Those are words we don’t hear very often. Well I got it very wrong in my most recent blog — not the arena part but the fireside. Impressed by the staging, I saw Sarah Palin’s chat as moment to be taken seriously, suggesting that we should not underestimate her. In fact, her chat bombed — big time. Why that’s so, is worth considering.
Let’s start with the Nixon rule. It’s not necessarily the crime but the cover-up that counts. So, it isn’t the event, but how that event reported, not the play but the reviews. Then there is context — a platform for compare and contrast. President Obama gave what some are calling his greatest speech. That may or may not be true (Philadelphia and Boston come to mind), but what I characterized perfect tone and the right message reflects the consensus review, which is what really matters. On the other hand, the atmospherics that struck me so at Palin’s fireside, turned out to be irrelevant. The combination of her defense (seen as personal peeve) and those two explosive words, blood libel, became the sole takeaway. Interviewed on NPR, James Fallows (The Atlantic) compared it to Muskie’s New Hampshire tears, Dean’s Iowa Scream and George Romney’s claim of having been brainwashed. How the press characterized these moments are said to have doomed three Presidential bids. He may be right. Again, I got this one wrong as, for that matter, did I the candidacy of Howard Dean. I thought he would win the nomination and said so in my blogs. Thankfully I was right about Barack Obama.
The now pretty universal assessment of Palin’s fireside chat may be summed up this way. Sarah Palin isn’t really a serious political leader; she simply plays one on Facebook. In a lightening speed environment, and with no substantive evidence yet that her base is defecting, it may be premature to write her political obituary, but for the moment that’s where she seems to stand. Palin has embraced the Internet as a way of controlling her message, speaking as it were over the heads of the press directly to the people. It’s a strategy that seems to have backfired.
In admitting that I was wrong, let me give a nod to Kathryn Schulz’ wonderful 2010 book Being Wrong. It’s one of best I’ve read in a long time and has heightened my awareness of how often we are wrong and perhaps more so how important it is to admit to it. Wrongness is a powerful teacher, one that can help us on the way to getting it right. In this case, I was wrong, and I’ll admit very happily so. I’ll go back to dismissing Palin.