Sarah Palin's speech last night changed the dynamics of the election. Before that, I saw this contest as reminiscent of 1860, when a green-stick Illinois lawmaker became everyone's hero against all odds. And it felt like 1932, when the failures of Republican governance ushered in a sweeping realignment in which the Democrats reclaimed a broad ruling coalition that lasted more than three decades. And I also saw Obama as a new Reagan, a sparkling, optimistic newcomer whom people weren't quite sure about till he took care of their doubts by easily handling Jimmy Carter in the debates. But now I am reminded of 1992.
What we had in 1992 was an exciting young Democrat, new to the national scene, who picked a solid middle-of-the-road Senator as his running mate, facing an older moderate Republican who, after fending off a conservative challenger in the primary, was consistently losing in the polls and a big yawner to the party base, running with a goofy, grating, not-ready-for-prime-time social conservative. The Republican Convention in 1992, in which Pat Buchanan declared a culture war against politically correct far-left liberal East Coast baby-killing atheists, sealed the deal for Clinton-Gore, who suddenly looked conclusively reasonable to the independents who decide our elections. That convention brought the rabid 28% to its feet but frightened everybody else.
True, one big difference is that Bush the Greater and Quayle had already been in office for four years. But Bush the Lesser -- who is sort of a male Sarah Palin -- has been in for eight and has let the economy unravel, massively added to the debt, ensnared our troops in wretched conflicts, and seriously damaged our reputation in the world. His legacy is far worse than his father's. It's one of those times when nonpartisan people are saying, "Okay, okay, I get it, we screwed up by picking someone who has screwed up, so I'm open to new ideas." They looked around, saw Obama and McCain and said, "Hmmm, they both seem okay enough. Now, which one is better?" Biden fortified Obama in their minds. Palin? ...I'm thinking not so much. I'm thinking people have had enough of belligerent, stubborn halfwits running the show and are in no mood for more. I think that group even includes most Republicans -- after all, McCain did win the open Republican primary.
The other difference is that other big-eared Texan, who captured nearly 19% of the vote that year (Clinton: 43%, Bush: 37.4%). There is no wild card like Perot this time (unless Bob Barr catches fire), so his vote, if it goes according to exit polls from 1992, would go 1/3 for Obama, 1/3 for McCain, and 1/3 for staying home on the La-Z-Boy. That would still produce a Democratic winner by 5%. This morning, the RCP average has Obama by 5.8%.
Then again, every time I think I have a handle on this swerving race, it slips from my grasp and morphs again.