Took me a few days, but I've finally got it. Sarah Palin isn't just the wild card, the catalyst, the spark. Her nomination delivers exactly what this election cycle's been missing: the wedge. Leave it to an Alaskan to heat things up.
Palin brings "people like you" back to the table. Always to Republican advantage, she revives the Culture Wars, which had been at best a series of small skirmishes fought mainly on the world wide web. You couldn't play the People Like You card with Obama, because then you'd be a racist. You couldn't play the People Like You card with McCain, because then you'd be an ageist, and worse, an ageist that's against the troops. But with Palin, a small-town hockey mom governor with charisma and poise and a shitload of familial shenanigans and right-wing social ideologies, we're about to hear "What people like you don't understand" a whole lot more than if Romney, Pawlenty or Lieberman snagged the VP slot.
So now this election's not about the polarizing war. Now it's not about the sputtering economy. Now it's not about rising gas prices, stagnant wages or the declining standard of living for many middle and working-class families.
Now it's about wholesome small-town folks versus those assholes in the big bad city.
Now it's about our social wedge issues: An unmarried pregnant teenage daughter plays midwife to a rekindled abortion debate; support for the 1998 Alaskan constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage riles the gays; B-roll footage of her firing semi-automatic weapons triggers the gun control shootout; a strapping 19-year-old Army son questions everyone's Do You Support Our Troops Enough? nationalism; Palin's questionable church sermon video brings God into the fold; and new revelations about her attending five colleges in six years matriculates the furor over educated elitist snobbery.
Oh, it's on like Donkey Kong.
Focus on the Family fuckfaceian founder James Dobson declared last year that he wouldn't help elect McCain: "Speaking as a private individual, I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances," he said. Enter Alaskan Tina Fey and you've got yourself a whole lotta flip-flopping before God. Just this week Dobson praised Palin, giving McCain renewed support from the evangelicals that helped re-elect Bush in the name of Baby Jesus. McCain doesn't have to court the wedge issue voters when Dobson's saying things like: "...Now especially with this selection, with just an outstanding V.P. candidate as a running mate, I tell you what I am relieved and very excited."
I fell for it. Mostly everyone fell for it. This is what McCain's people wanted. They may not have vetted her accurately, but I doubt they even care now. If we thought 2004 was bad, the Culture War is about to get more heated than ever. When Palin last night delivered the line, "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities," I didn't even realize how deep that cut. If I were the Obama camp, I'd respond with something like this:
"How dare this two-bit hack knock community organizers when they're the people who get stuff done when their mayors and governors don't, or can't, or won't? How dare she put down the responsibilities of people who are out on the frontlines to help fight AIDS and homelessness, hunger and child abuse? How dare she belittle the efforts of REAL people taking REAL stands against the problems they face in their own communities, while she sits in a comfortable desk chair and contributes nothing but a signature or a veto?"
Only, as I've come to realize in the past 24 hours, that answer means nothing. No matter how well rebutted, their ultimate point is that "community organizers" represent big-city liberal ideology, and the concept itself will always be a joke to Them. Just as a mayor of 6,000 people thinking it's a real job that counts as experience towards the presidency of these United States will always be a joke to Us. There just will always be a divide between the town and the city, the hustle and the flow, the conservatives and the liberals. But when social conservatism gets in the way of a perfectly good election, all hell breaks loose. And Us and Them fever pisses all over the rulebook.
It was always there, but now it's everywhere. And now it gets ugly.
(Oh, and on a side note, is John McCain a POW? Because if he is, they might want to play that up a little more. I am just finding out about this.)