Dividing a presidential convention between two cities — Minneapolis and Saint Paul — that are a half hour cab ride apart is a very good way to deflate enthusiasm and raw political energy, but tonight. . .finally. . .this convention woke up with a spark provided by former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani and then a powerful home run speech by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.
Expectations of Palin had been set so low by all of those who doubted her abilities and experience that perhaps any semi-competent talk would have done the trick, but clearly she was comfortable speaking powerfully to tens of millions on television and a packed stadium in St. Paul.
Substantively, I strongly disagreed with her tongue-in-cheek dismissal of Obama for wanting to stand by those who deserve to have their rights read to them in a way consistent with democracy. She portrayed herself as being a believer in liberty — distrustful of government, and then seemed to argue that some accused (possible terrorists) didn’t deserve the benefit of doubt that liberty promises and argued that an empowered government could judge who was evil and who was innocent without regard for basic human rights.
Palin talked a lot about fiscal responsibility, of sacking her chef, and selling former Senator and Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski’s state-provided luxury plane on EBay and wanting to bring those practices to Washington — but she mentioned nothing of the irresponsibility of waging the second most expensive war in American history with no regard to raising revenue to pay for it.
Like Bush and McCain and Cheney, Sarah Palin embraces war and lowering taxes. Suggesting that that is a fiscally responsible posture is neo-Orwellian.
Palin tried to build on the silly meme that Obama is somehow positioning himself as a modern Messiah:
What does he actually seek to accomplish, after he’s done turning back the waters and healing the planet? The answer is to make government bigger. . .
It is the government of George W. Bush that she and McCain are trying to succeed that has made the reach of government into people’s private lives the most extensive and invasive in modern history — and the size of government as measured by the gap between receipts and expenditures is also the largest in American experience.
Palin, like George W. Bush and Cheney, seems to think that by asserting falsehoods or juxtaposing contradictory goals like maintaining a large forward based troop presence in Iraq but keeping taxes from going up sells just fine to Americans.
She may be right. I think that in contrast to Obama — whose selection of Joe Biden was smart and important in shoring up the Obama Team’s gravitas — Palin has been set up by McCain to be a new kind of 21st century “saint.”
She has a large, seemingly wonderful family — juggles her home cooking with running a large state as its chief executive. She has a snow mobile racing husband who is a North Shore oilman and she tackles corrupt “lobbying interests” and their cozy deals with politicos wherever she goes.
It’s a great story on many levels. Her husband is even a member of the United Steel Workers. Faint applause on that line though.
But despite my substantive differences with Palin, this performance tonight beat expectations and moved her to a new level. Her competition at this incredibly flat, low energy confab in St. Paul is thin — so one could easily argue that she had a lot of room to pull off a success. But that is too cynical.
She did a great job — and stared her doubters and the challenge down.
There is much about Sarah Palin we don’t know yet. Unlike Biden and Obama, we didn’t get much time to have our own public vetting of her before McCain’s decision — so there will be more fits and starts and twists and turns as other parts of her life are dredged up, over-analyzed, and judged by the American public.
But this is going to be very close race, particularly if nothing new and surprising shows up on Palin.
What no one will say just yet — but which I think the McCain folks tried to convey is that “Saint Sarah” just made her real debut in Saint Paul.
— Steve Clemons