Posted by Brad @ 3:02 pm on October 29th 2008

The Democrat’s Soft Touch on Sarah Palin

We said a lot here, in the first week following Sarah Palin’s unveiling as the Vice Presidential nominee, about the immediate onrush of over-reach hysteria from the left.

I think it’s worth revisiting how the Democrats have approached her in the two months since that week.

Xpostfactoid has a good post on the subject that reminded me. Namely, the Obama campaign, even in that first week, after the first six hours more or less went mum on the Palin subject. After about a week, almost all of his institutional campaign and surrogate machine followed suit. And since that time…well frankly, the Obama campaign has been about the least critical mouthpiece on the Palin question, following, in order, liberal blogs, mainstream media, conservative blogs, and now McCain insiders. Obama and (mostly) Biden and their surrogates and staffers…nary a word.

The post that got me reflecting on it:

Palin sinks under Obama’s light touch

The polling evidence is overwhelming that Sarah Palin is dragging McCain down. And the reason is simple. While Democratic news junkies may be convinced that she’s a Putinesque thug (see the Troopergate report), a quasi-fascist demagogue (whipping up mobs to violent fantasy) and a Christianist kook (accepting a laying on of hands from an avowed anti-semite to protect her from witchcraft), most Americans view her simply as likeable but unqualified…

If Obama were McCain, he would have hammered Palin’s unreadiness home–along with her sinister demagogic rhetoric–in speeches and ads. But the Obama campaign, and Obama himself, pretty much kept hands off. Obama’s only criticism of Palin that I can recall was in the third debate, embedded in his quasi-defense of John Lewis’ attack on the McCain campaign’s incendiary attacks…

Obama & co. let Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric and most of all Tina Fey do the necessary. They let the process work. Anyone who’s ever been unprepared for any test who saw the Couric clips knew that Palin was completely out of her depth. The Obama campaign simply left that image unfiltered.

The author notes that some, James Fallows (and myself) expressed at the time that just leaving it alone was the best way to handle it. Certainly, liberals in general have not “left it alone” by any stretch, but neither have regular American voters, the media, etc. The difference is the Obama campaign has pretty well cleaved itself from that, and precisely nobody can really attribute her current drag on the ticket or the image of her that has solidified being as a result of any concerted Obama effort. They stepped out of the national debate on it almost entirely, and the voters and media did the work (and the McCain campaign largely let them).

It was both the right thing to do and the politically wise thing to do. I said, pretty vocally at the time, that I was mightily disappointed by the left on the Palin thing.

Worth revisiting to note that it’s pretty hard to find any criticism of the Obama campaign on the matter. It’s an example of the Obama campaign tone living up to its hype (and not for want of target, opportunity, or potential return). The rare instance of a campaign not taking the bait, and doing the right thing, and profiting from both.

Just throwing that out there.


  1. Yep.

    It bears mentioning, as well, that the public wasn’t turned against Palin by the ridiculous ad hominems of that first week. When the worm turned, it was very relevant stuff–her unfamiliarity with policy issues and her feeble addiction to buzzwords–that did her in.

    So not only did the Obama campaign handle this the right way, the public did as well. They made what appear to have been accurate and informed judgments for the right reasons–and in doing so, they shamed a campaign that underestimated them. For once, Mencken was wrong.

    Comment by Rojas — 10/29/2008 @ 3:28 pm

  2. The Obama campaign has handled it beautifully, and I agree with Rojas that the public did as well.

    Obama has a great weapon against Sarah Palin in the form of Hillary Clinton and he chose not to deploy her. Hillary could have called her on a lot without being worried about being too hard on the woman or sexist. The restraint is to be admired, even though part of me would loe to see a head to head match up between the two.

    Comment by Liz — 10/29/2008 @ 3:43 pm

  3. I’m guessing that Hillary is still secretly doing incantations over a bubbling cauldron every night and saving her ammunition for 2012.

    Comment by James — 10/29/2008 @ 3:56 pm

  4. Did you see that Palin just told ABC that she’d be interested in running in 2012? To do otherwise would waving that pervasive white flag of surrender.

    Doesn’t seem to be the smartest thing to say 6 days before the election.

    Comment by Liz — 10/29/2008 @ 6:11 pm

  5. Was it prefaced by “if she and McCain lose…” by any chance or did that get edited out, you know, for brevity purposes?

    Comment by James — 10/29/2008 @ 6:15 pm

  6. I’m sure she prefaced it like that, doesn’t it go without saying? I just heard it as a lead in on the radio.

    Comment by Liz — 10/29/2008 @ 6:20 pm

  7. Lot’s of thing go without being said these days.

    Comment by James — 10/29/2008 @ 8:41 pm

  8. I also thought at the time that the initial strong reaction from the campaign, which Obama and Biden quickly walked back, was the wrong thing and they should just leave it and see if she blew up on the trail (which she sort-of did). It was a no-brainer, really, I would say.

    EDIT: Initially said ‘right’ when I meant ‘wrong’.

    Comment by Adam — 10/29/2008 @ 9:10 pm

  9. I have to agree with James #3 (but not 5 & 7!) about Hillary’s enthusiams or willingness to go after Palin. Aside from her perspective on the current campaign, I can see her doing some political calculus regarding security mom alienation, and deciding to demure.

    Comment by Jack — 10/29/2008 @ 10:22 pm

  10. Entirely possible Jack (and James). Senator Clinton’s a calculating, political creature down to her toenails, but there’s something about Palin that just begs for a strong woman to rattle her cage a little since the guys aren’t willing to do it.

    It’s a shrewd move by all involved to all but ignore her but not nearly as much fun.

    Comment by Liz — 10/29/2008 @ 11:32 pm

  11. Anyone else watch McCain on Larry King? There was some pretty extraordinary body language on display during the Palin segment. It’s quite clear that he’s not at all comfortable with her despite his copious denials of such. And, what the fuck was up with that NOSE WIPE? Is this some kind of new Pinocchio syndrome, only rather than one’s nose growing it runs?

    Comment by tessellated — 10/30/2008 @ 12:17 am

  12. I live for body language analysis. No, really.

    Comment by Adam — 10/30/2008 @ 6:34 am

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