Sarah Palin – the “Anti-Obama”

I, like many Americans, have been amazed by the reaction of both the right and the left to the naming of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate. To label her a “phenomenon” seems to be an understatement. Her choice has shocked the establishment, changed the entire election, created visceral positive or negative reactions, and, for at least one-side, energized a base like it hasn’t been energized in years.

As Willie Brown, former mayor of San Francisco said recently, “for first time in modern history, a presidential race is actually going to be decided by the vice presidential pick.” Whether you agree or not, you can’t help but agree her selection for VP on a Republican ticket seems to have changed the entire game.

What is it about Sarah Palin that has ignited this phenomenon? It certainly isn’t just the politics – the claim she was chosen to appeal to women after the Democrats made a safe pick with Joe Biden while ignoring Hillary Clinton. Obviously that’s a factor. But it doesn’t account for the huge popularity she enjoys from the right and many independents. And it isn’t because she’s new and thus “exciting”. That is a temporary state and I think, by now, you might see that begin to fade as more and more information becomes available about her. Yet I see no evidence of a fade.

So what is it that has Democrats so fearful and Republicans so elated about Sarah Palin? And why is it that she, not John McCain, is being compared to the top of the Democratic ticket, Barack Obama.

I thought Mary Anastasia O’Grady of the WSJ put the Palin phenomenon and the continuing comparison to Obama in its proper perspective. According to O’Grady, it is a war of concepts – the “Obama” and the “Anti-Obama”. Prior to Plain’s emergence there really wasn’t a real “Anti-Obama” in the field.

O’Grady characterized Obama as “egalitarian, collectivism, dependency on government and apologizes for American power.” On the other hand, she sees Palin as “self-reliant, individualism, competitiveness and no apologies, in fact proud of American ‘exceptionalism’.”

It is those dueling concepts that have finally been brought into play by Palin’s selection and it is O’Grady’s belief that most of America is hungering for what Palin represents.

In addition to O’Grady’s spot-on characterizations, Palin brings authenticity to her side of the duel. She has actually reformed government. She is a real outsider, not someone who claims from deep inside the Washington establishment that they’re less rooted in the culture than their opponent. She is considered a “real person” who has faced the problems other Americans face as opposed to those who make claims of being “outsiders” while working deep in the bowels of the political establishment and are disconnected from the struggle.

That authenticity and her real accomplishments have allowed the McCain campaign to successfully pivot from the “experience” theme to the “change” theme and steal it from the Obama campaign. Obama is stuck with “just words” while Palin can point to actual deeds with which to tout real change. And, of course, every time the Democrats have tried to use the pivot away from experience by claiming Palin is woefully inexperienced, it backlights the fact that their presidential nominee has even less experience than Palin. Tired of the incoming rounds that generates, they seem to be slowly backing away from that tactic.

With Palin, a new question is now being asked – which type of change do you want? That which has been promised for ages by Washington insiders running as Washington outsiders or that which has been proven with real reform of government through challenging the “insiders” and both parties (to include their own)?

It’s a powerful pivot and a powerful argument. It will be interesting, now that it has been rolled out there, how well the McCain campaign is able to exploit it and if the Obama campaign can counter it.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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