When Sarah Palin walks onstage holding her baby, she makes a statement about motherhood that no other candidate for national office has ever made. Her message to voters is that she enthusiastically embraces her motherhood along with her career, and she is proud that her children are at the center of her life.
Not all successful women have the courage to hold their baby and include their families while on the job. They fear it will reflect negatively on their professional ability or people will judge it an insincere photo-op. But for Mrs. Palin, it is a part of who she is, and she doesn't apologize for incorporating her children because she welcomes her motherhood so fully.
It is why so many women say they feel empowered by Mrs. Palin. The confidence she shows in her life - with her family and as governor and vice- presidential candidate - are empowering. She holds her baby onstage because she wants to publicly embrace being a woman in all its facets.
Alaskans have treated Mrs. Palin's husband, Todd, with dignity and respect, naming him the "First Dude" - a name any guy could live with. It is typical of the successful accommodations Mrs. Palin's family has to make in order to work. Mr. Palin, who said, "I always knew she would go places," has taken a leave of absence from his job to accommodate the new baby and the campaign. He is a real partner in the raising of their children, the older children pitch in to help, and it is so obvious when the family is together how comfortable they are with each other.
Mrs. Palin's life reflects changed traditions for some families.
The health of children, assistance from grandparents and other family, energy level, family income, and the abilities of husbands and wives are all factors families consider in raising their children.
In the 1950s, for most mothers, caring for a family was a full-time job. My own hardworking mother hung clothes and linens outside on a line to dry, prepared wonderful meals every day from scratch, and kept our home shiny and neat. My dad would come home from work, put his feet up and wait for my mom to make dinner and arrange the evening.
Mrs. Palin has been attacked for not following the ways of 50 years ago - a model that still works for some families. Typical are critiques of Mrs. Palin like that of feminist Washington Post writer Sally Quinn, who said that given the size of her family, Mrs. Palin can't possibly be both a national candidate and a good mother.
But the world has changed tremendously, and the days when most moms could just mind business at home are no more. The incredible growth of government at all levels - local, state and federal - now all intrude on mothers' lives in ways unimaginable back in the 1950s.
Government decisions about what children are taught, how the house is financed, how mom selects health care, and if she can own a gun to protect her family or to hunt, have changed mothers' concerns.
Both stay-at-home mothers and working mothers are forced to become involved in the policy debate in order to protect their families.
Big government and social liberalism have changed family economics. Many moms work now to help pay the taxes loaded on families from the federal, state and local governments. With one in two marriages ending in divorce, and one in three children born outside of marriage, many mothers work so their children will have a place to live and food to eat.
Other mothers work because they feel called to pursue a professional career.
Because of her faith, Mrs. Palin has a purpose and is destined to use her unique gifts by embracing both a family and a professional career. Her accomplishments are testimonies to her exceptional ability as well the extraordinary multitasking capacity so many mothers have.
Mrs. Palin is the first public figure since Ronald Reagan to generate the enthusiasm of many Americans because she speaks simple, clear truths about our lives and the kind of government we deserve.
Those who argue that women like Mrs. Palin should just stay home aim to keep mothers from making decisions that affect their own families. Many of these critics would rather see the government take the drivers seat.
Government is encroaching more and more on our lives, and those mothers who are able need to be full participants. Without a seat at the table, decisions will be made that have a negative impact on our families. Big-government schemes will rule our lives - whether mom is at home or not.
Mrs. Palin has provided a model for how some women can manage motherhood and a professional career. Who among us doesn't smile when Mrs. Palin enters an event, holding youngest daughter Piper's hand, and Piper mimics her mom smiling and waving to the crowds? What a boost for motherhood.
Michelle Easton, mother of three sons, is on leave as president of the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute. She is a volunteer with McCain-Palin.