Karl Rove, whose acolytes now leading the McCain campaign have managed to keep him off balance and looking reactive and hesitant, by keeping control of each news-cycle through a steady stream of attacks. As it happens, few of these turn out to have any basis in fact, but that hardly matters, as they nonetheless keep the media-focus relentlessly on Obama. (As usual, Meeus’ writing is very link- and video-intensive, with what little explanatory context he provides naturally in Dutch, but I’m trying here to pass along the gist of his message.)

Karl Rove’s Sheherazade Strategy

Then we turn to the leading and world-famous French newspaper Le Monde and to a quite intriguing article which also looks to the Rove political campaign influence: The return of Karl Rove, scriptwriter, by Christian Salmon. (I realize that accepting this guy as an authentic French journalist, in view of his last name, might seem a fishy proposition – perhaps somewhat of a long roe to hoe – but just stop carping and take the big leap of faith with me on this, up over the rapids.)

For that grand puppet-master has no problem with Sarah Palin as John McCain’s vice-presidential pick – he called her “refreshing.” But that should be no surprise, as she cuts just the figure he needs for his script. What Karl Rove is really the master of, as Prof. Ira Chernus of the University of Colorado tells Salmon, is the “Sheherazade strategy,” something he used to good effect to elect George W. Bush president twice and which he is now executing with the McCain presidential campaign through his representatives. Prof. Chernus explains: “When politics condemns you to death, start telling stories – stories so fabulous, so captivating, so bewitching that the king (or, in this case, the American electorate who, in theory, governs the country) forgets about the death sentence.” That political “death sentence” should clearly be in play this election year for the Republican party, after the policy disasters of the last eight years for which they are responsible. Nevertheless, the Rove machine succeeds in coming out with story after story, continually pushing back the execution date by turning politics into a morality play. Such stories invariably depict a great conflict of good-vs.-evil – as Prof. Chernus puts it, “stories in the style of John Wayne and ‘real men’ in combat against devils at the frontier,” but in the end they boil down to the upstanding and moralistic Republicans fighting the degenerate Democrats.

This is a scenario that a character like Sarah Palin – someone so “authentic,” with her all-too-human family – fits into quite naturally. And so the Republicans’ execution date keeps getting postponed again and again, and John McCain comes up even with Barack Obama in the opinion polls.

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