Commentary Magazine


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On The Couch

David Brooks correctly notes that many a Republican was watching the debate from a crouch behind the couch last night, prepared for the worst, but instead saw something far different than what they feared:

When nervous, Palin has a tendency to over-enunciate her words like a graduate of the George W. Bush School of Oratory, but Thursday night she spoke like a normal person. It took her about 15 seconds to define her persona — the straight-talking mom from regular America — and it was immediately clear that the night would be filled with tales of soccer moms, hockey moms, Joe Sixpacks, main-streeters, “you betchas” and “darn rights.” Somewhere in heaven Norman Rockwell is smiling.

But he is correct that it was not merely stylistically that she succeeded:

On matters of substance, her main accomplishment was to completely sever ties to the Bush administration. She treated Bush as some historical curiosity from the distant past. Beyond that, Palin broke no new ground, though she toured the landscape of McCain policy positions with surprising fluency. Like the last debate, this one was surprisingly wonky — a lifetime subscription to Congressional Quarterly. Palin could not match Biden when it came to policy detail, but she never obviously floundered . . . By the end of the debate, most Republicans were not crouching behind the couch, but standing on it. The race has not been transformed, but few could have expected as vibrant and tactically clever a performance as the one Sarah Palin turned in Thursday night.

And therein lies the hope, maybe the only remaining hope of the McCain campaign: that in a country which now loathes Washington insiders he and Palin can convince voters that their opponents are more insider-ish than they. That will mean some heavy lifting and hard hitting. The most useful message for McCain? Barack Obama is an insider because he and his Democratic allies created and fed the beast of the subprime mess, larded up Washington budgets, are in the pocket of the trial lawyers and Big Labor (ask Joe Biden!), and just talk and talk and talk.

McCain is going to have to point the finger and make the charge stick. Palin showed the way — he must do it with charm and wit and amazement that Washington can be populated with so many liars and thieves. But do it he must.