The Palin Factor

This is an article I wrote a month ago, published in Living Well magazine when Palin became a factor. I hope I’ll have a better quality copy up on this blog soon. 

By Rana F. Sweis


AMMAN// In the beginning, his story captivated the world. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s sense of idealism prevailed in America. His father was raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats. He went to school in a tin-roof shack. While studying in the US, he met Obama’s mother, a white woman from Kansas.

Then came a surprise: Sarah Palin. She was a mother of five, Governor of Alaska and a woman. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee’s choice of Palin for Vice President changed the dynamics of the 2008 Presidential campaign. American elections this year never fail to surprise—or excite voters and viewers alike.

Obama ran on the slogan for change. John McCain ran on the experience ticket. During the summer months, polls showed change triumphed experience. The McCain camp heeded to the more popular message and Palin was chosen. It’s up to Obama’s campaign to turn things around in his favor. Obama has been under pressure from his Democratic Party to attack McCain, who has taken a lead in the polls in September.

Today Americans are pondering the meaning of change: is it the type of change that will improve Washington or worsen it? Is it the type of change that will lead America towards more non-interventionism–a policy of nonparticipation in foreign political relations–or inclusion and credibility on the world stage? Indeed, the first casualty of US actions against Iraq and Afghanistan has been eroding domestic confidence and support for humanitarian intervention.

There are those that say policy will triumph the politics of identity. Let us not forget 1984. Walter Mondale chose New York Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. They were up against Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan. The majority of American women voted for Reagan, despite the fact that she was a mom and had three children. The focus groups indicated that she intimidated women at the time. But what focus groups are showing today is that women are attracted to Palin. In July, McCain led Obama among White women by 44 to 39, according to a NEWSWEEK poll. Now his lead is 53 to 37. One in three White women says she is more likely to vote for McCain since Palin was chosen as his running mate. Some Democratic women are threatening to defect to the Republican Party—just because Palin is a woman. However, contradictions are abundant: Palin advocates abstinence yet her unmarried 17-year old daughter is pregnant. McCain criticizes Obama for his lack of political experience, yet Palin has never met a foreign head of state. Palin proclaims she is a reformer yet when Palin was inaugurated as governor in Alaska, she surrounded herself with people she has known since grade school and friends.

Both Obama and McCain are competing for working-class white women, a group that could have a great impact in States that will likely decide the election. In September, Obama held events that included themes such as, “Women for the Change We Need,” in order to connect with women. I recently received an e-mail from a woman in New York who has created a blog called, Older White Women for Obama. In it she writes:

I began this post because I am disgusted with the GOP [Republicans] claiming that older white women support McCain and his pretty-face-empty-head sidekick, Palin. All of my friends are for Obama; even my mother’s friends, a generation older, are for Obama. We are all disgusted by the GOP’s destruction of the American economy and credibility in the world.


Older white women speak out!

Nevertheless, Obama will continue to face the elephant in the room- race. Some people have accused him of being too liberal, too young and too exotic. According to TIME, one of every four who voted for Hillary Clinton as their choice of the Democratic Presidential nominee actually admitted to pollsters that race was a factor in their vote. Even in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio the figure was one in ten. Certainly, his running mate, Biden, has not received nearly the same media attention as Palin.

The Media Impact

Many people agree traditional political campaigns have been changing the course of US elections, as we know them. Political advertising, e-mails, bogs and ‘embedded’ campaign reporters (such as the ones who traveled with Obama on his visit to the Middle East and Europe) have proved to be a determining factor in the fate of this election. Words like presentation, image, character and background have become determining factors when electing a president.

Interest groups, corporations including corporate advocacy advertising spend a vast amount of money to sway public opinion and influence the legislative and policy decisions. Over the years, negative campaigning, most notably negative advertising, is considered by many as misleading. Since television time is money, the time slot given for political advertising seems inadequate to raise important issues.

Therefore, political advertising relies on emotional images like soldiers in combat, images of the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, DC. Television seems to no longer be used a means to deliver a message, but rather as a form of attacking a person running for office. Studies show that even if longer segments were presented on television, where political issues—education, healthcare, and foreign policy—were discussed in a more in-depth manner, Americans tend not to watch it. Another factor that technology and negative campaigning has contributed to is the polarization of the American people. Campaign managers and the media tend to simplify issues. This has led to Americans feeling that they must adhere to one Party or another (Republican or Democrat). The most effective technique of challenging this is for the public to be informed enough to realize, scrutinize, and act.

This race is not over. The US is a divided nation facing economic challenges—a rise in unemployment, home foreclosures and two wars. Indeed, the winner of this election will take it all, including the myriad of challenges and quagmires. 


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Filed under "My" Published Articles, American Politics, Media, Middle East Politics

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