The case for Sarah Palin

The Alaska governor is dead center in the mainstream of middle class American life, argues a conservative Crosscut contributor.
Crosscut archive image.
The Alaska governor is dead center in the mainstream of middle class American life, argues a conservative Crosscut contributor.

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that my heart-of-hearts choice for vice president would be picked. But she was. And it was Sen. John McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, not Sen. Barack Obama's convention acceptance speech, that was the talk of last Friday morning, Aug. 29, and through the Labor Day weekend.

And the talk has been good. Except, of course, among many mainstream media pundits, Democrat partisans, and MSNBC, the all-Obama, all-the-time cable network that seems positively confounded by the choice.

A hockey mom, up-from-the-ranks political figure, mother of five (including a newborn special-needs child), whose commercial fisherman, union-member husband now is more of a stay-at-home dad, Palin's dead center in the mainstream of middle class American life. That her oldest son, 19-year-old Track, is a soldier on his way next month to Iraq only makes her that much more appealing — she's got one of her own in harm's way. As the father of two in the military, it means a lot to me to have our leaders in the same boat.

Watching her Friday with McCain in Dayton, Ohio, I couldn't help notice the military parent blue star pin she was wearing, the same kind of pin I wear.

Right on the issues, she's made social conservatives giddy with delight. James Dobson, head of Focus on the Family and so far a harsh critic of McCain, now says he'll pull the lever for the GOP ticket come November. Pro-life, pro-gun, pro-family, pro-military, pro-union (her husband, Todd, is a member of the Steelworkers), pro-energy production (like most Alaskans, she favors drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) — where it counts, she's pro.

Palin is also appealing as a reformer, having taken on the entrenched Republican establishment in Alaska on everything from energy to earmarks. With her record of reform and overturning the tables of Alaska's political moneychangers, she's a genuine instrument of change.

As soon as she was inaugurated, gone were the state trooper security detail, the private cooks, and the private jet — Governor Palin drives her own car, something Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels might care to emulate.

She doesn't pussyfoot about when it comes to going toe to toe with those whom she regards as putting their interests ahead of those of the people — this lady has guts.

In 2004, she quit her $122,400 a year job as head of Alaska's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in protest over restrictions placed on her that prevented her from speaking out about ethical abuses by others on the commission. Those others were Republicans.

And she came out foursquare against the poster child for earmarks, the "bridge to nowhere," a pet project of another Republican, Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

Contrast her willingness to quit a high-paying job over matters of principle and integrity to Obama's unwillingness to quit a church with a fulminating anti-American pastor until intense media scrutiny and increasing public pressure forced his hand.

Nicknamed "Sarah Barracuda" in high school because of her aggressive play on the basketball floor (she nailed a free throw in the final seconds of a 1982 state championship game, despite having a stress fracture in her ankle), Palin has demonstrated the same take-no-prisoners approach in politics. One Alaska commentator on the talk shows remarked how the woods are full of the broken bodies of those who've crossed former beauty queen Sarah Palin.

That her statewide approval rating hovers between 76 percent and 80 percent says that Alaskans are more than satisfied with Sarah Barracuda's style. Voters in "The Last Frontier" like someone who demonstrates frontier values and frontier virtue — values and virtue that once were hallmarks of the American West.

Any mention of her relative "inexperience" (she's been Alaska's governor not quite two years) serves to highlight Barack Obama's own inexperience, since he's been in the U.S. Senate one year longer than she's been in statewide office. He's also but one of one hundred senators, while she's the CEO of an energy-producing state.

The "experience" argument, the centerpiece of Sen. Hillary Clinton's losing campaign for her party's nomination, is diametrically opposed to Obama's "change we can believe in" — during the primary season, Obama ran as if "experience" was the problem, not the solution.

That Obama has been running for higher elected office most of the time he's been in office is touted as "experience" — we're told that the campaign trail is grueling and tests the mettle of a candidate. Maybe, but former President Jimmy Carter ran his own version of a "Change we can believe in" campaign in 1976, got elected, then proceeded to crash and burn when faced with the Iranian hostage crisis, stagflation, and an energy crisis.

It's one thing to campaign, another to govern.

As much as Obama's acceptance speech was cloaked in imagery, fireworks, and rhetorical flourishes, at heart it was a mere recitation of Democrat Party policy positions and clichés that have been handed down for years — from one losing election to another.

The "experience" thing cuts both ways, enough such that at the end of the day, it will come back to bite the guy at the top of a ticket while making the woman in the second seat of a ticket look bold, refreshing, and attractive.

That many Democrats quickly dismissed Sarah Palin says more about them than it does her — they didn't bother checking outside the conventional wisdom, the beltway, and the clichéd old boys' network. Many of them seemed irked that John McCain didn't pick whatever candidate they favored — with friends like that, who needs enemies?

It means national Democrat Party leaders, and their mainstream media talking head allies, aren't familiar with the West generally and — let's face it, folks — the Pacific Northwest specifically. There is no stronger state-to-state relationship between any two in the U.S. than there is between Washington and Alaska. Sarah Palin is one of us.

She's so much one of us that recent revelations about the pregnancy of her teenage daughter — a fact well known to Alaskans — will endear her to every family in America that has faced a similar challenge. This is something pundits in The New York Times, et al, fail to understand. Parents sitting around the kitchen table dealing with family issues don't sit in judgment over other parents who are similarly situated — they identify with and relate viscerally to them.

Palin, who chose to give birth to a child she and her husband knew would be born with Down syndrome and who now unconditionally stands by and supports her pregnant daughter, is giving stronger lessons in parenting and family values than any preacher or pundit could ever do. She not only talks the talk, she walks the walk. Sarah Palin knows and feels our pain.

Leaders lead by example, and Palin, in less than a week, has provided more good ones than many who've been around for years — like, for example, a certain failed presidential candidate of recent memory and notoriety.

With Palin there was no hiding — she was open and out there, which tells the rest of us that it's OK to have an imperfect family that occasionally makes mistakes. Watch for this to be cited in weeks, months, and years to come as an example of how families, even those under intense media scrutiny, can and should support each other and work through difficult situations together.

Barack Obama, to his great credit, unequivocally condemned efforts to criticize Palin's family, calling that a private matter. Good for him. Now, however, can the message get down to a lot of his supporters? Like the ones who call Sarah Palin irresponsible for carrying her child to term? Or the left-wing bloggers who insinuate even worse?

What a lot of the criticism boils down to is that Sarah Palin's gender is irrelevant, since only women (or minorities, for that matter — ask former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele) who toe the liberal party line are acceptable. Women with conservative values, beliefs, and track records need not apply. How's that diversity working for you?

When you get down to the brass tacks of where Americans live, you find that increasingly they're more comfortable with the positions held by Palin than they are those of, say, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who calls Palin a "zealot." More and more, the American mainstream finds itself uncomfortable with abortion on demand. Let's not mention how the U.S. Supreme Court validated the horror of horrors represented by Palin's lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association this past term, when it upheld the right of individuals to own firearms.

Obama, who could have chosen Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire as his running mate, which would have been an equally long shot, made the safe and predictable play. McCain, on the other hand, took his "straight talk express" outside the Lower 48 to nab an equally straight talking running mate in Palin.

Two Westerners on the Republican ticket. Ronald Reagan smiles in heaven this day.

The choice by Obama of Sen. Joe Biden is a choice from inside the Beltway and from his party's past, while the choice of Palin is from the heart of America and from her party's future.

This is real change, an absolute bust through of the glass ceiling. Sarah Palin touches all the bases and busts this race wide open. Exciting!


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