As John McCain gave his acceptance speech Thursday night, he could only hope to do as well as Sarah Palin, who had wowed the party faithful the night before, even though her oratory didn't magically boost her qualifications to be vice president.
The governor of Alaska showed she knows how to deliver a good line with a biting sense of humor. On the biggest stage of her career, she exuded confidence and a down-to-earth practicality. Her pledge to be an advocate for parents of special-needs children, such as her infant with Down syndrome, was compelling.
Some of the same people who belittle eloquence and great oratory by Barack Obama now point to Palin's performance as proof that she is ready. It wasn't, and she still isn't.
One good speech doesn't cover up Palin's scant resume. She was mayor of a small town, has served 22 months as governor of a sparsely populated state, and has no experience in world affairs. Her record simply hasn't been a proving ground to move into the job that is a heartbeat away from the presidency.
As for her record, Palin tried again to get away with some deception in her rousing political speech. "I told Congress, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' for that Bridge to Nowhere," she boasted.
Actually, it turns out Palin was for the boondoggle before she was against it. Although she eventually did kill the pork-barrel project, she initially supported the federal earmark.
She also hired a lobbying firm as mayor to obtain $27 million in pork for her small town in just six years. But now she's serving up the story that she is a reformer opposed to wasteful spending.
The speech was full of red meat and applause lines, but the premises behind the rhetoric wilted as soon as the partisan roar died down. She accused Obama of coddling terrorists because "he's worried that someone won't read them their rights."
Not only did she misrepresent Obama's views, she also sneered at the Constitution and the Supreme Court, which ruled in June that detainees do have rights. Let's hope the McCain-Palin ticket isn't intent on disregarding the rule of law.
Palin's attempt to defend her job as mayor was understandable, but her ridiculing Obama's past as a "community organizer" ended up disparaging all such workers. By asserting that community organizers have no "actual responsibilities," she put down the work of those who help the less fortunate. Helping people feed their families and save their homes from foreclosure is nothing if not a responsibility.
Missing from Palin's speech was what to do about people facing the loss of their homes, people unable to pay for health care or rising grocery bills. Nor did she expound upon how her socially conservative principles would guide her to govern others. She dutifully decried tax increases, but failed to mention she raised taxes as mayor. She promoted more oil drilling as part of a broad package of energy solutions that McCain has endorsed.
She also missed an opportunity to address, on her own terms, her teenage daughter's pregnancy. Palin referred to her family's "ups and downs," and that was it. Here's hoping that reference isn't the Republicans' last foray into the public-health and societal challenges posed by teen pregnancies.
Palin handled her debut very well. But voters won't get a complete picture of her capabilities and her character until she steps out beyond the TelePrompTer.