Mean Old Party

From Fred Thompson to Sarah Palin, snarling Rudy Giuliani to smiling Lindsey Graham, Republicans bared their fangs this week to hide their unpopular agenda. And it might work.

Published September 6, 2008 11:52AM (EDT)

I was tempted to call Sarah Palin the queen of mean, but that might be sexist (RIP, Leona Helmsley). It would also imply that she was the only one onstage in St. Paul, Minn., this week with a case of the twitchy nasties. Glenn Greenwald has already written about it here and here. So many of the GOP speakers were vicious about Barack Obama, from Fred Thompson suddenly seeming lifelike again after his pulse-free presidential campaign, to the normally sunny Lindsey Graham, who, with a big, dumb "I'm lovin' it!" grin, all but called Obama a traitor, charging "Barack Obama's campaign is built around us losing in Iraq." I expected Rudy Giuliani to give the speech he did; he loves being a thug. I didn't expect him to go so long that he reportedly bumped the little biopic about Palin that was supposed to play Wednesday night. Then McCain had the gall to close the convention by promising to end partisan bickering, insisting, "I don't work for a party, I work for you." When he let party leaders veto his choice of Joe Lieberman as his running mate, he proved that statement was a lie.

It's tempting for liberals to say all that ugly snarling will backfire, but early polls show it didn't: Palin particularly got high marks for her speech in Survey USA and Rasmussen polls. Greenwald is right that liberals put their faith in most people's common decency and take too long to fight back. Why are no Democrats asking whether, since McCain couldn't stand up to Karl Rove and James Dobson, we can trust him to stand up to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Vladimir Putin?

Sarah Palin could prove to be a particularly tough customer. I continue to worry that she is going to get a pass from Democrats because it's not clear how to criticize a woman. Of course, after you've called yourself a pit bull in lipstick, it would seem to be hard to cry sexism about most other slurs. Palin loves her attack dog role; she's Giuliani in drag, the 1976 Bob Dole with bangs. (A Salon reader came up with another line I liked: What's the difference between Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney? Lipstick.) I talked about Palin in my weekly video blog for Current (text continues below):

As I've written before, I don't like swipes at Palin because of her looks or beauty pageant training; I'm uncomfortable with people who take potshots at her performance as a mother. But Democrats seem flummoxed right now figuring out how to hit back at Palin at all, and they're going to have to figure it out, because it's clear she loves the taste of blood. Obama-Biden, Yum-o! Tastes like moose!

Speaking of a Republican's performance as a mother, I have to break my own rules and say: I was uncomfortable with the way Cindy McCain used her adopted daughter, Bridget, both in her video bio and in her speech Thursday night -- and Bridget didn't look terribly comfortable herself. I wrote about it on Open Salon this morning. God bless the McCains for adopting Bridget, but I didn't think her story needed to be used as an example of Cindy McCain's beneficence, and that's how it came off. Cringe-making.

What a show.

By Joan Walsh

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2008 Elections