What are Sarah Palin's political views? In some areas, especially and not surprisingly on foreign policy, what the Alaska governor and surprise Republican vice presidential pick believes is a mystery.
"I've been so focused on state government, I haven't really focused much on the war in Iraq," Palin told Alaska Business Monthly in March 2007. "I heard on the news about the new deployments, and while I support our president, Condoleezza Rice and the administration, I want to know that we have an exit plan."
In some areas of domestic policy, where her views are better known, Palin has staked out more conservative positions than has Sen. John McCain. For instance, whereas McCain would allow exceptions to a ban on abortion in cases of rape or incest, Palin opposes any exception other than to save the life of the mother. If her daughter were raped, she said in a 2006 debate, "I would choose life."
Palin opposed putting polar bears on the endangered species list; McCain supports doing so. She would drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; McCain has opposed opening that area. Similarly, while she acknowledges the impact of global warming on Alaska and has appointed a commission to examine the issue, Palin has expressed skepticism about whether fossil fuels cause climate change.
"I'm not one, though, who would attribute it to being man-made," Palin said in an interview last month with Newsmax. It is difficult to see how that understanding squares with McCain's advocacy of a cap-and-trade system to curb carbon emissions.
On other social issues, Palin is more in line with McCain. She used her first veto in the governor's office to block a measure preventing the state from providing health and other benefits to the same-sex partners of public employees, but said she acted only because she was advised that the measure was unconstitutional. Palin then supported a ballot measure denying benefits to same-sex couples.
"I believe that honoring the family structure is that important," she said. She supports teaching creationism in schools. "Teach both," she said in a gubernatorial debate. "You know, don't be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it's so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both."
Palin has said both that she supports government-funded vouchers to allow students to attend private or religious schools and that offering vouchers "is unconstitutional, it is as simple as that."
Palin describes herself as a "hard-core fiscal conservative." But she has not signed the anti-tax pledge pushed by Grover Norquist's American Taxpayers Union. In fact, Palin supported Wasilla's first-ever sales tax and pushed to raise it as mayor (while simultaneously reducing property taxes); as governor, she increased taxes on oil companies. In 1994, she advocated a flat tax in a campaign ad for a Republican Senate candidate.
These are all brushstrokes in a portrait of Palin that is only beginning to emerge. The speech she gave to the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night was an important moment in that introduction to the nation; Palin's interactions with voters and the vice presidential debate with Democratic nominee Joseph R. Biden Jr. will also be key. But in the remaining 62 days of the campaign, it's crucial that Palin make herself available to answer reporters' questions, through news conferences, day-to-day interactions and sustained interviews.
"We're asking the American people to pick the next president and vice president, and we do not expect the American people to do so - 'Trust me' - blindly," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., told us this week. "She will have to do what's expected of people in this business. ... In countries where that does not happen, I do not want to live."
It's hard to recall a time when either major party asked voters to accept a nominee with a thinner record. We look forward to the McCain campaign living by Graham's admonition.