Politics & Policy

With a Smile on Her Face … and Steel in Her Spine

Sarah Palin taps into America.

The weather was awful, my flight was delayed, and I was late to the symposium — prototypical law school gasbaggery on whether captured terrorists were receiving sufficient due-process protections. So I missed the start of the professor’s keynote address, entering the hall as he railed about “the American Taliban.”

It was 2004. Naturally, I assumed he was speaking about John Walker Lindh, the U.S. citizen who’d been seized on the battlefield in Afghanistan and whose case was then very much in the news. But as I listened, it became crystal clear that, in this room, the traitor who’d thrown in his lot with enemies responsible for murdering thousands of innocent Americans was not the object of scorn. If anything, he was a figure who merited our sympathetic understanding — our self-examination about what we’d done to make him hate us so.

No, “the American Taliban” against whom this professor was railing was the United States Department of Justice under that well-known jackbooted thug, John Ashcroft. This leftwing gasbag was talking about me. Me and people like me who had worked night and day for many years, trying to ferret out threats to our country and prosecute the monsters behind them.

He was telling his audience of gazing law students and like-minded academics that we, not al-Qaeda, were the savages.

I couldn’t help thinking about that scene, which has been repeated more times than I can count, as I read commentary about the phenomenon that is Sarah Palin, who brought the house down with a barnburner at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night. Especially puzzling is the critique that the nominee for vice president was, at times, too biting, too sarcastic in her portrayal of the opposition.

I couldn’t disagree more. Palin is a natural. What we got is what she is: poised, sharp, charming, feisty, funny, and unapologetically patriotic. As she might have put it, the speech she gave in St. Paul is the same one she’d give in Scranton or San Francisco.

More importantly, the speech tapped into a teeming reservoir of repressed rage. Memo to Barack Obama: You’re right, many of us are bitter. We are damn angry about being framed as “the American Taliban” because we love our country and think it’s exceptional as is; because we think you deal with evil by defeating it, not cozying up to it; because the change we think we need is a government that shrinks and gets out of the way, not a confiscatory, will-sapping Leviathan; because we don’t see “patriotism” as the willingness — the eagerness — to catalogue America’s flaws while never acknowledging her greatness; because when it comes to “reputation in the world,” we think it’s the “international community” not the United States that has a lot of catching up to do.

But Sarah Palin didn’t court this anger with more anger. That would be a turn-off. What most frustrates Americans is that we are a happy, optimistic, can-do people ceaselessly harangued by media solons, delusional academics, post-sovereign Eurocrats, and the Democrats who love them. While we free and feed the world, they can’t tell us enough that we’re racist, imperialist, torturing louts. We know it’s a libel, an endless stream of slander. But we also know it’s an absurd libel. We’re tired of hearing it, but taking it too seriously would give it power it doesn’t deserve.

So Sarah Palin was sarcastic and biting. That’s how a happy warrior deals with absurdity. That’s how a happy warrior rallies the troops.

We are in a war against terrorists, and the other side has nominated a man who has been a friend and business partner of an unrepentant, America-hating terrorist. The press lauds Obama as post-partisan when even a cursory glance at his record shows he is as partisan as it gets. The press lauds him as post-racial, but he sat comfortably for years in Trinity Church, drinking in the racist ravings of Jeremiah Wright, and he sat comfortably for years in rough-and-tumble Chicago, playing by-the-numbers race-based politics.

Obama blathers about “change” but then chooses as his running-mate a Washington relic who has managed in 35 years to be wrong on just about everything while compiling a record nearly as slavishly Leftist as Obama’s. In an era of complex, vicious, asymmetrical threats, Democrats give us a “community organizer” without a shred of executive experience who, in his years as a state legislator, voted “present” when it was time to make the tough calls. Except, of course, when it came to life: In a nation repulsed by partial birth abortion, Obama decided to make his stand enabling the practitioners of infanticide.

It is positively absurd that such a candidate should have a snowball’s chance of becoming president of the United States. But he has a very good chance because Americans haven’t been rallied.

Well, they’ve been rallied now. And rallied, at long last, in a way that resonates: By an attractive winner with a smile on her face and steel in her spine. By a proud woman living the ups and downs of an American life — a woman the other side spent a week trying to destroy by coming after those she loves most. With grit and good humor, she brushed those critics aside like so many Styrofoam columns.

It wasn’t snide. Sarah Palin was grace personified. And now, finally, even we American Taliban have hope.

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