Sean Quinn at FiveThirtyEight has a tremendously clever and insightful article on the Sarah Palin phenomenon.
She’s a hockey player. She’s a fourth-line hockey agitator, beloved by the home crowd, loathed by the opponents, injecting passion into both fan bases, the kind of home-team hero that no Stanley Cup winner goes without…
…Watching Sarah Palin this week, and the reaction to her by both sides, and all the talk of hockey mommery, I realized that this is who she is. She skates into the corner, throws up an elbow, and the Democrats cry: “Foul!” Hey! She said Obama has never passed a major bill – this is an objective lie! Hey! She ridiculed community organizing the day after Service was the theme! Technically people should punish her by not voting for her over this infraction!
…In the hockey analogy, Palin wouldn’t get within a thousand miles of an NHL All-Star Game because she’s not a scoring talent. She’s a role player, an emotion-rouser. Emotion messes with the chalkboard-drawn game plan and thus achieves a specific strategic objective. She can make game-changing agitation plays that rouse her home team and provoke the other side into counterattacks that – 100% of the time – end up punishing the team who hits back. Democrats would be smart to understand her as such, and I see a lot of reaction that doesn’t seem to grasp what Palin is doing and the value she’s providing. I see a lot of Democrats taking a lot of bait.
In retrospect, it’s frightening to see how effective this strategy has proved. Initially, many on the left (and yours truly included) were virtually ecstatic that McCain would pick a VP candidate who so obviously mooted his own message and gave Obama free reign to pillory McCain’s flaccid policy proposals. Instead, the left grew quickly distracted, investing itself fully in addressing all the many absurdities of Palin’s career. Doing so has shifted the election to devolve into political bickering, making this campaign not about the “issues” that Rick Davis fears, but political mudslinging at which the Republican party is peerless.
The bait has proved tantalizing, but Obama’s (and for that matter, the Democrats) success lies with a break from the demonstrably terrible policies of George Bush that John McCain intends to perpetuate. It is vital that the Obama campaign does what it can to focus this election on substanitive issues and crucial that the rest of the left follow this example.