A classic evisceration speech by the running mate

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin proved herself worthy of at least one thing with a rousing convention speech: She can fill the traditional role of attacker.
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Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin proved herself worthy of at least one thing with a rousing convention speech: She can fill the traditional role of attacker.

In the manner of all national political conventions, last night's events at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., gradually moved toward the crescendo that will come with tonight's acceptance speech by Sen. John McCain.

The big news for my fellow Democrats and media pundits: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's address last night to accept the nomination for vice president was the classic attack speech of a vice-presidential nominee. She was tough, gave no quarter, had the GOP troops in the hall rockin' and rollin', and typed herself as someone who, as President Harry Truman (whom she cited as a role model), does best when the heat rises in the kitchen.

A Democratic friend and longtime capital insider e-mailed me after the speech to type it as "a George Wallace speech without the racism." I would disagree. It is the kind of speech that Truman, Sen. Estes Kefauver, and other reformist/populist Democrats used to deliver to rouse the faithful.

Palin did nothing, and will do nothing, to change my vote, which will go to Obama-Biden. But she must be recognized as an asset for the Republican ticket and someone who must be treated seriously, not dismissed in a smart-assed, patronizing way, as Obama campaign statements did in the wake of her selection last Friday, Aug. 29, by McCain and, again, after her Wednesday speech.

Prominent GOP women business executives led off the day with positive statements about prospective McCain economic policies in the White House. Then the temperature rose. Palin gave the night's stemwinder, but she was preceded ably by McCain's principal competitors for the GOP nomination: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. They, as Palin, went on the offensive against Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. That is what happens on the next-to-last night of political conventions. McCain, tonight, thus can be a bit less partisan and present himself in positive terms.

Palin shrewdly took on the media, without mentioning specifically their recent focus on her 17-year-old daughter's out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Media excess has been notable in this instance — and inexcusable. Both Obama and his running mate, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, have stated strongly that the matter has no place in the campaign. Obama has gone so far as to remind that his own mother was 18 when he was born under similar circumstance.

I am reminded, in particular, of a moment during the tumultuous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, when one of Vice President Hubert Humphrey's running-mate finalists approached him to volunteer that his teenage daughter was pregnant. Humphrey told him to forget about it. Such matters had no place in a campaign, and if it were mentioned, Humphrey said, he would denounce by name whomever did so.

All of us no doubt will be tuning in tonight to watch and hear McCain. Then we shall see what "bounce," if any, Republicans get in national polls as a result of their convention. The Democratic ticket at first got no bounce, but, a couple days after convention's close, a modest 3-to-5 point rise materialized. With the two conventions over, things will settle out for a week or 10 days before the two tickets' relative strengths begin to firm, constituency by constituency. I truly look forward to a several-week period in which alternative political philosophies will be presented and debated by able representatives of both parties.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.