Commentary Magazine


Contentions

You Get What You Pay For

Debates leave impressions. They don’t determine elections; rather, they help bring issues and candidates into sharper focus, and for those who aren’t already solidly committed, become part of a dot pattern that over the month of October resolves itself into a portrait of the candidate they are going to vote for — or a portrait of the candidate they are actively going to vote against.

There has never been a national political figure like Sarah Palin, and trying to shoehorn her debate performance last night into the conventional straightjacket into which most campaign commentators snap themselves snugly, lest they suddenly break free and flail about with an independent thought, is a fool’s errand. She is a new force, with an entirely new kind of appeal — and a new kind of irritant and provoker of outrage from those on the other side. What we don’t know yet is whether her appeal transcends partisan categories, or whether she is the best young face that can be put on conventionally conservative American politics.

I think it’s fair to say that the American pundit class, of which I am some kind of member, has not the slightest idea what the final disposition of this question will be this year. That is what happens when something new comes along to alter expectations and dynamics; it is only in retrospect that we will be able to determine the effect, because there is nothing in the past to compare it to.

And yet pundits are going to spend the rest of this weekend discussing whether Palin did enough to move undecided voters to McCain. Forget for a moment that moving undecided voters to McCain is the last thing these pundits want to see Palin succeed at. As they discuss it, pundits sound like anthropologists whose knowledge of the strange and barbaric practices of an inaccessible tribe in far off Papua New Guinea comes entirely from the field reports of other anthropologists.

Watching my old classmate Jeff Toobin and my old boss David Gergen, both of whom share with me a surpassing ignorance of the gut reactions of a fairly traditionalisst swing voter in Western Pennsylvania in the midst of the economic crisis of 2008, attempt to gauge the effectiveness of Palin in speaking to and convincing that voter has an inadvertently comic aspect.

I would trust both of them with my life if I needed an extensive analysis of the offerings at Zabar’s, the relative merits of the executive lounges of different airlines, or the disposition of Harvard’s endowment. But on the matter of Sarah Palin’s appeal, and her ability to help bring that dot pattern to resolve itself in McCain’s favor? That would be like asking me to diagnose the condition of your carburetor. I’ll do it if you pay me, but if you actually listen, the joke will be on you.



Join the discussion…

Are you a subscriber? Log in to comment »

Not a subscriber? Join the discussion today, subscribe to Commentary »





Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.