Sarah's Big Night

I've watched Palin's address on television twice now, after seeing it live last night, and I think that it's being just slightly overestimated - out of relief among conservatives, and perhaps out of guilt among the cable-news talking heads and CW purveyors. It's not that it wasn't a good speech; in fact, I think it was precisely the kind of speech that Sarah Palin needed to give at this juncture. It helps her immensely, and it makes me more confident about her future in national politics than I was 48 hours back. I'm just not entirely sure how much it helps John McCain.

A lot of people have commented on Palin's smilingly sarcastic style, her willingness to go straight after her ticket's opponents, her "I'm not giving an inch" approach to the firestorm of the past few days. If you leave aside the extraordinary hubbub surrounding the evening, this was in certain respects a very conventional speech for a veep nominee - albeit one delivered with a steel-in-velvet style that Spiro Agnew would have given anything to be able to project. And for a female candidate who's been brutalized in the media for the last few days, I think that this was exactly the right approach. As I tried to suggest the other day, there's no greater danger for Sarah Palin, Polician, Mother and Soon-to-be-Grandmother than the impression, stoked by days of breathless media coverage, that she isn't in control, that she can't handle pressure, and that she somehow does not have her shit together. And there's no better way to undercut that impression than to give the kind of tough, combative speech that a male veep might have given - except to do it better than any male veep has done in a long, long time.

But John McCain didn't pick Palin because he needed an attack dog for the stretch run. He picked her because he has a domestic policy problem, because he needed to shore up his reputation as a reformer, and because he needed to chart a new direction for his party, and suggest a GOP future that isn't just a parade of old white guys and a re-run of Reagan's greatest hits. As far as symbolism goes, this speech helped him on that front; on substance, not so much. Instead of opening new vistas for conservative politics, it reinforced the perception - which is unfair, but not all that unfair - that the only thing John McCain's GOP has to offer on the domestic front is a big yes to drilling, an end to earmarks, and a big no to Obama's tax increases. It's possible that this is enough of a message to win this Presidential election; it's definitely not enough of a message to rebuild the GOP over the long haul. Sarah Palin gave the kind of speech she had to give, and good for her. But I hope she has some other kinds of speeches in her.