Sunday, August 31, 2008

There is a great deal to admire about Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain‘s running mate and only the second woman in American history to run for vice president on a Democratic party or Republican Party ticket.

Mrs. Palin, a 44-year-old mother of five, now in her second year as governor, is tremendously popular in her home state. She has approval ratings above 80 percent, and for good reason.

Mrs. Palin is a strong fiscal conservative who shares, if not exceeds, Mr. McCain’s determination to oppose wasteful government expenditures. She is pro-life and pro-gun (a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association), and a stalwart opponent of tax increases. She has been unafraid to fight corruption or the appearance of corruption - even if it occurs in her own party.

Unlike Mr. McCain and the Democratic Party ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, Mrs. Palin supports drilling for oil in her state’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). But her willingness to challenge oil-company royalties in Alaska will make it extremely difficult for the Democrats and liberal environmentalists to demagogue against her when she sensibly calls for more drilling.

Until Friday, when he announced the Palin selection, Mr. McCain had been expected to make a “safe” choice (i.e., a male politician with with a great deal of experience in Washington and/or the corporate world.) But the Arizona senator confounded the skeptics. His selection of Mrs. Palin is anything but the kind of predictable political decision that Washington politicians typically make.

Mrs. Palin is a former beauty queen, a high-school basketball star, a marathon runner and a member of Feminists for Life, which works to make health care and child care available to young students who become parents (thereby lessening demand for abortion.) Her eldest son enlisted in the Army on September 11, 2007. Last April, Mrs. Palin gave birth to her fifth child, who has Down syndrome. Sarah’s husband, Todd Palin, is a North Slope production operator.

After a six-year term as mayor of Wasilla, AK, Mrs. Palin ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor in 2002. But after losing, she was appointed to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, where she played a role in an ethics probe directed at the chairman of the state Republican Party which ultimately forced his resignation from the commission.

Mrs. Palin’s role in the investigation made her somewhat unpopular with the party leadership. But the public at large was a very different story. In the spring of 2006, she opposed incumbent Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski, who had won five consecutive statewide elections, in the primary and won handily. In November, she defeated Democratic former Gov. Tony Knowles to win the governorship.

Since her election to office, Mrs. Palin has continued working to make things uncomfortable for politicians in the Republican Party on the issue of pork. With her encouragement, Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell challenged Rep. Don Young, the state’s only congressman for the past 36 years, in Tuesday’s Republican primary. Mr. Young, a longtime member of the House Appropriations Committee, is best known for his role in winning funds for the “Bridge to Nowhere” project inside Alaska, which Mrs. Palin has criticized as an example of wasteful spending. As we go to press, there is no declared winner in the Republican congressional primary - only about 150 votes separate the two men with several thousand absentee ballots yet to be counted.

With this kind of record, conservatives are generally ecstatic over Mr. McCain’s choice of Mrs. Palin as his running mate. Organizations ranging from the Club for Growth to the Traditional Values Coaliton have issued statements praising Mr. McCain’s choice. “Any conservatives who have been lukewarm thus far in their support of the McCain candidacy will work their hearts out between now and November for the McCain-Palin ticket,” said American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene.

Appearing with Mr. McCain on Friday, Mrs. Palin graciously paid tribute to Geraldine Ferraro, the first female Democrat to run for vice president, and Sen. Hillary Clinton as well, for their historic bids for the top two offices in the land. But in the hours immediately following the news of Mrs. Palin’s selection, one liberal feminist after another appeared on national television to dismiss the importance of the Palin choice and complain that she is out of step with liberal orthodoxy on - pretty much everything.

There still are a number of questions about Mrs. Palin - in particular the fact that as governor of Alaska, she lacks an extensive paper trail of statements and op-eds on foreign policy topics - in other words, that she’s too much like Mr. Obama was when elected to the Senate less than four years ago. The upside, of course, is that she also lacks a record of ill-considered statements poor-mouthing the Iraq troop surge that have come from many of her critics.

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