This is where you expect Republicans to cave, to start crawfishing, to surrender convictions in the wan hope that their adversaries will ease up and maybe even say something nice. There’s a familiar mantra: “Vote Republican. We’re not as bad as you think.”
But Sarah Palin, clearly a new kind of Republican, looked feistier and more determined than ever when she was introduced Wednesday night to a roaring welcome from a hall of delegates on fire. If the lady’s dead, she makes a comely and lively corpse. The Xcel Energy Center arena rocked.
The relentless media pressure over nearly a week, one of the sleaziest campaign ordeals since Thomas Jefferson was accused of fathering a child with one of his slaves, was meant to intimidate John McCain into throwing the lady off the ticket. (There’s no room under Barack Obama‘s bus.) So far it hasn’t worked. The man who wouldn’t buckle in five years in a North Vietnamese torture chamber seemed more resolute than ever. “She is experienced, she’s talented, she knows how to lead, and she has been vetted by the people of the state of Alaska,” the senator told an interviewer, trying to put to rest the Democratic catalog of Palin shortcomings in a single sentence. “Americans are going to be very, very, very pleased … . She’s going to have a remarkable impact on the American people.”
She gave no quarter, demonstrating how she became the scourge of both moose and men and kept the arena roaring and a national television audience at full attention. The networks expected the largest campaign audience so far, eager to measure her first impression on the national stage.
If John McCain threw the dice with the selection of the governor, the Democrats and their starstruck allies in the mainstream media gambled with an all-out assault on Mrs. Palin, her daughter and her husband. If this doesn’t drive her off the ticket and back to snowbound oblivion, she’ll emerge stronger, tougher, more determined than ever, and with a winning image to take to voters in November.
Some editors, if they value consistency, may already want to put in a call to rewrite. Newsweek magazine, for example, which has conducted its love affair with Barack Obama on its cover — six times, in fact — flirted with Mrs. Palin in the promiscuous way of the newsweeklies only last year, describing her much like John McCain described her when he rattled press row with her selection.
“For [Mrs.] Palin,” Newsweek said, “[reform] has meant tackling the cozy relationship between the state’s political elite and the energy industry that provides 85 percent of Alaska’s tax revenues — and distancing herself from fellow Republicans, including the state’s senior U.S. senator … .” And then this: “[Mrs.] Palin has transformed her own family’s connections to the [oil] industry into political advantage. Her husband, Todd, is a longtime employee of British Petroleum, but as [Mrs.] Palin points out, the ‘First Dude’ is a blue-collar ‘sloper,’ a fieldworker on the North Slope, a cherished occupation in the state.” (His is a collar in a deeper shade of blue than Joe Biden’s.)
Nobody knows better than the two men on the Democratic ticket how carefully they must deal with Mrs. Palin. Mr. Obama’s fervent rebuke of his blogger crazies and their furious spreading of the early, ugly rumors — that the governor’s daughter was actually the mother of four-month-old Trig — was the rebuke that he probably wishes he had put out earlier. Those early rumors, which the bloggers successfully challenged the mainstream media to copy, were almost certainly first passed on to Daily Kos and his Internet ilk by someone in the dirty-tricks department of the Obama campaign, no doubt without the knowledge of the senator himself. It’s how campaigns work.
The senator himself, by his own definition a born-again Christian, would have known that the evangelicals in the Republican base would respond to the eventual disclosure as they did, with kindness and sympathy for the Palins and their daughter. No one understands the power of forgiveness better than an evangelical Christian, whose faith is based on divine forgiveness. The irony of the media’s attempt to apply the scarlet letter to the breast of a helpless teenager is that the pundits and poohbahs of the media, for whom the cheap and vulgar is rarely to be regarded as over the line, have cast themselves in the role of Grandma Grundy, the starchy hypocrite eager to pass harsh moral judgment on a teenage mistake in Lovers Lane.
The Philistines of the media might not get an invitation to the wedding, but Sarah Palin may yet have the satisfaction of inviting them to an inauguration.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Times. He is filing a daily column from the conventions.