So it began, the battle for middle America. Senator Joseph Biden flashed a smile of assent, and moved to his podium. Sarah Palin looked confident, assured, enthusiastic, a long way from the nervous wreck she ought to have been. Whoever pepped her up for this pep rally, they did a damn good job.
Biden and I weren’t the only people worried about falling under her spell.
Others had already succumbed. I’m talking about the kind of wholesome, patriotic, all-Americans she's been selected to hold a mirror up to. Except that hers is a special mirror, one that only reflects their better angels, against the backdrop of a country occasionally glimpsed in their wholesome, patriotic, all-American dreams.
Even those of us on foreign shores probably see in Palin a flash of something we’d like to believe in, of a nation founded on hard work and good intentions. We certainly voted with our feet on Thursday night, making up what was (allowing for internet audiences as well as the 69.9million viewers who tuned in in the US) the most watched debate of all time, vice-presidential or otherwise. And rightly so. Anybody thinking they won't be affected by the outcome of this election would need to have left planet Earth some time ago.
That being the case, the result of the election may still be decided by a few hundred thousand people, in each of half a dozen states. These are the people for whom Palin is positioned as a natural friend, confidante and kindred spirit, someone who sits around a kitchen table bearing the weight of the same concerns on her broad, maternal shoulders.
This, of course, is bullshit.
The reality is that she’s the worst of both worlds, with more skeletons in her closet than your average Stepford wife, yet the vanity to have been persuaded that she should be just a heartbeat away from running the country. This, on the strength of having done little more than muddle her way through the same challenges many of us face trying to keep control of our cut-throat careers and fucked-up family lives.
It took only a few well-chosen words for Joe Biden to remind us that Sarah Palin has by no means a monopoly on hardship and adversity, or on the tenacity required to turn these to your advantage. On the contrary, Biden gives us a glimpse of a life less ordinary, delivered with a candour and honesty far less contrived than that of his opponent. He looks like a man who's learnt enough things the hard way to be tasked with making decisions on behalf of others. He gives us the credit for having been around the block a few times ourselves.
Biden's was a message of hope and encouragement, acknowledging the epochal importance of this election, and unchallenged in bestowing a damning verdict upon the last eight years. It was as much as Palin could do to keep distance between her ticket and the many manifest policy failures of the incumbent administration.
And, despite all her 'say it ain't so, Joe' protestations, it was Palin who ultimately invoked the message of fear and intimidation so fundamental to the Bush Doctrine, reasserting the facile and insidious mantra that it is the essential liberty of the American people that gains them so many enemies overseas.
It looks ever more as though only fear can win this battle now for John McCain. I'm talking about the fear that flows as an undercurrent through American society, occasionally swelling to the surface and erupting into outrage when a certain type of pressure is applied. This is the fear that can divide a nation along the fault-lines of race, religion and economic viability. This is the fear that still grips a significant proportion of the electorate when they consider voting for Barack Obama. Perhaps this is the fear that he will actually deliver on the promise of change, and that there will be no place for them in his America, a country unified by hope, and given strength in self-belief.
Whatever the case, it's going to get worse before it gets better. As the momentum shifts left, the more authoritarian McCain's candidacy can be expected to become, bullying the media and smearing and discrediting his opponents. Expect the rhetoric of intimidation, tapping ever deeper into these fears and anxieties, sugar-coated with the folksy familiarity, unblinking loyalty and saccharine certitude of his supposedly home-baked running mate. She has shown us, at the very least, that she can be well programmed.
But then again, I'm just a blogger.
What the fuck do I know?