My initial reaction to the news that Sarah Palin was John McCains choice for number two on the ticket was incredulity. What the blazes was he thinking? The experience versus novice/celebrity/empty suit angle was scoring so well that going into the conventions hed pulled even, maybe even slightly ahead. All he had to do was stay the course and hed be home free. The obvious choice was Mitt Romneysmooth, experienced, with all that executive experience and financial expertise. Romney on the ticket would keep the experience issue front and center, and hed massacre Joe Biden in debates for good measure.
Yet now, inexplicably, McCain was ditching that winning strategy. And for whom? Some novice governor from Alaska, chosen for no other reason than her gender, in the misplaced hope she could pick up spurned female Hillary voters? This was worse than just a campaign strategy destined to fail miserably, it was a betrayal of core conservative principle! Liberals are the ones who pander that way, in the name of diversityseeing people not as individuals but as members of this or that group. Conservatives recognize it as the scam it almost always is.
Then, at noon, I tuned in to see Palin in Dayton. I suppose Id half expected a female Dan Quayle, the unknown sprung upon us as George H.W. Bushs unexpected choice (presumably to appeal to younger voters) in 1988. But the moment she strode on stage, accompanied by her fisherman/oil worker husband and a gaggle of kids with strange names, it was apparent that she was different. No deer in the headlights, this was obviously a confident woman.
More to the point, theres what she is confidentand forcefulabout: fighting for energy independence and against earmarks; cutting property taxes and otherwise taking on even those special interests which generally have a hold on her own party. Then there was the personal stuff: the son in the army, en route to Iraq; the Downs Syndrome child who has so clearly enriched her familys life; her history as a high school basketball star, including, (as we later learned) the time she played in a championship game, Kerri Strug-like, with a fractured ankle.
If, as one commentator observed, McCains pick was a classic fighter pilots move, as risky as it was daring, the plain-spoken, gun-toting Palin is the kind of strong and independent woman who, a few short generations back, helped conquer the West. Lots of liberal women politicians call themselves strong and independentand spend their careers relentlessly working for programs that increase peoples dependence on government. Palin could hardly be more different. She is the anti-Barbara Boxer.
Indeed, this choice could have immense long-term implications. Only yesterday there was every reason to believe that, even if McCain were to win the election, the party faced a highly uncertain future. Not only was it all-but bereft of future stars, but, more importantly, it seemed ideologically adrift. Literally overnight, those concerns appear to have vanished. Already, somewhere, there are surely relieved Republicans happily contemplating a brand new thought: Palin-Jindal in 12.
Harry Stein is a contributing editor of City Journal. A journalist and novelist, he is the author of How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace) and the forthcoming I Cant Believe Im Sitting Next to a Republican.