Sarah Palin’s Surge
September 5, 2008
Source: Wall Street Journal
By now nearly everyone in America knows that Sarah Palin described herself at the GOP convention Wednesday night as “just your average hockey mom.” She isn’t average anymore, though she can still throw a hip check. After a national political debut that ranks with Barack Obama’s in 2004 and Ronald Reagan’s in 1964, the Alaska Governor may be the future of the Republican Party.
With his nomination last night, John McCain is now the leader of the GOP (see here). But win or lose in November, Senator McCain has elevated Mrs. Palin to new prominence and jumbled Republican categories in a healthy way. The reaction at St. Paul’s Xcel Center—and the fascination around the country—shows how welcome this is.
For the past several years, the GOP has been caught in the malaise of what we have often called the Beltway status quo. As insurgents challenging Washington mores in the 1980s and 1990s, Republicans were the party of ideas and energy. But over time, as the Bush Presidency ran into trouble and the Tom DeLay Congress began to care most about its own re-election, the party lost its verve, even its raison d’etre.
On Wednesday, Governor Palin offered a new populist excitement, both as a messenger and in her message. By “messenger,” we aren’t merely referring to her gender, though that seems to be the preoccupation of the media. Her relative youth (44) and large family—complete with its many complications—were themselves a cultural statement. Though many in the media claim she was chosen because she appealed to the Christian right, Mrs. Palin never even raised the subject of abortion. She didn’t have to, since her youngest son, the one with special needs, is proof enough of her pro-life conviction.
The same goes for her record of challenging the powers that be in Alaska. With so many Republicans tainted by corruption, GOP voters have been aching for someone willing to challenge that business as usual. By all accounts, Mrs. Palin has done so in Alaska, and is popular for it. In the coming weeks, we’ll learn more about her Alaska record, and rightly so. Her governing record is fair—even essential—media game, in contrast to her daughter Bristol’s pregnancy.
It’s being said that in choosing Governor Palin, Mr. McCain was making a play for disaffected Hillary Clinton voters. Yet we heard just one line invoke women as a political issue, and then only in a positive sense: “This is America, and every woman can walk through every door of opportunity.” Our sense is that the Governor’s real political potential lies in her appeal to Reagan Democrats and Truman Republicans, voters Mr. McCain will need in November.
Mrs. Palin was certainly helped this week by the media contempt for her selection. The condescension has been so thick that it offended not just Republicans in St. Paul but others who may have tuned in Wednesday to see if she was as unqualified as Sally Quinn and David Frum said she was. Mrs. Palin’s refusal to be cowed is the kind of triumph over media disdain that most Americans relish.
No doubt the press corps—and Democrats—are anticipating that Mrs. Palin will be another Dan Quayle, who was a 41-year-old Senator when he was nominated for vice president in 1988. George H.W. Bush foresaw Senator Quayle as a similar reach across generations. But at the first sign of criticism, Mr. Bush’s advisers gave Mr. Quayle a paint-by-numbers speech and all but stuffed him into a trunk for the duration of the campaign. His reputation never recovered.
The McCain camp wisely let Mrs. Palin play the role of a traditional Vice Presidential candidate in attacking the opposition, and doing so in her own voice. Her dissection of Mr. Obama’s thin Presidential resume was as effective as anyone’s, all the more so because she could compare her own executive experience to the 47-year-old Senator’s.
We hope the campaign now resists any temptation to keep her under wraps. No doubt she will make mistakes on the stump, as everyone does, especially with an embarrassed press corps now looking for any what-is-the-capital-of-Laos-type mistake. But after this week, Mrs. Palin won’t be easy to dismiss as too small for the job.