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The Passion of Palin

POSTED: September 04, 2008, 12:00 am

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Republican Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska unleashed a full throttle attack upon the Democratic ticket during her vice presidential nomination speech last night before a cheering partisan crowd in the Xcel Center in St. Paul Minneapolis. A surprise pick by Senator John McCain to be his running mate, Palin sought to beat back critics, some within her own party, who questioned whether a relative unknown from a remote state was up to the task of being positioned as next in line for the Oval Office. The choice of Palin has been analyzed as an appeal to women voters but is more likely a pitch to the party’s hard right, evangelical Christian base.

If there were any doubts about Governor Palin’s ability to play hardball they were quickly dismissed as she launched into a blistering critique of Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama and his running mate Senator Joe Biden. Using a combination of humor and sarcasm, Palin had the Republican delegates on their feet as she mocked her rivals and sought to belittle criticism of her own candidacy. In one speech she managed to lump together political pundits, “the media,” and her Democratic opponents as elites, out of touch with regular Americans. Following the Republican script, Palin played to the patriotic theme and began her speech pointing out that her oldest son is about to be deployed with an Army infantry unit to Iraq and a nephew who us already serving in the Navy. Both references brought cheers from the delegates.

A self described “hockey mom,” Palin sought to weave a homespun story about the simplicity of Alaskan living and her own rise from PTA member to small town mayor to the governorship. In many ways here speaking style is reminiscent of southern politicians from a bygone era, absent the obvious twang. Palin delighted in positioning herself as a “plain Jane” and gleefully rejected what she described as the “permanent political establishment.” She painted herself an “Everywoman,” and insisted “Here’s a little newsflash for 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 great country.”

Still, it was Governor Palin’s attacks on the Obama-Biden ticket that set the crowd on fire. What was remarkable was the mocking tone that she took in criticizing her opponents given the fact that before Wednesday at best her name was a question on Jeopardy. Still, Palin wasted no time in making it known that she was prepared to engage in hand-to-hand combat with her opponents. Her first volley came when she took aim at Senator Obama, stating, “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’re listening and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren’t listening,’’ a sign that the McCain team was preparing to drag out sound bites from the bitterly fought primary contest between Senator Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton. From that point on it was all “lock and load” for the self-professed gun loving, NRA member.

Governor Palin confronted the critique of her qualifications head on, comparing her experience with not the Democratic vice presidential nominee, her direct opponent, but with the top of the Democratic ticket, Senator Obama. “I guess,” Palin chimed, “a small town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities.” She went on to take a swipe at the Obama campaign theme of “change” by suggesting “…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.” It was just one of many lines that Governor Palin used in a very dismissive way to belittle the Obama candidacy. If nothing else, Palin sent a clear message to the party faithful that the gloves were coming off during the fall campaign season.

As a preemptive strike against expected Democratic attacks tying the GOP corporate interests, Palin also claimed her work as governor put her at odds against oil companies that, through their lobbyists, were attempting to monopolize the energy supply. It allowed her to claim awareness of the nation’s energy crisis while also trying to gain credibility on foreign policy by tying in Russia, Iran and Venezuela in her description of the challenges the nation faces.

Governor Palin also teed up the convention delegates for Senator McCain’s nomination acceptance speech on Thursday night by playing up the Arizona Republican’s war record and suggesting the Democratic ticket falls short on the patriotism scale. She ridiculed Senator Obama’s call for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, his willingness to meet with leaders of nation’s deemed hostile to the nation, and his opposition to oil drilling to address the energy crisis. One of the harshest lines of the Palin’s speech was when she criticized Senator Obama on Iraq, chiding, “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.”

For certain Palin exceeded the expectations of many delegates and certainly fulfilled her role for the Republican Party. The speech, though, now sets up a very interesting dynamic because it invites a counter attack from the Democratic ticket since Palin was not selected until after the Democrats had convened their convention in Denver. Her use of the convention stage to attack the Obama ticket suggests fireworks may be in store when the two vice presidential candidates face off. Biden, known for his aggressive nature, will certainly have to counter Palin’s attacks even though he will walk a tightrope since the public still generally frowns upon male candidates who appear to be too aggressive against female opponents. What is clear is that the Democrats will have to find an answer to Palin who, after last night, has emerged as the real messenger for the GOP ticket. This might be the opening for Senator Clinton to play a prominent role in the Obama campaign.

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