The Magazine

McCain Finds the Right Wingman

And she's a woman.

Sep 15, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 01 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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The five-day saturation coverage of all things Palin made her acceptance speech a highly anticipated national event. An estimated 37 million people tuned in to see what she would say and how she was holding up. It was nearly the same number of Americans who watched Barack Obama six days earlier, in a speech that had received three months of buildup.

Palin focused on Americans who live and work in small towns, on the blue-collar workers who love their country and hate Washington politicians. It was like hundreds of other speeches from this presidential race--stretching back two years to the earliest rhetoric from both Republican and Democrat candidates--except in one very important respect.

As she put it: "I grew up with those people."

They are the ones who do some of the hardest work in America, who grow our food, and run our factories and fight our wars.

They love their country, in good times and bad, and they're always proud of America. I had the privilege of living most of my life in a small town.

I was just your average hockey mom and signed up for the PTA--

The Michigan delegation--all wearing hockey jerseys--went crazy, and some held up "Hockey Moms for Palin" signs. She stopped for a moment and improvised: "I love those hockey moms. You know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a Pit Bull? Lipstick." The crowd roared.

So I signed up for the PTA because I wanted to make my kids' public education better.

When I ran for city council, I didn't need focus groups and voter profiles because I knew those voters, and I knew their families, too.

And those voters, Palin noted, like small town voters across the country, worry that politicians are all alike--that they're inauthentic and insincere and will say whatever it takes to get elected.

Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown.

And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves.

I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organizer," except that you have actual responsibilities. I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening.

We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco.

As for my running mate, you can be certain that wherever he goes, and whoever is listening, John McCain is the same man. I'm not a member of the permanent political establishment. And I've learned quickly, these past few days, that if you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone.

But here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country. Americans expect us to go to Washington for the right reasons, and not just to mingle with the right people.

In a race that sometimes feels like little more than a contest to see which side will be most closely associated with "change," this was a big moment. With three senators on the two tickets, Palin offered herself as spokesman for the rest of the country and, in effect, vouched for McCain's regular-guy credentials. "It felt like watching a pilot in the storm. Sure, she had navigational help and a good crew but she took control at the beginning and the landing proved it," said Tucker Eskew, a veteran of the 2000 campaign and the Bush White House, who is now working for Palin. "She owned that speech."

As Palin spoke, Scully stood on the floor of the convention hall, holding his laptop and a rolled-up McCain-Palin sign. He nervously fingered the sign and glanced up at the press section to gauge the reaction to Palin's most cutting and dramatic lines, not knowing that he would shortly be the focus of the response from the Obama campaign.

"The speech that Governor Palin gave was well delivered, but it was written by George Bush's speechwriter and sounds exactly like the same divisive, partisan attacks we've heard from George Bush for the last eight years. If Gov. Palin and John McCain want to define 'change' as voting with George Bush 90 percent of the time, that's their choice, but we don't think the American people are ready to take a 10 percent chance on change," said Bill Burton, Obama campaign spokesman.