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Unintended Consequences: The McCain Strategy Flaw

September 12th, 2008 | by Daniel DiRito |

If you’re going to foment a gender driven divide, or any other contrivance, in order to win votes, you have to realize that its effect can’t be isolated within one party…and it isn’t apt to resonate with those voters who haven’t the time to participate in the pettiness of politics. In an attempt to garner my own understanding of the significance of Sarah Palin’s interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibson, I’ve spent several hours reading numerous postings and the subsequent comments of countless readers.

As one would expect, die hard Democrats are convinced Palin demonstrated she is woefully unprepared to step into the presidency should something happen to John McCain. Similarly, those loyal to the GOP felt she held her own under a barrage of poorly crafted questions and a biased media swarm bent upon damaging her candidacy.

In truth, I think it’s been clear that the Palin selection was a relatively savvy political calculation…although one that will likely be too clever by half. Yes, playing upon the frayed feelings of Clinton supporters, attempting to expand concerns of gender bias, and recasting one’s campaign as the means to change seemed like a reasonable approach to a stalled campaign. Notwithstanding, I suspect that the strategy has an unintended consequence that may undermine the McCain campaign’s objectives.

My moment of insight came from one particular comment. The comment was from a woman. In her remarks, she notes that she hadn’t yet seen the interview, but that she did have a chance to speak with her son on the phone, who had just watched the ABC segment. She offers the caveat that her son isn’t all that political, but she went on to note that her son, like his father (her husband), isn’t one to mince words or sugar coat what he sees and thinks. As she put it, in unedited jargon, her son’s view of the the Palin performance was, “Gimme a break, she had no fricking clue what she was talking about.”

Now one might wonder how one comment can lead anyone to any particular insights…other than the fact that this woman has an outspoken son who reminds her of her husband. I’ll try to explain.

By and large, the majority of comments, negative or favorable, came as first person observations…and they divided along party lines as well as gender. From GOP partisans, the women’s view posits that Charlie Gibson was intent on catching Palin in a gaffe and his mannerism were rather condescending. As for GOP males, they noted some hesitation and a lack of knowledge on Palin’s part, and then they proceeded to rationalize that her performance was sufficient given the circumstances…and the McCain strategy.

On the Democratic side, women were either fully dismissive of Palin’s presidential bona fides or lamenting the fact that her gender would allow the GOP to advance the victim argument. Men who were clearly aligned with the Democratic Party seemed to focus on specific policy gaffes in order to conclude that the Palin selection was a ploy that will ultimately be exposed and hurt the McCain ticket’s chances in November.

However, in the comment of this particular woman, I think it’s important to note that it was a woman reporting on the views of the men in her life…men she clearly cares for. It suggests she isn’t a full fledged partisan and that her family isn’t deeply invested in one particular party or all that concerned with back and forth political high jinks. In other words, her family represents the unaffected middle…those voters who discern their votes absent the ideological inclinations of party affiliation.

So what does that mean? Well, I took away two observations. One, issues of gender bias are primarily being discussed by partisans from both parties in the hopes of finding advantage. Two, the average American family, too busy to follow the blow by blow of the election process, and unwilling to become invested in the partisanship, will do what they always do…quickly cut through the faux filters and find essence.

So here’s my own takeaway from this woman’s comment. She knows the men in her life and they know her. Their lives are an acknowledgment of reality rather than an abstraction of rhetoric. When her son cuts to the chase on the Palin interview, mom sees the truth in his comments…regardless of their gender differences or the efforts to cast the election as little more than gender warfare. She undoubtedly knows that society still holds biased positions with regard to women…and other groups…and she can probably see some of that in Charlie Gibson…just as she does in the Maytag repairman who fixed her broken washing machine last week.

At the same time, she can also see through a candidate who lacks a grasp of the issues that will confront the individuals who will be seated in the two highest offices in the land…without the need to filter her conclusions through a manufactured gender prism. In the end, her family represents the simple pragmatism that keeps America in the center…pulling it back from one extreme or the other. They function as a family and they respect and trust each other…regardless of the idiosyncrasies they possess. They have to in order to survive…and they vote with that in mind.

Those who think this kind of voter can be swayed by a smoke and mirrors strategy underestimate this family at their own peril. When it’s all said and done, their votes will express a clarity that can’t be clouded by misdirection and misinformation.

Cut it however you like, but this is a change election…and the fact that the McCain campaign has suddenly altered its message in the hopes of pulling victory from the jaws of defeat will not go unnoticed by the family noted above. They can figure out the real reason Sarah Palin was selected. They can determine which news outlet and which pundit is biased.

But more than anything, they have to determine which candidate will offer them the best hope for the problems they face as a family. They haven’t the luxury of endlessly mulling through the minutiae or participating in partisan platitudes. When this mom chose to report her son’s views, she was explaining how her family sees the world, and how they makes decisions, to those who routinely discount them as inconsequential. When it comes time to vote, her family will sort through the noise…because they have to. When November 5th arrives, the rest of us will finally hear her.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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  1. One Response to “Unintended Consequences: The McCain Strategy Flaw”

  2. By Tom Harper on Sep 13, 2008 | Reply

    It’s true that we all see what we want to see. But I still think that most people, if they went into a store to buy something, and the salesperson was answering their questions with long pauses and indirect answers, the customer would end up saying “is there somebody else I could ask? Is there a supervisor around?”

    I’m hoping that the people who are too busy with their lives to be bothered with the minutiae of Sarah Palin’s interview will react the same way as the person you mentioned: “Gimme a break, she had no fricking clue what she was talking about.”
    Here’s a link to an editorial from a Fairbanks newspaper. Not everybody in Alaska is swooning over their hometown girl.

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