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Palin Makes A First Impression

PALIN MAKES A FIRST IMPRESSION.... So, after all of the anticipation, how did Sarah Palin do in her first major speech to a national audience? I think, at this point, it's very clear that she's fully prepared ... to be the head of the Republican National Convention. I don't doubt for a second that she can step up on Day One ... to guest host for Rush Limbaugh.

But ready to be one heartbeat from the presidency?

Palin is, to be sure, a slick public speaker who exudes confidence. She is, in many ways, a natural -- with the kind of obvious political skills that most take years to develop. Palin's speech thrilled a Republican Party that's been moribund for quite a while. To that extend, a right-wing star is born. The conservative base wanted to adore her, and Palin gave them every reason to.

But ready to be one heartbeat from the presidency?

Judging a speech like this, it's probably best to consider the goals and the audience. Going into the speech, I expected Palin to try to connect to a mainstream audience, demonstrating competence, credibility, and readiness. She already enjoys the support of the GOP base; Palin has to work on convincing everyone else.

And yet, she (or, more accurately, the McCain campaign aides who wrote her speech) went in a different direction, aiming to shore up the party's base even more. Instead of seriousness, Palin went for biting and sarcastic partisanship. Instead of presenting herself as a trustworthy leader, Palin proved herself an attack-dog ideologue. Instead of answering questions about readiness, she answered questions about who she hates and how much. Palin not only steered clear of the concerns of swing voters, she practically thumbed her nose at them.

What's more, Palin did this with a striking dishonest speech, filled with the kind of obvious and transparent falsehoods that even half-way knowledgeable observers can debunk off the top of their heads. Palin didn't just lie, she lied brazenly, as if to say, "I don't care."

Palin did take time to introduce herself and talk a little about her background, but even this seemed to miss the point. She talked, for example, about helping run a small town and joining the PTA. What's wrong with this? Nothing, except when millions of people still have questions about your readiness to help lead a nation, and possibly serve as leader of the free world. She's not running for the office of likable right-wing neighbor; she's running for vice president.

When Palin managed to finally get to substance, it was, oddly enough, the weakest part of her speech. Yglesias noted that Palin's "understanding of the geopolitics of energy is every bit as daft as that of much more seasoned conservative pseudoexperts." Kevin added:

On a substantive level, I'd say the most preposterous part of her speech was on precisely the one topic she's supposed to be already well versed on: energy. Nothing she said made any sense at all. The amount of new oil we can drill in the United States is tiny, not large. Nothing we do on that front will have the slightest impact on either foreign producers or the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Iran doesn't control a fifth of the world's energy supply. And clean coal doesn't exist. It was just a farrago of nonsense from beginning to end.

Palin inspired hard-core conservatives when she needed to persuade everyone else. To that extent, last night's speech was a missed opportunity, if not an outright mistake.