Friday, September 12, 2008

Change in narrative

Last night ABC aired part of Charlie Gibson's interview with Sarah Palin. The 'best' part, if you define 'best' as 'that which revealed her to be out of her element' occured when Charlie asked her about the Bush Doctrine and she looked at him like he just asked her whether she thought the Large Hadron Collider would find the Higgs boson, and if so, in how many dimensions would it have mass?

The McCain campaign has long been in survival mode -- remember, this guy could be bought at about 7 cents on the dollar back in December just to win the Republican nomination, much less the presidency. There is no long term plan, no strategy to build momentum and peak on Election Day. They are playing a read-and-react defense, and one of their reactions was picking Palin as VP. Has it worked in the short-term? Of course: polls moved, and the base seems to be energized. But was there any long-term aspect to this pick, and I'm not even asking that question from a 'can she govern?' perspective -- that question is so obviously a no, as explained by Matt Damon of all people -- but rather, was there any long-term aspect to this pick from a political/winning elections perspective? Yes, McCain 'won the news cycle' (whatever that means) but will this pick ultimately help or hurt him?

I think the Gibson interview will start a new narrative in this campaign, one that will ultimately hurt McCain. The meme will develop that Palin might not actually be informed enough to be president, now that we have some evidence of that. The McCain campaign will not be able to continue to prevent her from holding press conferences, as that only amplifies the idea that they are hiding something.

Obama has played his hand well over the past two weeks -- from a long-term, winning elections perspective, not from a control the news cycle perspective. When Palin was announced and the RNC started, Obama couldn't go after her directly. Even after the convention (say, Friday the 5th) there was already a lot of handwrining from Obama supporters wondering why he wasn't attacking her yet, responding to her criticisms, etc. But he waited, and let the questions regarding Palin work their way from the bottom up rather than from the top down -- he let the questions evolve.

It was a very patient response from Obama, the ability to let the Palin pick play out on its own -- first the high of 'gee, she's an outsider', 'wow, she can give a good speech' -- and now the second-look that people are going to start to give her. If he went after her too early, it would seem (and would be) politics as usual -- simply piling on criticism because she is an opponent, and he would have to attack her for things that probably aren't all that relevent to the main question of could she be president. But by waiting, the headline is not "Obama Attacks" but rather "Doubts raised about Palin" -- notice that in the latter, Obama maintains his image as someone who stays above petty politics as usual.

Obama knew right away that the Palin pick would not work out in the long-term. By being patient, I think he's made a wise move. McCain's campaign has just had the best two weeks they're going to have, and all they've managed to do is pull into a tie.