Gov. Sarah Palin addressed the nation last night; I and many other Alaskans watched her historic speech with careful attention.
Having previously seen Palin address the state Legislature and make other public speeches, I was not at all surprised that she acquitted herself quite well. While she probably had more external suggestions for the content of this oration as compared to others, the style was unquestionably her own. She was confident, at ease, and her personal mannerisms and sense of humor were constantly visible.
One thing I particularly enjoyed was her introduction by Gov. Linda Lingle of Hawaii. The personal relationship shared by Lingle and Palin as female governors of the two youngest and westernmost states gave this prologue extra sincerity and meaning.
Lingle is a self-avowed moderate who nevertheless was quite comfortable in endorsing Palin. Perhaps most striking about this introduction was the point Lingle made about the criticism she faced when she ran for governor while holding the position of mayor of Maui. I hope Lingle's analysis will mean that having been a local executive will not be denigrated as a legitimate means of acquiring the sort of experience that prepares a person for one of the nation's two highest offices.
As soon as Palin began to speak, she clearly had the crowd's attention, and as she progressed, she prompted an ever-increasingly enthusiastic response. I concede many watching on television did not react favorably, and I'm sure some were downright angry and bitter. The fact that her opponent, Sen. Joe Biden, praised her style and delivery is a strong indication that in terms of oratorical technique, Palin is a talented communicator, a skill that will serve her well on the campaign trail.
Biden's criticisms centered more on what Palin didn't say than what she did say. He wanted to hear more about the situation in Pakistan, health care, and the middle class. It is perfectly fair for Sen. Barack Obama and him to expect a debate about those issues, and I'm sure they'll get their wish. But for a speech that touched on so many other themes, I hardly think the omission was fatal to the overall value of Palin's message. Democrats and all Americans will have a chance to hear Palin talk about many things that didn't fit into her convention speech.
As far as the things Palin spoke about, I thought her assessment of her abilities in comparison to Obama's was logical and well-stated. Duties and powers of elected officials in the legislative branch are markedly different from those in the executive, no matter at what vertical level of government. Touching on what she did while mayor of Wasilla, and what she's in the process of doing as governor of Alaska, was a great way to distinguish herself from the competition.
Palin's presentation of her family was dignified and appropriate, and they comported themselves well. The choice not to speak defensively was the right way to let some of the negative attacks from earlier this week fall to the wayside, and I think it's fair to say that Palin took the high road as far as family issues are concerned, her own or any one else's. Hopefully this tone will continue.
Palin did not choose to avoid confrontation when assessing the experience of Obama in comparison to that of Sen. John McCain.
Without being vituperative, she laid out some sharp comparisons between McCain and Obama, with some cheeky, if not outright derisive, commentary. This is, after all, a campaign for the presidency, and a certain amount of attack and counterattack are to be reasonably expected.
I am sure Palin knows she will face words as strong as her own in the next two months, but I am equally sure that if she'd been reticent and reserved in her assessments of the opposition Wednesday night it would have done nothing to spare her the slings and arrows that will be coming her way.
All in all, Palin acquitted herself well for a first-time speaker on the national stage. Her words had their intended effect of rousing the so-called base of the Republican Party, and at the same time will be considered by those toward the middle of the political spectrum. And nothing she could have said was going to make happy or convert those predetermined to discount her from the outset.
Ben Brown is a lifelong Alaska resident and chairman of the Juneau Republican Party.
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