Jonathan Raban Finds Tea and Sympathy, and a Ramblin' Sarah Palin, in Nashville

She's the righty on the right - right?
As a Brit-American now from Seattle, author and journalist Jonathan Raban can probably be forgiven by his Lefty neighbors for paying his way to the Tea Party Convention in Nashville and then, for crying out loud, enjoying it. After all, he wasn't smitten by Sarah Palin, now a parody within a parody - Palin doing Tina Fey doing Palin - and it's likely The New York Review of Books reimbursed his expenses, anyway. Besides, who doesn't have quarrels with big government, as Raban says he does, "especially on the matter of mass surveillance, warrantless wiretapping, and the rest, and I counted on my libertarian streak to give me sufficient common ground with my fellow tea partiers."

He saw a convention, and crowd, different from the one most Americans viewed, trimmed down for a TV screen and time slot, though TPers seem to have a shared view of Left Coasters: "When I presented my Washington State driver's license at the registration desk," Raban writes, "the volunteer said, 'Thank you for coming all this way to help save our country,' then, looking at the license more closely, 'Seattle--you got a lot of liberals there.' I accepted his condolences." But his take on the beloved Palin absolved him of that line:

From the start, she struck me as off-form, speaking too hurriedly, sometimes jumbling the words in her script, saying that "Alaska" was a beacon of hope to the world (she meant to say "America"), and generally using a tone of voice and style of delivery that seemed too low-key for the size of the audience in the ballroom. Whoever writes Palin's speeches now is clearly not a patch on Matthew Scully, her speechwriter on the 2008 campaign. This speech lacked structure, memorability, and direction. Its best bits were Palin's slaps at Obama, like "How's that hopey-changey stuff workin' out for ya?" Most of it was a rambling tour d'horizon of policy issues--national security, defense, Iran, the economy, bailouts, and debt--on which Palin had little more to offer than humdrum remarks like, "So, folks, with all these serious challenges ahead, we've got private-sector job creation that has got to take place and economic woes and health care, the war on terror."

On his way out of the convention center, Raban adds, "I heard no one talking about how fired up they were by what they'd heard. In the elevator, a man said, 'She messed up some of her lines. She'd've been better with a teleprompter.'" When he watched the speech later on TV, Raban was surprised: "Her rapid, self-interrupting style of delivery was meant for the small screen where her jokes worked better, and her banalities about policy had the pitch of kitchen-table sounded a new note in her ever-surprising career: she was trying to find a 'presidential' voice, and this was her State of the Union." It was, apparently, great Tina Fey.

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