'A torpedo aimed directly at the ship'

Dateline: Wed 03 Sep 2008

of Barack and Michelle Obama. That's how Chris Matthews of MSNBC summed up Gov. Sarah Palin's terrific, fiery speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul tonight.

Those who doubted Palin's abilities need to take stock of her again. The woman is vibrant, charming, humorous and extremely pointed.

She zinged Obama repeatedly, comparing her experience as a former mayor of a small Alaska town to his as a community organizer. Being a mayor, she said, is "like being a community organizer, except you have actual responsibilities." She reminded ecstatic Republicans that of the two presidential candidates, only one actually ever fought for America -- "and that is John McCain."

She shared her pride in being a Washington outsider and made a joke about being a hockey mom. "The difference between hockey moms and a pit bull? Lipstick." Old joke, but it worked.

I quit taking notes after a while, simply because her speech was compelling enough that I just wanted to listen.

Her biggest hits, for me, were personal: when she spoke with pride of her son who will go to Iraq next week, when she introduced her husband as her high school sweetheart -- "He's still my guy" -- and when she praised the courage shown by John McCain as a prisoner of war and introduced a white-haired serviceman who also was imprisoned with McCain. As to her obvious patriotism, I thought of Frank Schaeffer, the Christian screenwriter and son of the late theologian by the same name. Frank Schaeffer's son joined the Marines after college, and his father always had a hard time explaining that choice to his East Coast friends. I have no doubt that Palin's experiences will play well with many who have military ties.

My favorite moment was after the fanfare, when her family joined her onstage. She held her baby Trig, who was wide awake. Earlier she had promised that all special-needs families would have an advocate in the White House, should she be elected. That was a vote-getting moment.

She was tough on the issues, painting Obama as a big-time spender who would expect government to pay for countless services while raising taxes. She mocked him for talking one way about voters in Scranton, Pa., and another way in San Francisco -- a reference to his "bitter, small-town America" remarks and an implication that he's a flip-flopper and two-faced at that.

Overall? McCain has not lost his marbles by choosing her, at least not based on her ability to spin a speech. She had the crowd loving every minute of her stage presence. And guess what? She didn't say anything off the wall, which is what some of us had been led to believe would happen. Based on everything I was hearing, I half-expected her to get down on her knees and pray for unborn children while Republicans wept, including the men. Never happened.

Finally, Chris Matthews noted in his post mortem that Palin is no Hillary Clinton; "I didn't once think of Hillary while she spoke," he said. His conclusion? Palin won't draw Hillary loyalists and Hillary women. That seems obvious to me, too. She's cut from a different cloth. One is a tough Dem woman; the other is a tough Republican woman. Case closed.

Unless there is something we don't yet know about Palin, she seems to fit the GOP bill. She's no disaster. And if she keeps up the energy level and rhetoric she laid out tonight, she and McCain could prove formidable. Scary, because many of us desperately want a real change.

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