National politicians are generally heavily protected by both staff and our media. FDR could not walk, but that fact was concealed from the bulk of the population. Especially in his second term, Ronald Reagan was debilitated by Alzheimer’s, and yet his image was projected on us as a skilled and confident leader.
I had an exchange with another blogger one time about the Reagan situation, and was told that Reagan seemed competent and effective until after he left office, when he began to wither. That was precisely the point – when he left office, the curtain came down, and we saw him as he really was. He was no longer protected.
Joe McGinniss, in his 1969 book The Selling of the President chronicled how Richard Nixon in 1968 was packaged and marketed to us as a product. He was nothing like the images projected on our TV screens, but Nixon’s people understood that television created an alternative reality. Which is real? The man, or the perception?
In the mind of the voter, it’s the perception. If marketed correctly, the man or woman is irrelevant. If their true nature becomes known to us, as Nixon’s did, it is only an accident.
Sarah Palin’s true nature has been exposed – the McCain people seem to have really screwed up.
Marketing is both an art and a science. It doesn’t always give us the silk purse. While John McCain’s handlers have done a credible job of selling his image as war hero and decisive maverick, Sarah Palin has been hopelessly exposed as a beauty pageant queen. Her “brand” is sullied. She may have marketed herself effectively in Alaska – God only knows what that was about – but on the national stage she she splashes before us as an innocent child in a bath tub.
It’s a conundrum. If McCain dumps her, he’ll enrage his Christian right wing base. If he keeps her, he can only hope that she becomes the object of sympathy, the victim of a malicious media. Those are his choices.
What to expect from the “debate” on Thursday? I’ve no clue. Like Reagan, she can be effective when scripted. It’s a question of how much retention she has. She’s being crash-schooled in things apparently beyond her grasp, things she never thought or had to care about up north. The Democrats have to treat her gingerly, so not to be seen as mean-spirited. At the same time, they’ve got to prevent her from grabbing the upper hand, as she did at the Republican convention. We’ll see how smart everyone is.
As McGinnis noted in 1968, there’s little substance to connect a political campaign to what a politician will really do once elected. Barack Obama is effectively selling the image of the calm hand, the reasoned leader. Not so with the McCain people – they have lost control of the narrative. Their brand of toothpaste is not selling. They’re inept. They’ve shown us too much of reality. That’s always a mistake.
Only one thing can save them. Election fraud.