But the Palin nomination changes the game. The initial response has been to try to keep the focus on external realities, the “issues,” and differences on the issues. But the Palin nomination is not basically about external realities and what Democrats call “issues,” but about the symbolic mechanisms of the political mind — the worldviews, frames, metaphors, cultural narratives, and stereotypes. The Republicans can’t win on realities. Her job is to speak the language of conservatism, activate the conservative view of the world, and use the advantages that conservatives have in dominating political discourse.
I’m not sure that it’s the choice of Palin that’s changed the game. I think Barack Obama himself changed the game. This time last year, I’m pretty sure that most people would have agreed that Hillary Clinton was the heir apparent to the US Presidency and, for months into the nomination campaign, until the Iowa primary. As an outsider, it was difficult to determine what policies differentiated the two candidates at the top.
After Iowa, where Obama proved he could carry the votes of white folks, the campaign shifted to a campaign of appearances and personality and the question became, who can best represent a message of hope and change? Hillary Clinton wasn’t running on a platform that delibarately accencuated her gender and the way the election of a woman would represent something revolutionary. Obama’s race quickly came to stand in for change itself and his inexperience in Washington was proof of his credibility as much as a deficit. Little attention was paid to policy issues which, as between Obama and Clinton, were very similar, with Clinton coming out on the more “liberal” side, at least when it came to universal health care. It really wasn’t until her concession speech that Clinton called attention to the symbolic meaning of her run for presidential office.
My thought at the moment is that if the majority of Americans can get “change” with the Republicans, they’re likely to go for it. If Sarah Palin and even John McCain can capture people with that “maverick” meme, it may make for a comfortable result. Since the American Revolution and a brief outburst that by no means involved the entire nation in the ’60s, Americans haven’t exactly impressed me with their “revolutionary” politics. Particularly since 9/11, Americans seem much more interested in the safety and security of their own lives, families and country than in political issues and that security has been more a matter of “appearance” than reality. So I’d say that the race between Obama and Clinton wasn’t about “external realities” either.
Barack Obama is a symbol in this representational election. Now it will depend on whether he is a more compelling – and reassuring – symbol than Sarah Palin. Listening to the news today, it seems like Palin is running against Obama rather than Biden. That can only be good news for the Reprobates.