Palin for president
She helped the GOP ticket more than McCain
Sunday, November 16, 2008
By Jack Kelly, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The week before the election, the Obama campaign ran a television commercial attacking the Republican candidate for vice president. To my knowledge, this had never been done before.
Within days of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's selection by John McCain to be his running mate, there was speculation in the news media that maternal neglect was the cause of baby Trig's Down Syndrome; that Trig was really daughter Bristol's baby; that Sarah was a fundamentalist who believes dinosaurs and humans coexisted; that she once belonged to a secessionist party; that as mayor of Wasilla, she tried to have popular books banned from the town library.
None of this was true, but this was how the news media introduced Ms. Palin to people in the lower 48. No vice presidential candidate has ever been subjected to such a torrent of abuse.
This was a woman with no family money and no famous name who took on a corrupt Republican governor and beat him, then swept to victory in the general election against a popular former Democratic governor.
This was a reformer who in her first year as governor got through the legislature a bill her predecessors had sought unsuccessfully for 35 years -- to build a natural gas pipeline to the rest of the country -- as well as a landmark ethics reform bill. She was by far the most popular governor in America, with an approval rating in the low 80s.
A star athlete and beauty contest winner who hunts moose and worked as a commercial fisherman, Sarah Palin has a remarkable personal and political story. But it's a story the news media largely ignored in favor of spreading malicious gossip.
Given the constant portrayal of Ms. Palin as an ignorant hick, it's not surprising that only 38 percent of those who voted thought she was qualified to be president.
The conventional wisdom among those who consider themselves her social superiors is that she was a drag on the ticket."By picking Palin, McCain simultaneously eliminated his own best argument against Sen. Obama -- the limited experience of his opponent -- while compounding his own most negative image, that of someone who is erratic and out of control," said Julian Zelizer of Newsweek.
This view is at variance with the facts. Of the 60 percent of voters who told exit pollsters Sarah Palin was an "important factor" in their decision, 56 percent voted for Mr. McCain. Those who said she was not an important factor voted for Barack Obama by a 64 percent to 33 percent margin.
In a Rasmussen poll taken the day before the election, 71 percent of Republicans said Ms. Palin was the right choice for vice president, but only 65 percent said Mr. McCain was the right choice for president.
Ms. Palin drew much larger crowds than Mr. McCain did when he campaigned alone, and much, much larger crowds than Democrat Joe Biden could attract. People left her rallies more pumped up than when they arrived.
She gave a boffo performance in her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention and she performed better in her debate with Mr. Biden than Mr. McCain did in his first two debates with Mr. Obama.
Sarah Palin's appearance on "Saturday Night Live," where she had been lampooned mercilessly, brought that show its highest ratings in years.
"Her politics aren't my politics," said SNL's executive producer, Lorne Michaels. "But you can see that she is a very powerful, very disciplined, incredibly gracious woman. This was her first time out and she's had a huge impact. People connect to her."
Mr. McCain got 7 million votes fewer than George W. Bush did in 2004. If Sarah Palin hadn't been on the ticket, that deficit would have been much greater.
Sarah Palin is a rare political talent. I think that's why liberals have tried so hard to define her negatively before Americans could get to know her. Whether she has a national political future depends on her own wishes and Barack Obama's performance.
But if she should choose to run for president in 2012, she'll have my enthusiastic support.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org). More articles by this author