Two masterstrokes were accomplished in the last two days of this year’s Republican National Convention. In her first appearance on the national stage — which can only be called a tectonic event — Sarah Palin secured the conservative base for maverick John McCain, while also reaching out to Democratic women. Then on Thursday night, John McCain struck again, making a play for the rest of the Democratic party.
When John McCain was sewing up the nomination in the early spring, I spent a lot of time in many comment sections defending him in as many ways as I knew how. He wasn’t my first choice (Fred) or my second (Rudy), but he was the GOP nominee, fairly elected, and looking at the table I thought he was the only man who had a chance to win in November — because frankly, we Republicans don’t deserve to be this lucky.
Many conservatives were arguing that it would be better to sit this one out, and let the country go to hell, so that we could send the Republican party a message and re-emerge from the ashes in 2012 with “the next Reagan.” I pointed out that there were two problems with this theory:
First, you may not like the fact that Grandma smokes in bed, and you may indeed want to get her attention. But if that message consists of letting her set the bed, the house and the grandchildren on fire, perhaps there was a better way to “send a message.” Second, it pained me to point out that there was no “next Reagan.” Ronald Reagan was on the political scene for almost two decades before he became President. Who was waiting in the wings to magically fill this role? No one.
Newt Gingrich’s fire-breathing army of young reform Republicans who stormed congress in 1994 grew, in about a decade, into the party of Duke Cunningham, Trent Lott, and the Bridge to Nowhere. I watched this unfold — especially after 2004 — and time and time again, the core conservative values of discipline and responsibility were betrayed, mocked, and ignored. Restraint is not an easy sell in a society this affluent — not compared with the view of government as a bottomless bag of candy. That’s why we’re supposed to be the party of adults.
Power corrupts, and I believe there is no power more intoxicating and corrosive than the ability to spend other people’s money at will. If Newt’s Army could go so far astray, you can bet the country was disillusioned, disappointed, and furious — not just ready for change, but eager
for it, even change as ethereal and diffuse as what Senator Obama has been peddling. We lost the Senate and the House in 2006 because of this. We were going to lose the presidency in 2008 for it. And we deserved to lose it.
And so — prior to this week — all we had was a grim determination to vote against a dangerous, socialized vision of the future. We were portrayed — largely accurately — as old, tired, out-of-touch, out of ideas, out of candidates . . . too white, too male, too square. It doesn’t matter how true or false that caricature was. That was the narrative, and there was enough of it that fit.
And then the earthquake came.
Sarah Palin is the anti-Obama: not a victim, not a poser, not riding a wave but rather swimming upstream — and most of all, not having run for president her entire life. She is the first politician I have ever seen — and I include Ronnie in this, God bless him — who strikes everyone who sees her as an actual, real, ordinary person
. Immediately came T-shirts saying I AM SARAH PALIN. HER STORY IS MY STORY. There is a lot of Obama swag out there, too, but none of it says HIS STORY IS MY STORY. Hold that thought till November 5.
She is so absolutely, remarkably, spectacularly ordinary.
I think the magic of Sarah Palin speaks to a belief that so many of us share: the sense that we personally know five people in our immediate circle who would make a better president than the menagerie of candidates the major parties routinely offer. Sarah Palin has erupted from this collective American Dream — the idea that, given nothing but classic American values like hard work, integrity, and tough-minded optimism you can actually do what happens in the movies: become Leader of the Free World, the President of the United States of America. (Or, well, you know, vice president.)