Thursday, 4 September 2008

Sneering at Sarah won't win the Dems the White House

Last night, the Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, gave a good account of herself in her new role as Republican vice-presidential candidate. There is no doubt that she is a strong right-wing conservative; and she has been embarrassed -though not as much as liberal critics might wish - by revelations about her family. But she showed last night in a well constructed speech, and in a particularly clever jibe about Obama's experience as a 'community organiser', that she is no slouch when it comes to gentle but devastating putdowns:
Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown. And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organiser", except that you have actual responsibilities.
Those are the skills that may see her through a televised debate with her uber-experienced Democratic opponent Joe Biden. Since Obama thinks the same in private about his community organising years, this was a cleverer jibe than it might seem. But her performance should also serve as a warning to Democrats and their supporters who seem to think that sneering at Sarah will see them through.

Many swing American voters will be unimpressed by the sneering, which recalls Obama's putdown of 'bitter' small town Americans that cost him votes in the primaries against Hillary Clinton. Obama's lead has advanced since the convention, but it is still far lower than that enjoyed by Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Obama needs to embrace many of the voters who are impressed by the small town girl made good image of Sarah - and her family and hunting credentials - if he is to win in November. That they may not share her born-again Christianity or her opposition to abortion is beside the point; they will respect many of her values and will not respect those who sneer at them. Of course, it is fair game to attack her policies - and her approach to abortion, the environment or Alaskan independence are certainly fair game - but that is different from the sort of patronising putdowns that have characterised a lot of the coverage in recent days. And if it continues, it will backfire badly for the Democrats.

Obama needs to ensure that his campaign is seen to be on the side of small town as well as urban America, if he is not to repeat the mistakes of John Kerry. A McCain-Palin ticket would be disastrous for the US economy and healthcare reform; preventing it requires more tact and better tactics than many who claim to want an Obama victory have shown these last few days.

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