A word more on Palin and the riskiness of mockery

I have received a number of emails to the effect of: I'm a conservative, and I can't tell you how fired up and excited I am by Sarah Palin's speech. Finally we have a fresh, new face who will tell it like it is.

Noted. As I wrote just after Palin finished speaking, in the jet-lag blur accompanying the latest 14-hour flight back to Beijing, the speech was effective, funny, and strong in summing up the views of "the base." It would be as if Barack Obama had chosen Al Franken as his running mate -- and Franken had let rip at the convention with the anti-Bush, anti-Republican one-liners he refined in his Air America / "Big Fat Idiot" days.

But, as suggested earlier, there are two problems with this approach, which seem more evident as clips are played and replayed.

First, if this speech energized the Republican base, I bet it did the same -- in opposition -- for the Democratic base. And the Democratic/independent/"had enough!" base is simply larger this year.

Second, I wonder how Palin's mocking, contemptuous tone about Obama will travel and age. It was great inside the hall -- again, think of Al Franken, who would of course have been funnier. But the track record of cocky-sounding newcomer politicians is not so great.

Yes, Ronald Reagan dismissed Jimmy Carter with "there you go again." But that was in 1980 -- sixteen years after Reagan came to national political prominence with his 1964 convention speech (not one week after most of the public had first heard of him, as with Palin), and after his two terms as governor of the nation's most populous state. George Wallace was great with wisecracks but didn't win nationally. Nor did Pat Buchanan. The strongest example would be Spiro Agnew, as Richard Nixon's tough-talking running mate. But when they won, the fundamentals were in their favor -- unpopular war, unpopular incumbent party -- rather than working against them, as they do for the GOP now.

Wise guys, male or female, do better on talk shows or as satirists than as candidates. (Obvious reason: for an entertainer, support from 10% of the market means a runaway success. A politician needs a lot broader support to win.)

I've learned through the years that it's very hard to judge political turning points in real time. But my guess is that the last twelve hours will be seen as the moment when McCain pushed all his chips into the pot to bet on a "mobilize the base" strategy. Given the fundamental math in this election year, that would also be the moment when it became very hard for him to win.