Several days before her speech at the Republican convention, when Gov. Sarah Palin was under attack for all sorts of things, from her daughter's pregnancy, to "Troopergate," to running for office with a Down syndrome baby in tow, I noticed something odd about how Democrats, especially liberals, particularly liberal women, were reacting to her. They were angry. Why be angry? If Sarah Palin were really a bad choice, they should have been happy. A second-rate running mate could only hurt John McCain and help Barack Obama. Their resentment didn't make sense to me.
Now that she's blown the roof off the Xcel Center, it does make sense. Sarah Palin is an urban liberal's worst nightmare: a successful, attractive, working class, conservative feminist.
Throughout the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama, while mesmerizing urban voters, young voters and African Americans, couldn't seem to close the deal with many lunchbucket Democrats and Independents. Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana: They all went to Hillary Clinton even though it was clear that she wasn't going to win the nomination.
Connecting with those voters is no problem for the governor of Alaska. Many people hadn't heard the term "hockey mom" before Sarah Palin cheerfully called herself out when she was introduced as John McCain's running mate. But plenty of people in Michigan, Minnesota, and working class enclaves on the East Coast such as Buffalo, New York, use the term all the time. She also connects with people of faith who practice their religion because it is the most important thing in their life — not because they "cling" to it, as Barack Obama uncomfortably put it while trying to explain these working class voters to a fundraising audience in San Francisco. She'll be perfectly at home with people who fish and hunt in West Virginia. She's been doing it all her life and once worked in commercial fishing. And in a country where many college-educated professionals in cities don't know anyone who's in the military or owns a firearm, Sarah Palin is a lifetime NRA member whose son deploys to Iraq on September 11th.
In short, she's lived the life of the voters who will decide this election. And how have the sophisticates in the media and political world reacted to her? They roll their eyes and make fun of her hair and clothes, at her professed belief that we are all part of God's plan, about her daughter getting pregnant while mom talks up abstinence. They laugh that she only recently got a passport. They profess dismay at her alleged lack of experience (rather risky for a Barack Obama supporter to do). The Washington Post's Sally Quinn criticized her for thinking she can be a good parent to five while simultaneously serving as vice president (though somehow Teddy Roosevelt pulled it off after serving two short years as governor of New York). Some have even criticized her for choosing to have her Down syndrome baby rather than aborting it (admit it, you've heard it).
And you wonder why so many working-class voters feel detached from today's Democratic Party?
There are two things that are now clear about Sarah Palin after her speech Wednesday night. First, she is smart, gutsy, and well accomplished — not just experienced but accomplished. Those of us who have watched Alaska's Republican Party swallowed up by the appropriations mindset of Ted Stevens and Don Young have cheered at how Sarah Palin helped dismantle the culture it created (Department of Justice lawyers are taking care of the rest).
Confronting greed and corruption in the other party is easy — it's how careers are made, as anyone familiar with the Watergate era can tell you. But taking on corruption in your own party? That is rare. Sarah Palin resigned a six-figure job (not easy to come by in Alaska) to protest the ethics of fellow Republican commission members, including the Republican state chairman. By the time she was done, she filed another complaint against the Republican attorney general, who was forced to resign, and ran for governor against Frank Murkowski, who had been a U.S. Senator for 22 years and was seeking a second term as governor.
She beat him in the primary by 30 points, and defeated Tony Knowles, Alaska's most popular Democrat, in the general. She has been an activist governor and a popular one. In fact, she is the most popular governor in America, with an approval rating hovering from the mid-70s to the low 80s. John McCain likes people like that.
The second thing to remember about Sarah Palin's speech is that she is utterly unfazed by Barack Obama. "When the cloud of rhetoric has passed, when the roar of the crowd fades away, when the stadium lights go out and those Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot — when that happens, what exactly is our opponent's plan?" Ouch. In Sarah Palin's world, and in John McCain's, talk is cheap; people would rather support results than rhetoric. They are betting that America feels the same way.
That is why liberals abhor Sarah Palin. And why she could become, to conservatives, the most beloved national figure since Ronald Reagan.