In the Chinese classic The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (part of which was recently adapted into a John Woo-Tony Leung extravaganza), the three warring kingdoms had to deal with a wildcard named Lu Bu, the most formidable warrior in the story. Decked out in pheasant-tailed headdress and perched atop of his powerful steed Red Hare, Lu Bu would take out all comers in battle. He's portrayed as a someone difficult to stir to fight for you, but insanely awesome if and when he fights. Trouble is, unbeatable as he is in battle, he's fatally flawed. At once treacherous and super-ambitious, Lu Bu repeatedly double-crosses his patrons but ends up being an utterly inept strategist when trying to lead his own troops.
Lu Bu came to mind as I read recent accounts of Democrats yearning for HRC to be unleashed against GOP's now not-so-secret weapon: Sarah "Spiro" Palin. I'm part of this crowd, too (and not just because I used to drop all my books and run over and anytime someone yelled "girlfight!" in the schoolyard). I kept thinking just wait, you fucktard, Obama will let his female surrogates fight the dirty fight. If Hillary can be stirred to battle, she'll go to town on this well-rehearsed naif. But you know, the warlords who sought Lu Bu's services all met unhappy ends. And with respect to Hillary, not only is she not the fearsome warrior of the liberal imagination, her strengths are almost completely opposite of Palin's. Palin's a force because she's a very good political performer who's culturally one of them, them being the white, Rust Belt working class vote that may decide the election. Like Bush in 2004, Palin's is a perfect GOP general election candidate -- clearly an inept, dangerous dimwit to anyone who's paying attention and isn't in the tank for the right-wing (those of whom are now tarred as "elites"), but a skilled performer who not only electrifies the fact-avoiding GOP base and can also prey on low-information whites by playing up cultural identification markers.
Hillary's a political force in this election not because she connects to working class voters on some root level, but because she has credibility on economic issues facing these people. So while we think Hillary will just go out there and eviscerate Palin, it's really up to her to do it. In fact, Hillary isn't some wildcard warrior, but someone whose skills fit well within Obama's strategy, which is now to re-run 1992, hammer away at economic issues no matter how loud the GOP beats their culture war drums. As much as I would like to see someone besides Andrew Sullivan and the liberal blogosphere unload on Palin, I do remember 1992 very well. Back then, the inexperienced hippie beat the respected war hero.
I'd still call McCain/Palin's plans not just "more of the same" but also "dangerous" or "extremist." And yes, Sarah Palin is new Bush, the bete noire for Democratic partisans. It would be wise to have surrogates define Palin as someone out-of-the-mainstream as early as possible, a book-banning, managerially inept radical rightist. Keep her lies, scandals and hypocrisy in the media, but as a secondary storyline. In general, it might be wise to keep the eye on the ball and not get drawn into the petty newscycle battles that the McCain team wants to play on. I hate this phrase, but yes, it's the economy, stupid.
The Kool-Aid Drinkers keep saying trust the plan. And I guess I should.