Will Sarah Palin Talk About Paychecks or Flags Tonight?

The economic problems are real, but will they trump patriotism and national security?


I've watched 1.5 conventions, seen two vice presidential nominees bound to the stage, and heard historic speeches from Barack Obama, Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin.

But the words that keep dancing to the fore of my political reasoning don't come from any address, or platform, or remarks.

They are about the economy. And they come from an analysis of a respected " Battleground" poll, conducted in August by a bipartisan group of pollsters.

The poll showed the presidential race tied, but that is old news now. What struck me were these words from the Republican pollsters.

Among the voters polled, "nearly half (46%) have either dealt with a job loss for either themselves (9%) or a friend (8%), family member (20%), coworker (1%), or a combination thereof."

Said the GOP pollsters: "This is a staggering figure and reinforces the view that this economy is not just an anxiety economy, but an economy where many are experiencing real loss."

In other words, we are not a bunch of whiners griping about a psychological recession, as Phil Gramm so famously said, before being dismissed as John McCain's economic wizard.

Gramm may (or may not) be gone, but it certainly looks as if his viewpoint lingers on in the Republican ranks. I have been waiting for the GOP speakers in St. Paul to shift from biography to economics, and so far they're not doing it.

As the New York Times noted, Obama and Joe Biden raised this lapse in separate appearances in Ohio and Florida today.

According to the Times, they . . .

. . . seized on a remark by Senator John McCain's campaign manager to portray Republicans as divorced from the concerns of middle class Americans. They noted that the campaign manager, Rick Davis, said on Tuesday that the election is "not about issues" and suggested that it was a contest based on character and biography.

"Not about issues?" Mr. Biden asked incredulously at an appearance in Fort Myers, Fla. "Well, let me tell ya. That means to them that this election is not about whether or not you're able to scrape up the tuition money to send your kid to college. It's not about whether or not you're going to fill up your gas tank."

He spoke of the economic insecurities of working Americans, including high home foreclosure rates in Florida and across the nation and the rising cost of health insurance everywhere.

"In my neighborhood, where I come from, that's an issue," Mr. Biden said. He then said that Mr. McCain—the man he refers to as "my good friend John"—may be a war hero and a great colleague, but he is out of touch with the concerns of most Americans and thus not suited to the presidency.

"You can have the best personality in the world, you can have the greatest character in the world," Mr. Biden said, "but if you're not going to give me a fighting chance to be able to keep my job, I love you but I don't want you as my president"

Here in Ohio, Mr. Obama declared, "The truth of the matter is the other party and John McCain don't get it."

Perhaps, with a candidate who can't recall how many homes he owns and delegates who look so prosperous, the Republicans are simply out of touch.

Perhaps, as Robert Samuelson posits in the Washington Post this morning, it's because white America (which votes) isn't faring as badly, overall, as its immigrant population (which doesn't).

Or perhaps, as pollster Stan Greenburg's research in Macomb County, Mich., shows, its because— absent a compelling economic pitch from Democrats—patriotism and national security are the default values when working-class families decide how to vote.

One of Obama's top goals in Denver was to make this compelling pitch on the economy—to show the famous "Reagan Democrats" of Macomb County and other working- and middle-class communities that he is the one who is on their side, and that it's the elitist Republicans who don't care.

Obama, and the Democrats, made their case. But in the stormy winds of hurricanes Gustav and Sarah, it's hard to see, with certainty, if the gains he made will last.

And maybe Palin will launch the GOP counterattack ("She's one of us!") tonight.