When you ask Barack Obama’s admirers what they like most about him, they will typically mention his personality traits rather than offer specifics about the president’s policies. But to point out to them that, in terms of policy, Obama isn’t that different from most other conventional Democrats — or even that different from George W. Bush — does little to dissuade the president’s most ardent champions. And any failure on Obama’s part to live up to liberal ideals does little to change the president’s current status as liberalism personified.

Sarah Palin is the Republican version of Obama. When you ask her admirers what they like most about the former Alaska governor, they will typically mention her personality traits before offering any specifics about her policies. But to point out that Palin’s actual politics aren’t that different from most other conventional Republicans or that they are, in some ways, not much different from Obama’s, does little to dissuade her most ardent champions. And any failure to live up to conservative ideals fails to change Palin’s popular status as conservatism personified.

Obama and Palin represent opposing versions of the same identity politics. Based primarily on personality, love, or hatred for the other, it is politics driven primarily by emotion, not logic. If you don’t believe me, try telling an Obama-loving Democrat that he is no different from a Palin-loving Republican or vice versa. Even the soundest reasoning will do little to quell the forthcoming rage.

And it was precisely this sort of partisan rage that fueled the anti-Palin backlash in the wake of the recent Arizona shooting. In attacking Palin’s midterm election television commercials in which a bull’s-eye graphic was placed over vulnerable swing-state districts, her critics ignored the fact that “targeting” politicians for electoral defeat has never been considered controversial nor has it been viewed as being beyond the pale. This is conventional political speech used by both parties for ages.

But for the sake of argument, even if such speech was irresponsible, what evidence do we have that the alleged gunman was influenced by or even admired Palin in any way? Little to none. In fact, last week, The New York Times reported that Jared Lee Loughner’s “anger would well up at the sight of President George W. Bush,” making the gunman sound more like a liberal Democrat — if it’s even proper to label a mentally disturbed man using conventional political terminology.

So why the focus on Palin? Why is there so much discussion about a conversation not even worth having? Because liberals now project everything they hate about the GOP, the Tea Party, and conservatives onto Palin. This time the longstanding hatred became so ferocious that it also became blinding, resulting in accusations that were completely baseless.

I dislike Obama because of his big-government policies, which are in large part an even more ambitious continuation of the last Republican president’s agenda. I dislike Palin because her rhetoric is primarily sound bites and catchphrases, making it hard to imagine that she possesses a genuinely sound conservative philosophy to substantively refute and reject the same big-government policies. Palin also seems willing to ignore the conservative hypocrisy that ruined the Bush presidency and Republican Party, increasing the chance that perhaps she would also be willing to endure another round of it if elected president. This simply will not do.

That Obama is charismatic does not excuse his horrible policies, and that Palin is cute or charming does not excuse her less-than-comprehensive conservative politics. Palin is the Republicans’ Obama, Obama is the Democrats’ Palin, and this ongoing triumph of style over substance continues to reveal the unfortunate nature of identity politics.

Today such nonsense is what dominates American political discourse. Turning to many of the many television news outlets over the past few weeks, viewers were overwhelmed with stories or conversations about the need to tone down the vitriol and hatred in American politics, and yet by far the most vitriolic hatred was being generated by the media and directed toward Palin.

The same liberals who rightly bemoan the over-the-top Tea Party signs depicting the president as a communist or fascist dictator were no less over-the-top in their denunciations of the former governor, most implying that Palin was somehow responsible for the Arizona tragedy. In ridiculing conservatives obsessed with absurd nonissues like Obama showing “weakness” by bowing to foreign heads of state or the president’s supposed lack of a birth certificate, the Left loves to point out that the Right’s hatred for this president occasionally knows no bounds.

But liberals, in their hatred for conservatives, have proven that they are no different.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.