How Sarah Palin can win the White House

I’ve read a lot of liberal/skeptical comments about Sarah Palin lately, and while I agree that she’s probably not suited for the vice presidency (let alone the presidency), I haven’t heard too much commentary on how this strengthens her political position.

Here’s the trick: you can’t embarrass people into admitting that they’re wrong. People who are embarrassed become defensive, and even irrational at times, in order to protect their self-esteem. That’s why the Bush-Quayle ticket did so well after Quayle’s famous “potato/potatoe” gaffe. The press and the media had so much fun mocking Quayle’s apparent ignorance and subsequent ineptitude that people actually started to feel sorry for him. Pity for Quayle became antipathy towards the liberals, who were perceived as being cruel, and Americans, who always tend to root for the underdog, voted their support for poor persecuted bumbler. People make mistakes, and are more sympathetic to others who also make mistakes (other things being equal).

There have been bloggers who have looked forward rather gleefully to the VP candidates debate coming up shortly, anticipating that Palin will babble and say dumb things. Paradoxically, however, she can only improve her party’s chances of victory by coming across as a complete moron, especially if the liberals follow up with prolonged mockery and ridicule. Many people will empathize with Palin, whether because she’s a woman, or because she’s a conservative, or because she’s a Christian, and will see the attacks on Palin as attacks by “them” against “us.” This could win Palin a sympathy vote as well as a defensive us-vs-them vote.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible for Palin to blow it. A mistake that was really bad might do it, but it would have to be a mistake that actually alienates people as opposed to merely being stupid about things most people don’t care about. If she blurted out something about charismatics being the only real Christians, or said that people are poor because they’re too lazy to deserve an income, or something similarly bigoted, then just maybe Mr. and Mrs. Average American would turn against her.

But chances are pretty good that she won’t, and if she is merely incompetent and ignorant, then open mockery of her lack of expertise is likely to produce a backlash of support for the Republican ticket. It has happened before.

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Posted in Politics. 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “How Sarah Palin can win the White House”

  1. Freidenker Says:

    Of course, why didn’t anyone think of this before? People are not rational animals – they’re *scared* animals! If people are insecure and inept, they’ll make their decisions based on their fears and prejudice. Such behavior is entirely logic-proof.

    Maybe someone should start telling people to get a little less hard on Palin.
    Then again, what’s the alternative?

  2. David D.G. Says:

    Actually, I have seen a number of forum comments and blogs that pointed out much the same problem, pointing out that Biden faces a possible no-win scenario: If he shreds Palin in the VP debate, he will be seen as unchivalrous, if not worse; but if he softballs her so as to avoid that characterization, she comes off looking not so incompetent, and he winds up looking like a failure for not showing how much better he can do. Heck, he even risks coming across as sexist by either being impolite to her OR by being polite to her! That’s a tough spot for anyone to be in. (Conversely, the expectations for Palin are now so low that she may be seen as having “won” the debate if she just manages to not leave the stage in tears by the time it’s over.)

    The tightrope that Biden needs to walk (and that, as you point out, liberals generally would be well advised to follow) is to avoid name-calling or emotional appeals and to calmly and politely stick to the facts of relevant issues, but to stick to those facts firmly and repeat them as needed — without rancor — until they are heard.

    Sure, somebody, somewhere, will spin anything that’s said into whatever satisfies their agenda. But in the first place, that’s going to happen no matter what else one does. And in the second place, I think that most uncommitted people who see/hear/read the actual content will recognize the difference between statements of fact and insults. Even if they never check on the actual facts and assume that anyone who contradicts Palin is lying, it would still count for something if the statement contained no outright insults or innuendoes against her.

    ~David D.G.

  3. Morgan Says:

    I’m not sure if you’re trying to make an ironic comment about Bush/Quayle’s doing “so well”, but if you’re not it’s worth pointing out that the “potatoe” incident happened in 1992, and, as far as I recall, Bush/Quayle actually lost the election that year.

  4. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Hmm, could be. I remember there was a lot of criticism of Quayle and his level of competency, and I was conservative myself at the time, and the negative coverage did indeed make me want to vote for him. The bad press effectively raised my opinion of Quayle because I thought they must be exaggerating how bad he was. Therefore he must be better, QED.

    You’re probably right about the chronological order, though. The “potatoe” incident stuck in my mind as the most blatant example of (what I regarded at the time as being) an inappropriately exaggerated slam against Quayle, but it was certainly not the first.

  5. Ric Says:

    Although you bring up good points, I don’t think you’re analysis is correct. I don’t think Quayle made much difference either way in people voting for Reagan, and it seems that now that the blush is off the rose, Palin also won’t make much difference in people voting for McCain.

  6. Steve Says:

    I’m a late-comer to this blog (and therefore, this thread). Nevertheless, Ric is quite correct in the assertion that the Quayle choice as VP made no difference in people voting for Reagan, mainly because Reagan was not running for president at the time. After two terms, Reagan was ineligible to run again. It was George H.W. Bush (Reagan’s VP) who, in his bid for the White House, selected Quayle.

    In the current scenario, I suspect that the Palin choice will have a much larger influence on conservative voters than did the Quayle choice. She has brought a lot of conservatives back to McCain, many of whom were perfectly willing to stay home on election day.