Peter Lawler’s post below positing a less than ideological source for the
McCain Palin bounce is a fair bit of observation. I think I agree with him though I have a slightly different take on what it all means. I know anecdotal evidence proves nothing but sometimes it is illustrative and, in this case, it may help to explain my thinking.
My mother-in-law has a cousin (they are both in their mid 70s) who is the textbook case of an "independent" voter. Her politics are all over the map when it comes to elections but she has a few issues about which she can get fairly passionate. An example: the only extended political discussion I’ve ever had with her came as a result of her telling my husband and I that good parents should never allow a gun to be present in the home. (I note in passing that the relative who took our side in that argument was another of the cousins who is a committed and very ideological Democrat . . .) Nevertheless, this woman is a very decent and hard-working sort and she managed to raise three successful boys in spite of the associated anguish of three failed marriages. So I had no idea how she would view the McCain-Palin ticket or whether she would have any strong opinion about it at all.
It turns out that she is delighted with Palin and cannot wait to go vote for McCain now even though she was pretty indifferent about him before this pick. For her, Sarah made all the difference. My mother-in-law, for her part, feels exactly the same way. Although there was never any question of who my father-in-law would support (he’s a veteran, after all), she was pretty impressed with Obama and only hesitated about him because she did not like Michelle. I should also mention that had Hillary Clinton won the nomination, all bets might be off. Both women flirted with the idea of supporting her although neither of them is anything like a committed Democrat. But it is also fair to say that their "support" for Clinton was always pretty soft and never as animated as it is now for Palin.
Why? Clearly, it’s not ideology. And, if we’re being honest, my own support for her isn’t all about that either. I knew about and liked her politics long before I had any enthusiasm for her as a candidate. It was only during her speech (which . . . thank you, attack dogs in the media, so many people watched) that I began to I feel, as these women now feel, cheerful and confident about our country and our prospects again. We remembered that, like Sarah Palin, we are a strong and independent people and that we need not fret over the challenges that confront us on either the domestic or the international scene. Her speech seemed to say that those challenges are real . . . but we are Americans, gosh-darn-it. What can’t we do when we mean business?
I will also say that I had much the same experience in all the conversations I had with people over the weekend. Everyone was talking about and wanted to talk about Sarah Palin--at the school picnic, at the baseball game, at church and in the stores. And these were not people who know me as anything other than a mom--I’m pretty sure I’ve never discussed politics with any of these people. I can’t remember what it was like in the early days for Reagan, but I’ve never seen anything like this level of enthusiasm among regular people for a candidate.
It’s true that Barack Obama excited enthusiasm in the early days of his campaign. But I think the difference between the enthusiasm for Sarah Palin and the enthusiasm for Barack Obama is going to boil down to this in the end: the enthusiasm for him was ideological. While Sarah ties up the loose ends of the committed conservative base, she has the added benefit of securing the non-ideological voters who see in her a person they believe will work hard, put her country first and not betray their trust.
Barring some great reversal of fortunes, this is now Sarah Palin’s race to lose and I don’t think she’s in the habit of losing.