FRED WOLFERMAN: Hurricane Sarah: This Storm's Effect Remains to Be Seen
The Republicans were hit by two storms last week.
The first, Gustav, made a mess of their convention schedule, and, though it was obviously terribly disappointing to the media that it did not become Katrina II, it pumped quite enough wind and rain into the Gulf Coast to allow FEMA to show off its improved levels of preparedness and PR savvy and for Ray Nagin to return to near-prime time.
The second, Sarah, not only skipped several letters in the customary alphabetical nomenclature, but it also blew in from an unexpected northerly direction, wreaking surprise, if not quite mayhem, among the political cognoscenti of both parties.
Gustav will be gone long before Sarah gets up a full head of steam, and there's no telling at present which will have the greater lasting effect. Already there is one clear difference: Nobody liked Gustav; a lot of people like Sarah.
It's hard not to like someone as perky and aggressively cheerful as Sarah Palin. It is easy to see how, in her first days as a national figure, she has wowed the Republican base and caused some consternation among Democrats. How do you campaign against Miss Congeniality, mother of five, reform Republican, married to a union member? You had better be very, very careful before you launch any personal attacks, even concerning her surprise announcement of impending grandmotherhood.
Still, there are other ways to go. Mrs. Palin describes herself as a soccer mom turned governor. It can't be that simple. Somewhere back there she pounded her way through the corrupt Alaskan Republican Party to become governor with an 80 percent approval rating. There are likely tales of nasty politics that will surface as soon as CNN reporters can get from New Orleans to Juneau.
Of course, any such stories will probably work to her benefit as she attempts to stake out the maverick/reform territory that John McCain is trying to recapture, for that is the only route this ticket has to victory in November.
Early reactions to her nomination range from Bill Kristol's effusive paean to Maureen Dowd's snarky putdown. No surprises there. Reality, as usual, falls somewhere in between.
Inexperience is going to be the biggest salvo the Democrats fire at Mrs. Palin. Can they sink her with it? It depends on what kind of experience you want. Her resume on foreign affairs is unquestionably nil. That is not good. The international scene is more unstable than usual these days. On the other hand, with 20 months in the governor's gig, she has more executive experience than McCain, Obama and Biden combined. Besides, if you're going to have an empty suit on your ticket, it's better to have it in the second spot than the first.
Mrs. Palin is an all-too-obvious political choice. As Gail Collins so discreetly put it, "The idea that women are going to race off and vote for any candidate with the same internal plumbing is both offensive and historically wrong."
Well, I don't know about that. I have different plumbing. But I can tell you that certain ladies of my acquaintance are pretty excited about Mrs. Palin. Of course, they are all Republicans anyway. Certain other ladies are leaning heavily on the inexperience theme.
Let's face it, if Mrs. Palin were Mr. Palin, he would not be the vice-presidential nominee. Still, it's nice to see someone running for national office with no attachments to Washington and a low regard for professional politicians. I wish there were more of them in both parties -- or, better yet, in neither party.
Mrs. Palin may be the proverbial Hail Mary choice, but she can provide a big boost to the Republicans if she can maintain her sparkle for the next two months and exceed her presently low expectations. That will be her challenge. She will be subjected to a browbeating by Democrats and the media. She must accept it cheerfully and answer all the questions tossed at her thoughtfully and competently. That will require nonstop study between speeches and functioning well on very little sleep.
If she can accomplish all that successfully, she may energize enough disaffected Republicans, independents, and, yes, women, to drag her ticket across the finish line first. If she cannot, Alaska awaits.
Fred Wolferman lives in Southern Pines. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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