"Sarah Palin is not just a problem for Barack Obama. She is also a symptom of what ails him.
Before Palin, Obama was the ultimate celebrity candidate. Obama's meteoric rise was based not on issues but on narrative, on eloquence, on charisma.
The unease at the Denver convention, the feeling of buyer's remorse, was the Democrats' realization that the arc of Obama's celebrity had peaked — and had now entered a period of its steepest decline. That Palin could so instantly steal the celebrity spotlight is a reflection of that decline.
It was inevitable. Obama had managed to stay aloft for four full years. But no one can levitate forever.
Five speeches map Obama's trajectory.
Obama burst into celebrityhood with his brilliant and moving 2004 Democratic convention speech (#1). It turned an obscure state senator into a national figure and legitimate presidential candidate.
His next and highest moment (#2) was the night of his Iowa caucus victory when he gave an equally stirring speech of the highest tones that dazzled a national audience just tuning in.
The problem is that Obama began believing in his own magical powers.
Which gave the Obama campaign a cult-like tinge. With every primary and every repetition of the high-flown, self-referential rhetoric, the campaign's insubstantiality became clear. By the time it was repeated yet again on the night of the last primary (#3), the tropes were tired and flat.
To top himself, Obama had to reach. Hence his triumphal declaration that history would note that night, his victory, his ascension, as "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."
Clang. But Obama heard only the cheers of the invited crowd. Not yet seeing how the pseudo-messianism was wearing thin, he did Berlin (#4) and finally jumped the shark. That grandiloquent proclamation of universalist puffery popped the bubble. The grandiosity had become bizarre.
Finally, the Obama people understood. Which is why the next data point (#5) is so different. Obama's Denver acceptance speech was deliberately pedestrian, State-of-the-Union-ish, programmatic and only briefly lyrical.
The problem, however, was that Obama had announced the Invesco Field setting for the speech during the pre-Berlin flush of hubris. They were stuck with the Greek columns, the circus atmosphere, the rock star fireworks farewell. The incongruity between text and context was apparent. Obama was trying to make himself ordinary — and serious — but could hardly remember how.
One star fades, another is born. The next morning McCain picks Sarah Palin, and a new celebrity is launched.
But her job is easier. She only has to remain airborne for seven more weeks."