Competing Narratives

by Shaker rrp, who previously guested here.

When McCain's campaign announced that they'd chosen Sarah Palin for VP, most people (different flavors of lefties/progressives) that I talked with were delighted. What could be better? An inexperienced, extremely conservative, first-term governor of a small (population-wise) state.

Then the storm hit.

First there was the sexist ogling (from left, right, and center), then there was the motherhood concern trolls (from left and center, the right's supporting Palin on this one), and then there was the mass slut-shaming and mom-blaming (largely left) when it came out that Palin's daughter Bristol is pregnant. Some people think this is the way to attack Palin, to go after her for all her "failures", all the lapses, all the gaps between her life and the true womanhood rhetoric that the right has delighted in for decades.

And this will be an unmitigated disaster for the Democratic party in the fall because Palin is not running on her facts, she's running on the story that her life and her politics tell.

George Lakoff describes her appeal and shows how clever the marketing around her candidacy is.
Palin is the mom in the strict father family, upholding conservative values. Palin is tough: she shoots, skins, and eats caribou. She is disciplined: raising five kids with a major career. She lives her values: she has a Downs-syndrome baby that she refused to abort. She has the image of the ideal conservative mom: pretty, perky, feminine, Bible-toting, and fitting into the ideal conservative family. And she fits the stereotype of America as small-town America. It is Reagan's morning-in-America image. Where Obama thought of capturing the West, she is running for Sweetheart of the West.
Ok, Lakoff could have done without that sweetheart. But the portrait of the working-class, hard-working, successful woman, who's not a radical (except that she is), who doesn't need feminism (even as she benefits from the last three decades of feminist work), who's even good-looking (even though that makes me puke, it's a factor) is a complete winner.

Progressives tend to like closely argued issues; well maybe we just like to argue. Still, most progressive sorts I know tend to read up on the ballot measures, look up voting records for candidates, and do some research before we vote. We have emotional reactions, but try to act rationally when it comes to voting. We are a minority.

And the Obama campaign probably understands that better than any Democratic campaign of the last twenty years, with the exception of the Clintons, both Bill and Hillary (after she ditched Penn). Obama is running on his own compelling narrative as he runs for president.

He's the bright son of a single, hard-working mother, grandson of the heartland, the biracial proof that anyone can reach for the highest office in the country. He's a loving father and husband, a pious, thoughtful, principled (decidedly not radical) man.

Ok, with dueling narratives, who wins?

It depends on who's doing the listening. There are some people who will never swallow Palin's story. There are others who will never swallow Obama's. In both camps there are people who are true believers, who trust in Palin's stasis or yearn for Obama's change. But both of them are slugging it out for the center who wants to like the person they elect, who isn't ideologically driven, who wants to trust the executive to do the right thing, who wants to feel that the things they value are important to the people who run this country.

And at this point, it's a crap shoot whether this country is going to keep looking back over its shoulder at Palin America or forward to Obama's.

[Ok, no arguments that Obama's not a true progressive. The point is that his rhetoric of change is directed to the future, just as Palin's arm of the GOP is looking at a past that never was for any of us.]

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