After the initial shock of Sen. John McCain's (R., Ariz.) choice for running mate wore off last week, the media ripped into Gov. Sarah Palin's (R., Alaska) record. Everything, including the vice presidential nominee's small-town roots and 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy, received scrutiny.
As a result, Palin took center stage at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night under tremendous pressure, but she responded fearlessly. She spoke proudly of her small-town upbringing, addressed her critics and took aim at her Democratic opponents.
Palin entered politics with the intention of improving her children's public-school education. She joined the PTA and got to know personally the voters in her eventual race for mayor. In her speech at the RNC, Palin mentioned another small-town VP who went on to become president:
"A writer observed: 'We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity and dignity.' I know just the kind of people that writer had in mind when he praised Harry Truman. I grew up with those people. They are the ones who do some of the hardest work in America ... who grow our food, run our factories and fight our wars."
Palin hasn't served as a senator as did Harry Truman. She has served two terms as the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and nearly two years as governor of the state.
Palin worked to deflect attacks on her experience. She echoed former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who delivered his address directly before hers, in talking about how she has served as an executive as both mayor and governor. She argued she had more executive experience than either Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) or Sen. Joe Biden (D., Del.). And she took a direct crack at Obama's experience, by saying:
"I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities. I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening."
Her attacks reflect the Republican campaign strategy of painting Democrats as elitists and out of touch with the nation's common people.
Palin also poked fun at the media pundits in Washington. "And I've learned quickly, these past few days, that if you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone," she said.
Palin promised the American people she would stay true to her reformist roots in Washington. She noted her record of taking on the lobbyists and power brokers in Juneau. She listed her reformist accomplishments as governor: selling the office's luxury jet on
, driving herself to work, dismissing the governor's executive chef, cutting taxes and vetoing $500 million in spending.
She also took credit for telling the federal government her state didn't want the infamous "bridge to nowhere." Her opposition to the project has come under question. She did
support the earmark for the bridge in 2006
-- before she opposed it.
Palin promoted McCain in her speech. She spoke of courage in bringing real change in Washington. She said:
"Senator McCain's record of actual achievement and reform helps explain why so many special interests, lobbyists and comfortable committee chairmen in Congress have fought the prospect of a McCain presidency -- from the primary election of 2000 to this very day."
Much has been made of McCain's record as a "maverick" legislator. However, Palin mentioned none of his legislative achievements in her speech and made little mention of what he would do in the White House aside from cut taxes.
In fact, it seems as if the Republicans -- and Palin -- are asking the American people not to decide this election on policy but on the character of John McCain. She said:
"If character is the measure in this election ... and hope the theme ... and change the goal we share, then I ask you to join our cause. Join our cause and help America elect a great man as the next president of the United States."
Character may well prove a key issue in the election. And in that vein, Palin performed well under pressure Wednesday, showing she has some strong character of her own.