ST. PAUL -- The long knives are out for Sarah Palin. Ever since John McCain announced that the 44-year-old governor of Alaska was to be his running mate, her qualifications, record, ideology, and even her family life have been under the media microscope and liberal assault.
Palin's critics had but one objective: to discredit a politically talented woman who could energize the conservative base -- evangelicals and others animated by taxes, guns, and babies -- while also potentially appealing to disgruntled Hillary voters who wish to leave no glass ceiling unshattered. An unknown outside of Alaska, the Democrats and their media accomplices hoped to reduce Palin to a cross between Dan Quayle and Peg Bundy of Married with Children. Because of this, her remarks to the Republican National Convention were more important than any talk by a vice presidential nominee since Richard Nixon's Checkers speech 56 years ago.
The lady shined. Palin brilliantly defended her record as a reformer who stood up against the ossified establishment of her own party, in stark contrast with the man atop the Democratic ticket who has seldom mustered the courage to say no to the Daley political machine or the race hustlers of Chicago's South Side.
"Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown," Palin said. "And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves. I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities."
Palin recounted the highlights of her record as governor: an ethics reform law, a budget surplus, tax relief for Alaskans, and an effort to curtail wasteful spending by big-government Republicans in Juneau. "While I was at it, I got rid of a few things in the governor's office that I didn't believe our citizens should have to pay for," she said. "That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay."
Without directly criticizing President Bush and the Grand Old Spending Party that rang down the curtain on a dozen years of Republican rule on Capitol Hill, Palin talked about her "nearly half a billion dollars in vetoes." "I suspended the state fuel tax, and championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress," she continued. "I told the Congress 'thanks, but no thanks,' for that Bridge to Nowhere."
That last bit may seem politically convenient now, but it in fact put her in direct conflict with the senior Republicans in Alaska, Ted Stevens and Don Young, the senator and congressman of VECO Corporation.
Palin also mounted a low-key but effective defense of her family and biography. "Our family has the same ups and downs as any other -- the same challenges and the same joys," she said, sidestepping daughter Bristol's pregnancy but acknowledging Trig's Down syndrome. "Sometimes even the greatest joys bring challenge. And children with special needs inspire a special love." To the families of such children, Palin offered to be "a friend and advocate in the White House."
And in attack mode, Palin showed Barack Obama that lipstick is indeed the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull. Listening to Obama speak, she said, "it's easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform -- not even in the state Senate."
"This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting," she continued, "and never use the word 'victory' except when he's talking about his own campaign." Palin mocked Obama's "Styrofoam Greek columns," his big-government liberalism, and his emphasis in words rather than deeds without sounding like a harsh, red-meat partisan. She is no Rudy Giuliani, but good luck to those liberals who hope she'll turn out to be another Harriet Miers.
Finally, the feisty Palin proved an able defender of the man at the top of the ticket. "There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you," she argued. "In places where winning means survival and defeat means death... and that man is John McCain." She made the case for McCain's journey from Hanoi Hilton to the White House.
To be sure, Palin is not without her faults. Her rollout by the McCain campaign was sloppy. Her foreign-policy resume is thin, undermining a key Republican argument against Obama. Her association with this ticket could undercut her tendency toward a more independent conservatism and deprive Alaska of a successful reform-minded governor. It isn't clear that even her performance at the convention will move her beyond a base-pleaser to a running mate attractive to swing voters.
But last night Palin drove home the message that she his the kind of maverick the GOP's conservative grassroots could love. And love her they did. "Hockey mom! Hockey mom!" the crowd in the arena chanted as she spoke. "We love you Sarah!" a man shouted as her speech began. "We love you!"
Once she finished, the response from delegates and others at the convention was near-euphoric. As one beaming Republican activist from Ohio put it, "That's our girl!"