Thursday, September 04, 2008

Someone's cocooned. It might be me, but I don't think so...

Today's Pauline Kael Award* for Cocooned Criticism goes to this analysis from Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com:
In exceedingly plain English, I think there's a pretty big who the **** does she think she is? factor. And not just among us Daily Kos reading, merlot-drinking liberals. I think Palin's speech will be instinctively unappealing to other whole demographics of voters, including particularly working-class men (among whom there may be a misogyny factor) and professional post-menopausal women. As another of my commentors put it:

Not only does Palin's inexperience trump Obama's... her "otherness" also trumps his. Where she comes from, the way she talks, her bio, lifestyle, and all the moose and caribou stuff... it makes her seem more exotic than Obama, who after all lives in the middle of America and has a life that people can readily understand.

Palin may be just as American as anybody, but she still seems to come from Somewhere Else.

This would be fine... even interesting and appealing... if she weren't attacking. But we have a deep, instinctive aversion to people who are part of us (even if we don't really like them much) being attacked by people we perceive as outsiders.

I don't know whether Nate and his commenter are correct or I am, but one of us is significantly out of touch with the majority of Americans.

I'd put money on it that a greater number of Americans will relate to Sarah Palin's background and experience than Barack Obama's. In this contest, it is Palin that is "part of us" and Obama that's the outsider. I think the perception he describes is just among that group of "Daily Kos reading, merlot-drinking liberals." The idea that "working-class men" might find Barack Obama more relatable than Sarah Palin strikes me as wishful thinking masquerading as analysis. The idea that Palin's "otherness" - having raised a family, hunted, fished, worked for a living, gone to a mainstream church, watched a son enter the militery - is somehow greater than Obama's "otherness" - raised in Indonesia and Hawaii, worked as a "community organizer," spent 20 years in a church listening to Black Liberation Theology - strikes me as fantasy bordering on delusion.



There's another bit that's extremely unpersuasive.
And not only is Barack Obama exceptionally well known, but perceptions of him are exceptionally well entrenched. In today's Rasmussen numbers, 63 percent of voters had either a very favorable or a very unfavorable perception of Obama. This is an extremely high figure. I looked up the Rasmussen numbers for other prominent politicians, and this number was the highest I could find ... actually tied with Bill Clinton for the highest:

Percentage viewing as Very Favorable OR Very Unfavorable

Obama 63

...

This is why folks like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton (and Hillary Clinton, for that matter) are Teflon politicians. It's not that they have some magical quality that keeps them out of trouble ... it's just that a very high percentage of voters have already made up their minds one way or the other about them, and can't possibly be persuaded otherwise.

Well, that last part is true, I suppose. But there are two problems with the whole bit.
  1. 100-63 = 37. Over one third of the electorate have not "made up their minds." In an election that's likely to be decided by less then 5% of the total vote, it's certainly worth spending some time to bang on the opposition. Maybe you can move 1-2% from very favorable to favorable, or from favorable to unfavorable, or from unfavorable to very unfavorable. The Republicans aren't going to get many chances to bang on Obama without the media running interference for him, and it would have been foolish for them to pass it up.

  2. Some of those people who "can't possibly be persuaded otherwise" can, in fact, be persuaded otherwise. Over the past couple of weeks, the very favorable rating for Obama went from 32% to 37%. The very unfavorable rating went from 29% to 26%. In other words, 10% of those who were very unfavorable to former back-bencher in the Illinois legislature Obama and "can't possibly be persuaded otherwise" were, in fact, persuaded otherwise.


Anyway, as I say, one of us is wrong. Time will tell which...



One more comment. This whole bit strikes me as an exceptionally poor tactical position for the Democrats to be in. Why in God's name are they spending time debating whether or not their Presidential candidate is more qualified or experienced or "one of us" than the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate? Is there any way that that's an argument or discussion that helps them? Where does that lead?
  1. The Democrats say that Palin is not qualified or experienced enough to be President.

  2. There is a debate over whether she is more or less qualified and experienced than Obama.

  3. How can Obama be qualified if we aren't even sure he's more qualified than she is, and they tell us she isn't qualified?

  4. No one's debating John McCain's qualifications.

Really, is this at all productive for the Obama campaign?




* - After the 1972 election, Kael is alleged to have said, "I don't know how Richard Nixon could have won. I don't know anybody who voted for him."

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