In the wake of the economic news, polls have tightened, but the most telling indicator of the direction of the election is the decline of PDS, "Palin Derangement Syndrome." The media has lost interest in playing "gotcha" because they largely realize that not only does Sarah not know anything about the current economic situation, but neither do they. Economic events have sucked all the air out of the room, and while many will complain that Obama does not have a great handle on the economic situation, it's above all clear that McCain is completely lost. His game plan - to crow about Iraq and scare us a bit about Iran - is in the dumpster. He has already admitted he doesn't know anything about the economy, and it's clear that this admission was the straightest talk we've gotten from him in quite some time.
Sarah's brief spot in the bright white glare and the bump in the polls that she induced did show that the path to Republican victory largely remains where it has been since the days of Nixon (read Pearlstein's Nixonland for some insight here): stoking resentments of lower- and middle-class white voters in the heartland against the eggheads in the big cities. Frankly, the eggheads walked clumsily and willingly right into the trap that McCain had set for them by naming Palin, showing that the strategy had legs (no pun intended). Deriding small town losers who believe in God and shoot guns is not the best strategy when you're trying to win a few counties in western Pennsylvania and southern Ohio. However, it's clear that other than stoking resentment, the Republican well is empty and the Democratic well is at least half full. It will be enough to win the election, if barely. While the Democrats will celebrate a victory, smarter heads should worry why it was so close in the first place.
A question remains: can either party move beyond either its Politics of Resentment or its Politics of Condescension? One of "my students," Matthew Sitman, has written a very fine essay on the need for conservatives to move beyond the narrow and caustic prejudices that often motivate the Politics of Resentment. The Left needs its own Sitman to encourage its better angels to move beyond the Politics of Condescension (a new Christopher Lasch, frankly). I predict that whichever party is able to do this in a genuine way will put together a winning coalition that will have legs for a good while. Obama will win mainly because he's not a Republican. That will not be enough to give any staying power to the Democratic coalition. To do so, Obama will either need to resist all his basic instincts and impulses to talk down to bitter people who cling to guns and religion, or the Democrats will have to come up with a better gameplan and a different candidate (Jim Webb, anyone?). The Republicans - perhaps blessed with some years in the wilderness - may have the benefit of thinking their way forward without the burden of ruling during some very challenging times. They have good talent in the minor league system with Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, Yuval Levin, crunchies, and the likes of Matt Sitman, and some good potential younger candidates like Palin and Jindal. I don't see any corresponding strength in the Democratic minor league system - particulary in moving past the Politics of Condescension. Still, at the moment there is a populace without a Party. Game on.