Another star in the making

John Elizandro

On the day after Barack Obama triumphantly accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president on a majestic stage in a stadium filled with 70,000 supporters, the candidate’s campaign was conspicuously flustered by the headlines of the day. Instead of fawning media coverage over Obama’s supposedly glorious speech from the previous night, the senator was greeted by news that John McCain had lived up to his maverick reputation by selecting little-known Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Irritated and distraught over the total eclipse of what should have been among its proudest moments, the Obama campaign appeared confused by exactly how to respond to McCain’s selection. In a tacky and snarky press release, the Democrats slammed Palin as “just more of the same” and derisively referred to her as “the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience.” Not more than a few hours later, Obama seemed to come to realize the historical gravity of the first female Republican vice-presidential nominee. The campaign hastily released a toned-down statement congratulating the governor on her achievement.

The period following Palin’s selection was an apprehensive time for the Obama campaign. After the perceived slight of Hillary Clinton, Obama was wary of further alienating women. The senator seemed unable to find an effective avenue of attack on Palin. In a move belying the “new kind of politics” he so frequently promised, Obama dispatched a plane full of lawyers and investigators to Alaska to dig up dirt from the governor’s past. It was not until Palin’s convention speech, though, that the extent of the damage the self-proclaimed hockey mom would do to the Democratic nominee became clear.

With a smile on her face, she delivered mortal blow after mortal blow to the validity of Obama’s candidacy. She needled Obama on his early work in Chicago machine politics, calling her stint as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, as “sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.”

The hits just kept coming, as Palin hammered Obama on his crass elitism, his nauseating narcissism and his careerist opportunism.

She ended her fusillade with a zinger: “In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change.”

With her perfect delivery, Palin was catapulted into a political stardom matched only by Obama himself.

The senator was clearly irked. Seemingly unaware of his own inadequacies in experience, he spoke condescendingly of hers. Sen. Biden tactlessly suggested that because Palin has a child with Down’s Syndrome, she ought to support stem cell research. The head of the South Carolina Democratic Party quipped that Palin’s “primary qualification seems to be that she hasn’t had an abortion.” Unwisely going off teleprompter, Obama joked, “You could put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig!” Many interpreted it as a low-blow swipe at Palin, whose signature convention line involves lipstick and pitbulls. Instead of apologizing for his thoughtless remark, he whined and complained bitterly that it was somehow the Republican Party’s fault when he sticks his foot in his mouth by deviating from his script. A “new kind of politics” indeed.

Since Palin’s nomination, Obama’s campaign has been off-balance and off-message. His poll numbers are dropping, his fundraising has slowed and Democratic insiders have begun to express uneasiness that the campaign is slipping away from them. Palin has gotten inside his head, and the man who by age 40 had already written two books about himself seems miffed that a rival might have star-power comparable to his own. One can only hope that as president, Obama would fare better against leaders of Iran, Russia or North Korea than he has against the hockey-mom governor of Alaska.

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John Elizandro is a freshman from Radnor, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]