The significance of the Palin difference

Guy Rundle, The Age:

IN FAIRBANKS International Airport's hangar, the school band is belting out a string of what you might call Republican pop classics — Eye of the Tiger, the theme from Rocky, Van Halen's Jump and, incongruously, YMCA. In the thin late-afternoon air, about 2000 Alaskans are milling around — hockey moms, kids, town folks, and a higher than average quota of Grizzly Adams types, all chest-length beards and wild eyes.

The Secret Service guys, in charcoal grey suits and earpieces, are sharking through the crowd talking into their hands as the MC starts up a chant: "Men shout 'Sarah'! Women shout 'Palin'!" SARAH! PALIN! The shouts drown out the band, rattle the metal hangar walls. The enthusiasm serves only to make the Secret Service more nervous. They've got their work cut out for them, these guys — their usual targets in a crowd are angry loners in camouflage jackets, and today that's 30% of the audience.


The Democrats, meanwhile, in disarray before the selection of Palin, have been utterly flummoxed by her, wandering into one strategic error after another, from their initial slating of her as a "small town mayor", to Obama's careless use of the standard political phrase "lipstick on a pig" after Palin had made an earlier lipstick reference to herself ("What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull? Lipstick.").

Having selected the three-decade senator Joe Biden to balance out his ticket, as the McCain ticket picked Palin and changed its themes to one of "two mavericks", Obama is suddenly in the position of looking like the Washington insider — the professional politician who has never, in the words of one Republican convention speaker, "field-dressed" (that is, gutted and sliced up for freezing) a moose.

Together Obama and Biden look like the sort of black-white team that big cities — Chicago, Philadelphia — pick to appease various ethnic interests. McCain and Palin, by contrast, look like a travelling theatre version of Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, two people comfortable with guns and bad craziness, and coming out of no easily summarised context.

By the end of the week, sympathetic observers of the Democratic ticket were tearing their hair out over the ineptitude and complacency of the official response to Palin. It was tough enough that liberal celebrities such as the actor Matt Damon and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd seemed determined to play to every stereotype of elitist coastal liberals, mocking her as a cliche. If she was, it was because cliches are true. Damon, Dowd and others were so accustomed to the manufacture of images, they couldn't recognise real life right in front of their noses.

We can't stop talking about Palin because her candidacy is not simply a clever tactical move — it's a genuine historic moment, arguably more significant than Barack Obama's rise to the Democratic candidacy. Why? Put simply, it's because the identity of men and women in a society — what they are allowed to do, what is seen as appropriate to them — really runs deeper than what different types of men — black, white, other — are allowed to do.


This tectonic shift in American culture knocked the Democrats sideways, not only because they have been running a complacent and lacklustre campaign since the end of the primaries, but because the "theft" of a set of values and themes that the Democrats regarded as their own cut to the quick.

Panic is the usual reaction to the sudden feeling of loss of self, of annihilation, and the Democrats fell for it, unable to contain comments about experience, attitude and so on that, while not inaccurate, could be equally applied to Obama. They simply reinforced the appearance of a born-to-rule attitude.

In doing so, the party made visible the deep cultural divide in America, and the degree to which they failed to understand it. For the difference between the McCain-Palin and the Obama-Biden team no longer turned on a distinction between the old and the new, the hidebound and the progressive, but between the heroic and non-heroic, with advantage to you know who.

Suddenly with "Walnuts" McCain and Sarah the Warrior Princess marketing themselves as a pair of mavericks, Obama's extraordinary life story looked merely exotic, a Pacific souvenir. Taken together, McCain's war experience and Palin's whole life — the (very infrequent) hunting, the son going to Iraq and, god help us, shipping out on September 11, the taking a Down syndrome child to term — are all visceral, physical. They're commitments to life and death, and that is the raw material of heroism.


There is much more in the insightful piece by writer from Australia. Both McCain and Palen have led heroic lives taking advantage of the circumstances in which they found them self and they have both shown a dedication to the culture of life. To many Democrats that is scary.


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