Here’s my (admittedly evidence free) take on the current media obsession with Sarah “rock star” Palin: it’s hogwash. I don’t buy for a second that Palin was primarily responsible for McCain’s post-convention surge in the polls. McCain himself was. Sure, Palin has helped McCain in important ways, especially in revving up the far right that makes up, not just the base, but the corrupt heart and soul of the Republican Party.
But I’d bet a year’s supply of moose burgers that McCain’s poll bounce isn’t primarily her doing.
More than 40 million people watched McCain’s acceptance speech. My guess is that at least 80 percent of them had never before heard the details of his captivity in Vietnam. Yeah, they knew he’d been a prisoner of war and had been tortured — but to most people the details were new. And this goes in particular for the story of how, when offered the chance to go home early, he refused, following, instead, the unwritten rule among the POW’s that no one would voluntarily go home before his turn.
Heroic stuff, no doubt about it. And it makes a hell of an impact on you when you first hear the story.
My guess is that hundreds of thousands — perhaps even millions — of undecided voters, the sort of people who are not particularly committed to any political viewpoint, declared right then and there: “This guy deserves my vote.”
The good news for Obama supporters, of course, is that this long ago history of heroism, while certainly compelling, appears to be about the only thing McCain has to offer the voters this year — other, that is, than offering them one of the slimiest campaigns in memory.
And now McCain has played the hero card — played it for all it’s worth. And all it got him was a statistically tied race, or perhaps a lead of a point or two.
You see, the problem with running on a heroic résumé is that, at the end of the day, most undecided voters vote based upon their own self-interest (even if they can at times be tricked into misjudging where that self-interest lies). Winston Churchill is widely credited with saving England during the World War II (talk about heroic). Yet, when the war was over, the English people, wanting the social and economic reforms offered by the Labour Party, promptly sent Churchill and his party packing.
The list of American war heroes who have crashed and burned (sometimes unfairly) in elections goes on and on: John Kerry, Bob Dole, Max Cleland, and Douglas MacArthur and Wesley Clark represent just a few examples.
None of this means McCain won’t win, of course. But what it does mean is that when all is said and done, the vast majority of Americans are going to cast their ballots based, not upon who they think is most deserving, but upon who they think can most improve their lives (and this year that will primarily involve economic issues).
What this means for Democrats, of course, is that our job over the next 60 days is to show more effectively than we have to this point why that person is Barack Obama.
(By the way, right now is when the campaign needs support the most. I’ve sent him some money today: you should too.)