Broadway Rhythm: Or, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Election.


Sarah Palin addresses the Republican National Convention.

Sarah Palin addresses the Republican National Convention.

Not only was it a great speech — it was a speech the greatest lines of which had to have been written by Sarah Palin herself. Because if someone in the McCain camp wrote it for her, how come that someone hasn’t written anything of comparable rhetorical quality for the boss?

The Obama folks have a formidable opponent in her, and tomorrow morning their first order of business will be figuring out how to deal with her. If they can.


Bubble Burst.

The excellent daily bulletin “First Read” (by MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro) has this to say this morning:

*** Looking like an ordinary politician? On Monday, the papers were full of stories about how Palin was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. Also yesterday, we found out that Palin worked for a 527 group organized by Ted Stevens, who is now facing trial on corruption charges. Then came the news that she has retained an attorney for that Troopergate ethics investigation. And finally is today’s Washington Post story noting that Palin employed a lobbying firm to secure earmarks — which are taboo in McCain World — for Wasilla while she was its mayor. More than any new revelations about her daughter, the bigger drip-drip danger for the McCain campaign could be more signs that Palin begins to look like your average politician…If the person the McCain camp has branded as a outsider-reformer no longer appears that way, that could be a problem. It doesn’t matter how well they explain away each little issue. It’s the bigger “she’s just another pol” picture that could make all the other issues regarding the pick become a problem.

It was probably always too good to be true that Sarah Palin was the Frank Capra heroine, the Mrs. Smith who (no matter how much you disagreed with her policy positions) embodied an American archetype. The “always” in this case lasted about four days.

Having been raised on that powerful, uniquely American myth, I’m in no hurry to give it up. Nothing would delight me more than to see Palin reclaim it as her own. Let’s just say that as of this morning, the burden of proof rests on her.

And while we’re talking about myths, let’s not lose sight that the leader of the Democratic ticket is also the beneficiary of a powerful American myth, one that most of us want to embrace. It’s just that, as of this morning, he’s doing a better job of validating his.

Mrs. Smith.

Here’s what some of the pundits don’t get about the Sarah Palin pick. They’re having fun with her inexperience, her “it’s nice to see a different part of the country” when she speaks in Pennsylvania, her “I’m going to have to bone up on Iraq,” etc. They don’t get that her extraordinarily quick rise, her inexperience, and even her naivete (if such it is), far from being handicaps, are the very things that make her the Frank Capra Mr. Smith/Mr. Deeds hero. Or remember Dave from 1993? In which Kevin Kline (who runs a temp agency) becomes President of the United States because of his resemblance to the real one? And how he turns out to be great, a much better president than his doppelganger? Sure, those were all just movies. But they were powerful movies, because they evoked our American mythology—the ordinary Joe as redeemer—in the same way Palin does. Can you not just see Jimmy Stewart as Mr. Smith telling Pennsylvanians, “It’s nice to see a different part of the country?” I can.

She appears, at this early stage, to be the Capra archetype—underqualified by “establishment” measures, but a person of the people, possessed of integrity, goodness, internal strength, and a commitment to values (even if you don’t share all of them) that collectively trump conventional qualifications.

Her speedy rise (mayor of Wassila, Alaska, pop. 7000, only a few years ago; then suddenly, governor of Alaska) is evidence of her inexperience, but the bad news (if you’re a Democrat) is that it also shows that the people who know her really, really like her.

As a Democrat, I’m concerned.

This is not a replay of “I’m for George Bush because I can have a beer with him.” That was bogus. Bush was never that guy; his biography made that plain. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is a genuine Frank Capra movie come to life. And even though it’s scary to imagine her a heartbeat from the presidency, her Capraness could make her formidable. As I recall, Mr. Smith came to Washington from Idaho. If there’s a state that out-Idahos Idaho, it could only be Alaska. Besides which, Idaho? That’s where Sarah Palin was born.

P.S. Not all the pundits have missed the point. After writing the above, I went to The Huffington Post, where I see that Arianna sees the problem as well.

Sarah Palin.

Picking someone we like—it’s the ultimate Republican dirty trick.

A Good Law.

Whatever law it is that makes the candidates say at the end of their spots, “I’m X, and I approved this message,” is a good law. Because it means that every time a manipulative, cynical attack ad runs from the McCain campaign—like the new one that has the nerve to attack Obama for not picking Hillary as his veep—John McCain has to say, at the end of it, “I’m John McCain, and I approved this message.” And hearing those words, in McCain’s own voice, should inevitably lead people to ask him, in the ringing words of Joseph Welch, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”