So this is how it's going to be.
If you believe the chest-thumping coming from the McCain camp and its cadre of surrogates this morning, Sarah Palin hit it out of the park -- or at the very least, the Xcel Center -- last night in St. Paul. They're saying she killed when she mocked, in contemptuous fashion, Barack Obama's community service roots; they claim she silenced her critics by expressing solidarity with the nation's concerned and angry mothers, portraying herself as a "pit bull in lipstick" who could take any kind of heat; at the risk of mixing sports metaphors, they're smugly insisting that she put the Republican Party back in the game by throwing open the playbook of races past and pulling out an oldie-but-goodie that's never failed to bring the crowd to its feet and the base to the ballot box.
Call it the "Us vs. Them" end run.
Last night Sarah Palin -- and for that matter, most of the other Republican heavies who took the podium -- dropped all pretense of making the 2008 race for the White House about issues, choosing instead to do what the GOP does best these days: pander to the absolute lowest common denominator. Palin cast this election as nothing less than a "battle for survival," telling the frenzied crowd that "defeat means death." She dug out of the ground and whipped the corpse of the Republican base's oldest and most tired nemesis: the "liberal media," which the McCain campaign insists has unfairly savaged Palin and her family, but which, ironically, gave John McCain a free ride for so long. But best of all, and maybe most importantly when it comes to winning elections, Palin audaciously held her party up as underdogs, battling valiantly against subjugation at the hands of -- you guessed it -- the "elite."
"In small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening. We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco," she sarcastically seethed at one point, emphasizing those divisive buzzwords -- "small towns," "San Francisco" -- that act as a subliminal trigger to NASCAR America that its simple way of life is under attack from overeducated outsiders.
And if you don't think this kind of crass misdirection works -- this brand of ridiculous, over-the-top fear-mongering aimed at keeping the culture war alive and well -- just look at the last eight years.
Here's the thing though, and this needs to be said: from what we witnessed last night, this election isn't about red and blue, black and white or small town and big city. Despite the subtle innuendoes and outright cries of Palin and the Republicans, none of these things is in competition during this race.
More than ever -- really, ever -- the race for the office of President of the United States is about smart and dumb.
Sarah Palin may have scored a barnburner last night, preaching to the converted by heaping scorn upon the fact that Barack Obama has authored two books -- which only to the Stuckey's night managers that make up so much of the Republican shock troops would seem like a liability. But it doesn't change the fact that she still has no business being anywhere near the White House; she simply isn't qualified, and her I'm-just-a-hockey-mom routine last night only proved it further. Honestly, it would take an idiot to want someone who spoke as if she was running for PTA chairwoman to be placed in the second highest office in the free world, directly under a 72-year-old cancer survivor. Unfortunately though, that's exactly the voting bloc the Republicans are counting on to give them another four years in the White House after these disastrous eight: Idiots. John McCain and Sarah Palin have nothing new, no groundbreaking or landmark ideas to bring to the table, so they're falling back on standard operating procedure: rile up the ignorant; complain about the dangers of people who actually think -- the "elite"; bitch about mistreatment at the hands of the right's most necessary boogeyman -- the so-called liberal media; complain, accuse, repeat. It's bullshit political theater, with the average American used as a stage prop to keep the oligarchic fat-cats of the GOP firmly in power.
As for those who say that Sarah Palin has more "executive experience" than a Barack Obama or a Joe Biden -- that claim reinforces the need for clearer, better thinking this time around. The reality is that Palin is trying to portray "small town" chutzpah as a substitute for education, intellectual curiosity and basic, well, smarts. Obama is quite possibly the most thoughtful, erudite and analytical political candidate I've seen in my lifetime; call him "elite" -- which the last time I checked was a compliment -- all you want, he's smart. He gets it. The same can be said about Joe Biden.
As for McCain and Palin?
The former is a very bright man who -- and I'm not kidding here -- may be showing major signs of cognitive deterioration as he pushes into his 70s; the latter believes the world is 6,000 years old. (And for the record, I don't care whether you believe in a hereafter or a benevolent supreme being -- if you seriously think that the world is 6,000 years old, standing in defiance of a truth that's been proven over and over again, you're a moron and I don't want you having any sort of say in my life beyond how quickly I get my Chicken McNuggets.)
And this is what it's come down to. They've drawn the battle lines and all that's left now is for the rest of us to choose which side we're on -- because they've seen to it that there is no middle-ground.
You're with us or you're with the idiots.
You're smart or stupid.
You either want your leaders to use their brains or you align yourself with the ones who would play the role of the dumb jocks mocking those who dare to think as being a bunch of effete wimps who can't be trusted.
You vote for great minds or for people who don't just devalue great minds but demonize them.
Sarah Palin was right about one thing last night: This is a battle for survival, but defeat doesn't mean death -- it means dumb.
I don't know about you, but I don't want the two most powerful people in the free world to be a couple of folks I'd just like to sit down and have a beer with; I want them to be fucking super heroes -- sharper, stronger and wiser than I could ever hope to be. They have the weight of the world on their shoulders; I want to never have to worry that they won't be able to carry it.
But that's my choice.
Now it's your turn.
Where do you stand?