Last night at the Republican National Convention, while millions watched on television, Sarah Palin morphed in a Jekyll and Hyde-like transformation that ignited passionate support from the GOP faithful on the convention floor.
The former high school basketball star, once known as "Sarah Barracuda," emerged from the pool of obscurity and strutted into the national spotlight as the attack dog of the McCain presidential campaign. It was an evolutionary move worthy of Darwin (whose theories she doubts) and somewhat unexpected to those who've regarded her as a lightweight up until now. Yet as she ad-libbed in a memorable moment, the politics of her past had prepared her for it: "What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?" she asked the whooping, energized crowd. "Lipstick!" she announced to thunderous applause.
She defined the presidential race as a fight for the hearts and minds of the average American, small town folks who, as she says, were badmouthed by the Democratic presidential candidate as soon as he turned his back on them. She pulled punches, lashed out, and went for the jugular, but as US Politics Guide Kathy Gill points out, she didn't use the name "Obama," keeping only John McCain's name in front of her audience.
For those who doubted Palin's on-camera abilities, it's important to remember that her initial career aspirations included sitting in a broadcast booth with the legendary Howard Cosell as a network sportscaster. So working with a TelePrompTer and appearing comfortable and real is second nature to her.
Clearly she's master of the sound bite as she promised she'd be an advocate for the parents of special needs children; stated as a reformer in the governor's seat, she did away with her predecessor's preferred mode of travel: "That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay" (in fact, it didn't sell there and was handled by a private aircraft broker); and stressed her knowledge of energy issues and the amount of oil available on the North Slope of Alaska.
Palin is a study in contrasts and conflicting messages, casting herself as above party politics even as she's hired lawyers to deal with her own 'Troopergate' situation back home; a family values and abstinence-only advocate even as her high school-aged daughter is pregnant; and a women's issues supporter even as she's strongly anti-choice.
Yet the comments that keep coming up from newly-won supporters and longtime Palin advocates - that she's real and open and one of us - in the aftermath of her dynamic, bracing speech last night suggest that when it comes to Palin, issues may matter less to some than image.
Photo © Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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