Who is Governor Palin?

A Christian (non-denominational Protestant) and mother of five, Governor of Alaska, Commander of the Alaska National Guard, political reformer who has shaken the “old boy network” of corrupt government in Alaska, long ago a star of her secondary school State Championship basketball team, ardent fisherman and hunter, a long-time manual worker and co-president of a small family business, toughminded and no-nonsense campaigner, Sarah Palin’s nickname in basketball was “Barracuda.” Do not sell her short. I loved the comment of one man: “More valuable than a pearl is a wife who loves to hunt and fish.” And whose favorite food is Moose stew. A woman who hunts Moose and Caribou is not to be trifled with. Turn to see another facet: Behind her horn-rim glasses, Sarah as a young woman finished second in the “Miss Alaska” beauty pageant – take a look at her photo. She might well become the first Vice President who earlier worked as a journalist and, for a time, as a sportscaster. She has not yet been overawed by any journalist.

First thing she did as Governor was sell the gubernatorial jet plane. Next, she sold the governor’s limousine fleet. “Don’t need ‘em,” she said. She has bent the oil companies of Alaska to her will. She has fired incompetent and dishonest appointees in government, even though they were part of the Republican establishment. She has been a Governor of the people, by the people, for the people. Her approval rating among the people of Alaska is 80%. Governor Palin knows more about oil and natural gas than any other major candidate– it is Alaska’s main industry, treasure, and potential. She knows more about the military than Barack and Joe Biden multiplied by two. Her state lies fifty miles from Russia across the Bering Strait. She deals with international companies from all around the world. Her oldest son enlisted in the army on September 11, 2007, and will depart for Iraq on September 11, 2008. She is enormously proud of him – and is very grateful that John McCain will soon be his Commander-in-chief.

Her youngest son, born this past April, was diagnosed early with Downs syndrome. She insisted on bringing “this beautiful child” to birth. Her husband, who is part Eskimo, is a tall, handsome member of the Steelworker’s Union, in his capacity as a worker in the offshore oilfields. His other main business is commercial fishing, a family occupation for generations. This is a couple that both work with their hands (she helps work their commercial fishing vessel on weekends). They love sports. He is the World Champion Snowmobile Driver.

The nomination of Governor Palin sent shockwaves of joy throughout the social conservative half of the Republican Party, the pro-life voters most of all, and a great many ordinary Republican, Independent, and even Democratic women. Immediately money in support of the campaign and offers to volunteer poured in. Nothing has energized the Republican “base” like this choice. This campaign is now a very different contest. If Governor Palin makes no other contribution to the McCain campaign, this is an enormous one. A sine qua non. The day before where there was gloom, the day of her nomination brought joy and commitment. In 2004, some 65% of voters who were regular churchgoers voted Republican, whereas about the same percentage of those who seldom or never go to church voted Democratic. In America, the churchgoers outnumber the latter by a significant margin. Not long ago, most religious people – evangelical Protestants, Catholics and Jews – were the backbone of the Democratic Party. No longer.

To be sure, on Thursday August 28, Senator Obama did put on a convention “Spectacular.” He scheduled its last night in Denver’s huge football stadium, and designed it as for the most part a rock concert. He gave his usual star-quality eloquent speech. However, this time it was not unitive but highly partisan, a standard Democratic speech (promising to spend tens of billlions of dollars with every minute that passed). At its end, bathed in rapturous applause, before and afterwards surrounded by famous rock stars and singers, his program delivered a gigantic fireworks display above the Denver skyline, outlined against the dark Rockies just at the western edge of the city. The next two days showed a significant jump in the polls to a 48-42 lead. That sort of lead is a little lower than many recent Democrats at this stage in presidential elections. The reason national polls do not mean much this early is that most Democrats are bunched together in the large urban states. The Republican vote is scattered across the rest of the map. Thus, the large Democratic vote in a few places does not add up to a lead in electoral votes, which are apportioned among all the states. Still, Obama is expected to win this election – seldom or never have Republicans been so low, or Democrats so high in expectation.

On Monday, September 1, the Republicans begin their much more modest convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, usually a Democratic state (home of two Democratic presidential candidates in recent years, Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale). At the same time, a huge, dangerous Hurricane Gustav is bearing down awesomely on New Orleans, Louisiana, just as Katrina did three years ago. The Republicans may have to delay the start of their convention by at least a day, for Gustav is predicted to hit land on Monday morning. Some Democrats are gleefully praising God for their “luck” – not such a good thing to speak of while many Louisianans (a usually Democratic state) are in harm’s way. Maybe, though, the local government in Louisiana – city and state – along with federal assistance will do a much better a job in 2008 than during Katrina. In that case, that difference might redound to Republican credit. However the politics turn out, many Americans are thinking of relatives and friends in that region, and praying that they will come through the danger happily.

One should never forget that John McCain in his youth was a fighter pilot, and in many ways he still thinks like one. A fighter pilot must struggle for concealment in sun and clouds, hoping for surprise until the very last moment before swooping down on his prey. McCain loves surprise. He hates to be part of a herd. That is what “maverick” means, isn’t it? McCain showed his love for surprise in picking a woman of the people, a passionate and no-nonsense reformer, a tough and experienced executive for the past ten years (as mayor of her small town, now as governor) – a governor with a popular rating in Alaska about 65% higher than the U.S. Democratic Congress (now at 14 %).

Wednesday night September 3 will be a night of high drama. Governor Palin is scheduled to give her acceptance address to the excited Republican convention - and to the nation and the whole watching world.

The choice of this tough western governor was a high-risk sortie that candidate McCain took. It has tremendously excited Republicans, and added bold new lines to the profile of what is now the McCain-Palin ticket.

And every time Democrats complain that McCain’s new running mate is too inexperienced to be Vice President, they call attention to the even more grievous inexperience of their own choice for President.

Published in Liberal, September 2, 2008