September 4, 2008
In her speech in St. Paul last night, Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin scored a huge triumph, giving a much-needed spark of life to the Grand Old Party. Subjected to intense, prime-time national media scrutiny for the first time in her career, she hardly batted an eye as she simultaneously tackled several crucial objectives.
First, she spoke about the personal and moral issues that concern her the most, such as the struggles of family life in this modern world and the right to life. The self-described "hockey mom" reassured the social conservative element in the Republican Party that John McCain values their support and wants to advance their causes. Gov. Palin has single-handedly done more to repair the breach among factions in the Republican Party and restore a sense of united purpose than anyone else could have done.
Second, Gov. Palin showed she is, one on hand, tough as nails and unapologetic about her convictions. Nobody is going to push her around on the campaign trail! Yet she is also quite clearly sincere about what she says, not a shrill or prudish moral pontificator. The fact that she is fundamentally decent as a human being greatly enhances her ability to reach out to skeptical undecided voters. Her personal character shines like a beacon, multiplying her abilities as a communicator. Her ability to make important points about major policy issues in a way that average Americans can relate to is a tremendous asset for John McCain, who is widely admired but is somewhat lacking in terms of personal rapport with the masses.
For me, the best part about Gov. Palin's speech was her emphasis on the need for reforming the Washington political establishment and resisting pressure from lobbyists who work for special interest groups. She won't kowtow to inside-the-Beltway elites or media poohbahs. Her own background as someone who fought corruption and stood up to political cronies shows that, for her, reform is more than just words, it means putting your reputation on the line on behalf of the public interest. These days, there just aren't many politicians willing to take that kind of risk. She is the perfect complement to John McCain's "Maverick," crusading for greater transparency and responsiveness in government and a renewed sense of public spiritedness in America.
Finally, Gov. Palin had some of the best rhetorical putdowns since Lloyd Bentsen made Dan Quayle look three feet tall in 1988. "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities," (See Washington Post.) WOW! Take that, Barack Obama! She certainly made people (like me) who grew up in small towns feel proud. There were a lot more zingers almost as good as that one, but she kept her good humor, avoiding a strident or partisan tone. Like the Hall and Oates song, "Sarah, Smile!"
In sum, even though there may still be some questions about her preparedness to serve as vice president, Sarah Palin left no doubt whatsoever about her command of the basic issues and her effectiveness as a campaigner. She's not perfect, but from a Republican perspective, she is as close to perfect as a vice presidential candidate as anyone could be. The biggest danger for the Republicans is that she might upstage the guy who picked her! We can now look forward to a lively, upbeat fall campaign by the Republican team as Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin take their case for reforming Washington to the American people. With less than nine weeks to go until the November 4 election, things are really looking up for our side.
On the other hand, there are some naysayers. Dyed-in-the-wool Democrats such as WaPo's Richard Cohen and Eugene Robinson could be expected to regard Palin with a cynical, jaundiced eye, so their opinions don't count for much. The same thing could perhaps be said of conservative banner-wavers such as Rush Limbaugh, who was -- rightfully -- ecstatic at McCain's choice. Among critical-minded conservatives, NYT columnist David Brooks worried that Palin shares McCain's "tendency to substitute a moral philosophy for a political philosophy," lacking a clear structure to guide his policy agenda and direct the vast Federal government bureaucracy toward a clear goal. See Instapundit. Indeed, such reliance on ad hoc criteria could result in policy incoherence, as was the case in the early phase of the Clinton administration. Much will depend on who McCain picks as his top advisers and White House chief of staff.
I missed the annual Labor Day parade in [Buena Vista*]
Lexington, but Steve Kijak was there and posted a bunch of photos of the evet at RightsideVA. It sounds like there was a lot of dust flying, as Jim Gilmore taunted Mark Warner over his refusal to debate as previously planned. Maybe Mark Warner is getting over-confident about winning the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by John Warner...
[* Hey, those two towns are practically right next to each other.]