On Thursday morning, a friend of mine spoke with a U.S. senator who shall remain unnamed. The senator said that the rumor inside the Beltway is that President Obama and his speechwriters substantially changed Obama’s planned speech after seeing Sarah Palin’s video release earlier Wednesday morning.
This makes sense to me, with Sarah Palin showing how “flat” a high-minded, philosophical, and perhaps overly political speech would be. After all, those (or at least the appearance of those) traits have usually characterized Barack Obama’s speeches — which is why so much of the American electorate (including me) have generally tuned him out, feeling quite confident that we can predict what he’ll say and how he’ll say it.
Many readers of my reaction to Palin’s speech on these pages and elsewhere have responded with “She’s a private citizen. She didn’t need to sound presidential.”
I threw the flag on that one.
Palin’s video statement, released the morning of the same day as Obama’s address in Tucson, was almost certainly timed to boost her presidential credentials. As a political veteran recently told me when I said I don’t think Palin will run for president, “if she doesn’t run, she risks becoming irrelevant.” Even if Palin hasn’t decided to run, she certainly wants to keep that option open; I find it disingenuous of her supporters to claim that putting out a 7-minute video that she knows millions of people will see — days after one of the worst mass-murders in America in recent years — had no more significance for Palin than it would for any other citizen, or that she should not be held to a higher standard than any other citizen.
Of course, Palin had been on the receiving end of some of the most vile, hateful, disgusting rhetoric and accusations by the left. And of course she wanted to defend herself. But this is a very high-stakes game she’s playing, and she faced a stronger poker player than herself on Wednesday.
I’m not going to spend more time on the content of her speech except to say that when I saw it — and I wanted to like it — I thought that she utterly missed any human connection, an area where she is usually head-and-shoulders above our icy president.
By releasing her statement when she did, Palin made it implausible for her or her supporters to claim that she was not intending a quasi-presidential address. Indeed, the high-minded tone of her address made her come across as too eager to create presidential bona fides, as if some speechwriter thought that sounding “above it all” would check some currently unchecked box on her range-of-expression resume.
Putting her message out there in the morning was like showing the opposing team your playbook. Obama had no flexibility regarding when he gave his speech. After Palin’s morning release, he and his team had all day to re-work his words to make sure not to fall into the trap(s) Palin fell into, and also to make sure not to appear to respond to Palin.
As my friend noted above says, “It’s mind over matter. We don’t mind because she doesn’t matter.” Obama avoided biting any bait offered by Palin, using her talk as a map of a minefield and thus avoiding the mines which some (including me) think Palin stepped on to her political detriment (at least to her detriment outside of her already-committed base).
Palin would have been wiser to wait, watch, and listen to Obama, and to let him brave the minefield first. She should have released a statement on Thursday instead of Wednesday if she felt compelled to say anything, with modifications based on lessons learned. Alternatively, she should have said something Tuesday and not seemed to be so slow to react — if you assume she had to react; given that one criticism Palin’s detractors make is that she seems to feel a need to react to every criticism, sitting back this time might have been the better part of valor. The blogosphere was doing quite a good job reacting for her — pointing out the viciousness and hypocrisy of the left and their media lackeys — and she might have been better served by nothing more than a 30-second statement empathizing with the Tucscon victims and their families.
At the end of the day, however, it is a long time until the next election. To the extent that Palin hurt herself or Obama helped himself, there will be plenty of time for those impacts to be forgotten — or magnified.
In the meantime, Governor Palin is scheduled to be on the Hannity program on Fox News on Monday evening. I’ll be most interested to see how she and Hannity analyze the dueling speeches.