Alex Massie

Hurricane Sarah

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Andrew Sullivan concludes his live-blogging of Sarah Palin's speech with an exasperated sigh: "Reality television has become our politics." Perhaps. More likely, politics has been a reality TV show since before John Logie Baird invented the damn goggle box. Because, yes, you choose the candidate you like best or the one that has impressed you most after a long, painfully drawn out period of interrogation, speculation and hype. Just like on American Idol. That is the way it works. Talent matters, but it's not enough without personality, authenticity, charm, something else...

Of course Andrew's so committed to Obama that it's unlikely Palin could have done anything to convince him she's not painfully out of her depth. There's lots to like about Obama, but let's not pretend that he'd be favourite to win this election - or have Andrew's backing - if he were a first term Irish-American Senator called Barry O'Bama.

This race has been framed in terms of personality and biography from the beginning. Sure, Obama's opposition to the war was vital to him gaining traction and yes he has tremendous political gifts, but, really, the Democratic primary was a Reality TV-style beauty contest and November's election will be as well. That's why people are tuning in.

Policies matter, but they matter much more once you're in office than they do on the campaign trail. That's a place where plausibility is more important than policy. And by that standard, Sarah Palin passed her test with flying colours tonight. Sure, the sceptics say, but all she had to do was read a speech someone else had written? How hard can that be? Well, as John McCain will show us on Thursday, harder than you might think. And if Palin had blown-up tonight, these same sceptics would have seized on that too: see, she's not ready for prime time they'd have said.

As always in this election season - primary and general - the test of your criticism is whether you would accept them as fair if they were applied to your own side. This is a test some folk have been failing in dramatic style.

And Sarah Palin answered the plausibility question tonight. Yes, large parts of her speech (ie, on foreign policy - is Venezuela really going to launch an oil war?) made little sense. But this is true of almost all campaign speeches. Obama's pledge last week to cut taxes and finance massive increases in spending by closing tax "loopholes" didn't make much sense either. And yes, she seems to have lied about the Bridge to Nowhere (anyone know where I can find one of these cool t-shirts?) and doubtless much of what she said about her performance as governor could legitimately be interpreted rather differently.

It still seems a stretch that the incumbent party - the party that controls the White House, the Senate and the house of Representatives - could actually run on a platform of reform. But strange things can happen. That's the strategy Nicolas Sarkozy used in France. Granted, Obama is a much more accomplished opponent than Segolene Royale. But...

I suppose Palin had to talk about some policy tonight, but too much of it sounded as though it had been written for her. Consequently she seemed to be stressing her credentials a little too earnestly.

The best bits of the speech  -and the parts that showed how she might be able to reach out beyond the evangelical base  - came when she stressed her small town credentials. Ezra Klein, who has the best liberal response I've seen, is right to say that even here there were missed opportunities: she should have talked more, not less about the lessons she had learnt about the government that matters most to people (and the limitations of government) and about how she would take those lessons with her to Washington.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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