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The Speech

What Palin wrought.

2:00 AM, Sep 4, 2008 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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NOW WE SEE why the liberal establishment has been trying for the last few days to destroy Sarah Palin. She is a threat to their hopes to take the White House this year, a threat to their broader claims to speak for youth, for women, and for the future, and a threat to their attempt to control the high ground in the culture war. After her stunning success last night, some in the liberal media may retire from the ring for a while. Others, with the threat now even more evident, may redouble their assaults and become even more desperate and vicious. Surely they'll fail.

A star was born last night--but I won't belabor that fact, especially since it was the title of my New York Times column Monday. Nor will I analyze the whole speech, which I'm sure will be ably done by others. I'll just make three points.

1. I've heard one or two Palin skeptics acknowledge that it was a good speech, but then say--well, another nominee could have given a similarly good speech. Actually, no. The speech was so effective because it was given by someone who is, at once: a relative unknown, an executive not a legislator, a real reformer, a middle American who made it on her own, an outsider who was greeted with hostility by the D.C. establishment--and, yes, a woman. Obviously, another nominee could have given a good if different speech. But what made last night's speech special--what may have made last night an inflection point in this campaign, and even in American politics beyond Nov. 4--depended on the peculiar combination of qualities Sarah Palin brought to the table. Her speech was as far as a speech could be from being a generic one. Only Sarah Palin could have given it. The fact that she had the help of an excellent speechwriter, Matthew Scully, doesn't change the fact that this was in a precise way, and I'd almost say a profound way, Sarah Palin's speech.

2. The attack on Obama was very deft. Palin went right for Obama's fundamental weakness--that he's never done anything impressive. (And by giving such a good speech, she partly undermined his claim to be the only one who could speak impressively.) For example, consider this line--which I predict will be remembered two months from now: "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities." This deflates all the sanctimonious praise of Obama at the Democratic convention for all his selfless years as a community organizer. And if you take away the community organizing, Obama's just a career politician, one "who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform," one of those who has used "change to promote their careers." What's left of Obama's résumé, and his claim to deserve the presidency? Not much.

3. Don't underestimate the power of this statement: "To the families of special needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House." The McCain campaign should flesh this out in policy terms, should not get worried by the inevitable attacks on McCain for voting (as he must have) for some budget resolution or other that would have cut (or not increased as much as some wanted) some special-needs programs, and just keep on emphasizing that Palin will take the lead on these issues, and McCain will see to it she gets the support, budgetary and otherwise, she needs. This would be real compassionate conservatism, and would be good both for conservatism and for the country.

William Kristol is editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.