Sarah Palin's speech to the Republican National Convention last night was a home run. A star was born. While the Obama campaign has attempted to disparage it by saying that it was written by a former George W. Bush speechwriter, Matthew Scully--and thus link it to the McCain=Bush meme that was one of the chief ideas thrust forward in their convention in Denver last week--it cannot be dismissed as such. Scully reportedly had written a generic draft that could have been used by whichever vice presidential candidate McCain had chosen. But once Palin was the choice, she and Scully reportedly worked together and produced a draft that was brilliantly designed to promote the McCain-Palin ticket, and not to look backwards and justify the Bush administration. This will surprise no one who knows the independent-minded Scully (who left the Bush team to write a book on the responsibility human beings have to animals) and a woman who was described, by Fred Thompson on Tuesday night, as the only major-party nominee, with the possible exception of Theodore Roosevelt, who knew how to field-dress a moose. According to accounts I heard, they worked together quite satisfactorily and produced a text that reflected the VP nominee's convictions and the ticket's political imperatives.
Helped along by ad libs. For the first few paragraphs, Palin seemed half as wooden as her fellow non-Lower 48 Gov. Linda Lingle had been. But then, after describing herself as a "hockey mom," Palin described the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull: "lipstick." From there on out she was entirely at ease, smiling and confident, not in the least bit nervous, smiling as she put the knife in the ribs of the other side and inspiring as, in her Midwestern accent (if I, as a native Midwesterner, can describe her Alaska accent that way), she hailed the leadership qualities of John McCain.
The speech itself was interwoven skillfully with themes that can work for the Republican ticket this year.
Attack the media. Democrats hate Republicans. Republicans dislike Democrats but hate the media. Palin, after the media have spent the last five days asking questions they never considered relevant, since the original National Enquirer stories 10 months ago, about John Edwards, said:
"And I've learned quickly, these past few days, that if you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone. But here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country."
Polls show that the public appreciates that mainstream media has been overwhelmingly biased toward Barack Obama and that they're actually sick of hearing how wonderful he is. The attack on the media was hugely popular in the hall but resonates far outside. I like to tell my Republican friends that the Constitution guarantees us a free press but not a fair one. The game is not on the level. Middle America knows this and identifies with Palin, not mainstream media (MSM).
Ridicule the secular religion of the Obamacrats. The eerie devotion of Obama's audiences is off-putting to many voters. "We are the change we are seeking": wonderful for believers, but weird for everyone else. Palin, always smiling, had lots of fun with this.
"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities. I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening. We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco"
On the New Republic blog, Michael Crowley makes the point that Republicans are relying on ridicule of the Obamacrats. Yes. Ridicule, because they seem to be part of a secular, quasi-religious cult, complete with speeches to enchanted masses and newly invented symbols (one of them wants everyone to join their hands over their heads in a giant "O"). This is in line with Al Gore's global warming legions: We have sinned, we must do penance, we must give up things (though not Gore's own humungous houses and private planes). Palin notices.
"I've noticed a pattern with our opponent. Maybe you have, too. We've all heard his dramatic speeches before devoted followers. And there is much to like and admire about our opponent. But listening to him speak, it's easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform--not even in the state Senate. This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting and never use the word 'victory' except when he's talking about his own campaign. But when the cloud of rhetoric has passed...when the roar of the crowd fades away...when the stadium lights go out, and those Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot--what exactly is our opponent's plan? What does he actually seek to accomplish, after he's done turning back the waters and healing the planet?"
Obamania appears weird to Middle America. Even as far away as Wasilla, Alaska.
This world of threats and dangers is not just a community, and it doesn't just need an organizer.
Contrast Obama's experience with McCain's. Rough stuff, from the viewpoint of MSM.
"In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers. And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change. They're the ones whose names appear on laws and landmark reforms, not just on buttons and banners, or on self-designed presidential seals. Among politicians, there is the idealism of high-flown speechmaking, in which crowds are stirringly summoned to support great things. And then there is the idealism of those leaders, like John McCain, who actually do great things. They're the ones who are good for more than talk...the ones we have always been able to count on to serve and defend America....
"He's a man who's there to serve his country, and not just his party. A leader who's not looking for a fight but is not afraid of one either. Harry Reid, the majority leader of the current do-nothing Senate, not long ago summed up his feelings about our nominee. He said, quote, 'I can't stand John McCain.' Ladies and gentlemen, perhaps no accolade we hear this week is better proof that we've chosen the right man."
Note the use of the word "accolade." It came naturally to her. It's not a word you hear when friends run into each other at the mall in Wasilla. But she used it without hesitation or pretension. From somewhere or another, she has developed a strong command of the English language--something that that the Ivy League/Hyde Park-Kenwood apparat around Obama and MSM don't expect but need to be on the lookout for.
"And though both Senator Obama and Senator Biden have been going on lately about how they are always, quote, 'fighting for you,' let us face the matter squarely."
"There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you...in places where winning means survival and defeat means death...and that man is John McCain. In our day, politicians have readily shared much lesser tales of adversity than the nightmare world in which this man, and others equally brave, served and suffered for their country. It's a long way from the fear and pain and squalor of a 6-by-4 cell in Hanoi to the Oval Office. But if Senator McCain is elected president, that is the journey he will have made.... It's the journeyof an upright and honorable man--the kind of fellow whose name you will find on war memorials in small towns across this country, only he was among those who came home.
"To the most powerful office on Earth, he would bring the compassion that comes from having once been powerless...the wisdom that comes even to the captives, by the grace of God...the special confidence of those who have seen evil, and seen how evil is overcome. A fellow prisoner of war, a man named Tom Moe of Lancaster, Ohio, recalls looking through a pin-hole in his cell door as Lieutenant Commander John McCain was led down the hallway, by the guards, day after day.
"As the story is told, 'When McCain shuffled back from torturous interrogations, he would turn toward Moe's door and flash a grin and thumbs up'--as if to say, 'We're going to pull through this.' My fellow Americans, that is the kind of man America needs to see us through these next four years. For a season, a gifted speaker can inspire with his words. For a lifetime, John McCain has inspired with his deeds."
Pretty powerful stuff.
Unserious in the war against terrorists. Palin noted, as Rudy Giuliani had in speaking before her, that at the Democratic National Convention almost no one had spoken of the threat of Islamist terrorism. The assumption seemed to be that if we would just be emollient, there would be no threat. Palin would have none of that.
"The[Democratic] answer is to...reduce the strength of America in a dangerous world. America needs more energy...our opponent is against producing it. Victory in Iraq is finally in sight...he wants to forfeit. Terrorist states are seeking nuclear weapons without delay...he wants to meet them without preconditions. Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America...he's worried that someone won't read them their rights?"
Evangelical language, but no concentration on abortion or other cultural issues. As I was leaving the convention, a liberal reporter noted something I didn't notice: that Palin made little reference to abortion and other cultural issues (and, though he didn't mention it, none to same-sex marriage). Instead, she spoke in coded language. "But we are expected to govern with integrity, good will, clear convictions, and...a servant's heart." But she didn't have to talk about these issues. She's lived them. She gave birth to a son with Down's syndrome she could easily have aborted. She has endorsed her 17-year-old daughter's decision to give birth to a child conceived out of wedlock. She and, on the airport tarmac, John McCain embraced the father of the child. Liberal MSM journalists imagine that evangelical Christians cast out girls who have become pregnant without being married. Factually wrong: They provide counseling and support to them. And, as Sarah and Todd Palin's statement shows, tell them that they will have to grow up and take on responsibilities sooner than they expected. The convention is cool with that. MSM has been trying to spin it as intolerance. They don't understand. But the viewing public sees religious conservatives with a happy face.
Against special interests. Change is the Obama campaign's theme. Here, Palin annexes it:
"This was the spirit that brought me to the governor's office, when I took on the old politics as usual in Juneau...when I stood up to the special interests, the lobbyists, big oil companies, and the good-ol' boys network. Sudden and relentless reform never sits well with entrenched interests and power brokers. That's why true reform is so hard to achieve. But with the support of the citizens of Alaska, we shook things up. And in short order, we put the government of our state back on the side of the people. I came to office promising major ethics reform, to end the culture of self-dealing. And today, that ethics reform is the law. While I was at i, I got rid of a few things in the governor's office that I didn't believe our citizens should have to pay for. That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay. I also drive myself to work. And I thought we could muddle through without the governor's personal chef--although I've got to admit that sometimes my kids sure miss her. I came to office promising to control spending--by request if possible, and by veto if necessary."
Governors running for national office tend to frame their records in the most favorable light, and MSM will be on the lookout for discrepancies between Palin's narrative and the truth. My sense is that they will be pretty marginal.
Energy issues. I think this, aside from her maverick reputation, is what most attracted McCain to Palin--more than the fact that she is a woman.
"I fought to bring about the largest private-sector infrastructure project in North American history. And when that deal was struck, we began a nearly $40 billion natural gas pipeline to help lead America to energy independence. That pipeline, when the last section is laid and its valves are opened, will lead America one step farther away from dependence on dangerous foreign powers that do not have our interests at heart."
Alaska governors, unlike those of the other 49 states (not 56 or 57 or 58, as Barack Obama would have it), have to deal with energy issues of national and international significance. Production in the North Slope oil fields has been declining, even as giant quantities of natural gas have to be pumped back into the ground for lack of a pipeline. Palin has spent much of her governorship on getting such a pipeline built, bucking the big oil companies on the terms and negotiating with Canadian federal, provincial, and Inuit authorities. She also seems to have a sense, despite her lack of foreign travel, of the worldwide reverberations of energy issues.
"With Russia wanting to control a vital pipeline in the Caucasus, and to divide and intimidate our European allies by using energy as a weapon, we cannot leave ourselves at the mercy of foreign suppliers. To confront the threat that Iran might seek to cut off nearly a fifth of world energy supplies...or that terrorists might strike again at the Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia...or that Venezuela might shut off its oil deliveries...we Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas. And take it from a gal who knows the North Slope of Alaska: We've got lots of both. Our opponents say, again and again, that drilling will not solve all of America's energy problems--as if we all didn't know that already. But the fact that drilling won't solve every problem is no excuse to do nothing at all.
"Starting in January, in a McCain-Palin administration, we're going to lay more pipelines...build more nuclear plants...create jobs with clean coal...and move forward on solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative sources. We need American energy resources, brought to you by American ingenuity and produced by American workers."
This is powerful stuff and far beyond the quasi-religious imprecations we heard at the Democratic National Convention that wind and solar power can solve all our problems. There's even a possibility that Palin can change McCain's mind on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Economic issues. Some traditional Republican grist here:
"Government is too big...he [Obama] wants to grow it. Congress spends too much...he promises more. Taxes are too high...he wants to raise them. His tax increases are the fine print in his economic plan, and let me be specific. The Democratic nominee for president supports plans to raise income taxes...raise payroll taxes...raise investment income taxes...raise the death tax...raise business taxes...and increase the tax burden on the American people by hundreds of billions of dollar. My sister Heather and her husband have just built a service station that's now opened for business--like millions of others who run small businesses. How are they going to be any better off if taxes go up? Or maybe you're trying to keep your job at a plant in Michigan or Ohio...or create jobs with clean coal from Pennsylvania or West Virginia...or keep a small farm in the family right here in Minnesota. How are you going to be better off if our opponent adds a massive tax burden to the American economy?"
This is the argument against Herbert Hoover's policy of higher taxes on high earners in an economic slowdown. Who wants to say Sarah Palin is a lightweight now?
By Michael Barone