My reaction to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's selection as the Republican vice-presidential nominee were undoubtedly similar to that of most others with a background in national politics.
When considering a running mate, a presidential nominee normally would ask these questions:
- Is this person qualified, on the basis of knowledge and experience, to succeed to the presidency on short notice if called on to do so?
- Would this person be able to hold his/her own with the opposition party's vice-presidential nominee in a nationally televised debate?
- Does this person complement or shore up my own vulnerabilities (in policy, geography, among key constituencies) going into the fall campaign?
- Would this person help me carry one or more key electoral states I otherwise might lose?
- Would I feel comfortable and compatible with this person during not only the campaign but in the White House?
At first glance, the answers to those questions would have left Palin an also-ran among better known, strong possibilities such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and several others. Romney, I had thought, would be the wisest choice since he had proved a strong vote-getter in the primary season, had economic/financial knowledge McCain lacked, had governed successfully in a heavily Democratic state, and also was likely to at least hold his own in one-on-one faceoffs with Democratic vice-presidential nominee and seasoned Sen. Joe Biden.
The Obama campaign's first reaction to the Palin choice was to issue a condescending, dismissive press release mocking her experience and credentials.
McCain, I thought, had just made his first important decision as presidential nominee and blown it. I began mentally formulating jokes and one-liners:
- This would be a titanic struggle between Hawaii (Sen. Barack Obama's home state) and Alaska for control of the Lower 48.
- Palin was chosen because Alaska's three electoral votes matched those of Delaware (Biden's home state).
- In a dramatic move, Palin, a high-school basketball star, might challenge Obama to one-on-one hoops or perhaps a matchup of her state-championship high-school team with Obama's Hawaii prep-school squad.
- McCain, celebrating his 72nd birthday and a cancer survivor, wanted a relatively unknown and inexperienced 44-year-old running mate to underscore his own risk-taking temperament.
And so on.
Then I Googled Palin's background and began to learn more about her. As I did, I sobered up.
Here was a self-made woman with political and leadership skills. In a state known for corruption, she had — as a mayor, chair of a state commission, and governor — faced down at every stage the good-ole-boy network accustomed to running things. She had beaten better known candidates in her campaigns for office. She had called out and fired public officials for corruption. She had successfully taken on corporations, lobbyists, and special-interest types when they challenged her. She was pro-life and an NRA member but, nonethless, known for acknowledging the good faith of those who disagreed with her. Her husband, a commercial fisherman and pipeline worker, was a Steelworker. Palin herself was a former union member. They have five children, the oldest on his way to Iraq as an Army enlisted man, the youngest a Down Syndrome baby. Her parents, a teacher and school secretary, were hard working people who earned extra money by coaching school teams. She chaired a 50-state governors' natural resources committee. As McCain, she was known for speaking her mind directly and breaking with Republican party-line positions when she thought they were wrong. She was aggressive and smart as hell.
Then I witnessed the rally in Dayton, Ohio, at which McCain introduced her. She was more poised than McCain. She was direct, no-nonsense, speaking to constituencies beyond the Republican base, and clearly at home with herself and her role. She appealed to Sen. Hillary Clinton supporters to come on over and break the glass ceiling with her. I found myself rooting for her — just as I had for Obama and Biden the night before — as an underdog and outsider living out the American Dream. If I felt that way, I thought, millions of others might be having the same thoughts at that moment.
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