10/04/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

RNC Day Three: Palin's Provocations

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

11:44 pm CDT -- Palin's speech was essentially a provocation: an invitation to get us so hopping mad that we can't respond responsibly; to incite us into such pure fury that fury is the only thing we can think; that we want next-to-the-bone red meat torn from the thigh of some Republican gazelle. It's a speech designed to turn off the censoring functions of our frontal lobes, and leave us gibbering freaks lusting for the blood of the GOP faithful.

"Al Quaeda terrorists are planning to inflict catastrophic harm on America and he wants to read them their rights."

McCain was the lone Republican objector to Guantanamo; the Republican maverick who had the integrity to stand solid against waterboarding... for a while.

And that's how we're meant to respond. We are being asked to let loose our bile. We are being asked to unleash bruising invective at the war hero. We are being asked to tear into shreds this man who served.

"I guess that a small town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities."

They are getting us now. Frothing at the mouth, furious beyond all comprehension that this woman, this PTA member, this semi-charming forty-something with no obvious qualifications is tearing into a man who dealt with actual hardship. This woman who grew up in small town America tearing apart someone who dealt with the horrors and impossible difficulties of our cities. We are pounding our feet on the floor, we are crushing one hand in the other in frustration.

"In politics there are some politicians who use change to promote their careers and then there are some politicians, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change."

And now we're gone. My uncle, a peaceful guy, starts fuming. "Geothermal, solar... It was the Republicans who cancelled all of that." I am ready to punch something. Oh and, wait, here comes her adorable daughter. Isn't she cute? Yes. Now back to fury. The speech ends. Was it energizing? Yes. We are energized, livid, ready to throttle something, anything.

Thankfully, we get a night to sleep on this. Because it is precisely what the RNC has designed the speech to do. That contrast between the kind mother with 'good character' and the infuriated liberals yelling about something or other is the goal. Because in this age of televised argument they way that you say something is frequently as important as what you say. And every time we get some hopping mad liberal on television arguing that she misrepresented Obama's tax position we look bad. If we really screw it up, we look bad and we talk about tax policy.

It's hard to say that the politics of this country were ever about truth. To be sure, our second president felt so oppressed by calumny that he approved the Federalist congress' passing of the Alien and Sedition acts. Adams' legally sanctioned silencing the opposition and I doubt there is anyone with strong feelings watching either convention who hasn't felt the same urge at some point.

There has been no time in the history of free speech that political opponents haven't felt the temptation to exaggerate or distort one another's positions. But I wouldn't be a Democrat or a progressive if I didn't feel a touch of fury every four years when I hear the Republican talking points. You just want the pundits to stand in a room together, without microphones, and not get any food until they can all admit what is obvious to each of them. Palin is a gutsy choice, but hardly thought of international affairs until last week. Obama is new to this game, but is smart as a whip and starving to be the next great presidential hope. McCain is/was a maverick, but he's contradicting the hell out of his past self. Biden is Biden. Honestly, we can't be bothered with his biography.

But that's not going to happen, so the game continues to be about goading one another with half-truths, overstatements, and outright provocations in the hope that your opponent gets made and looks irrational. Let's hope McCain can rise above that tomorrow.