Two Views of Palin's Speech

First, Brooks:

... what was most impressive was her speech's freshness. Her words flowed directly from her life experience, her poise and mannerisms from her town and its conversations. She left behind most of the standard tropes of Republican rhetoric (compare her text to the others) and skated over abortion and the social issues. There wasn't even any tired, old Reagan nostalgia.

Instead, her language resonated more of supermarket aisle than the megachurch pulpit. More than the men on the tickets, she embodies the spirit of the moment: impatient, fed up, tough-minded, but ironical. Even in attack, she projected the cheerfulness of someone confident about the future.

Then, Noonan:

Which gets me to the most important element of the speech, and that is the startlingness of the content. It was not modern conservatism, or split the difference Conservative-ish-ism. It was not a conservatism that assumes the America of 2008 is very different from the America of 1980.

It was the old-time conservatism. Government is too big, Obama will "grow it", Congress spends too much and he'll spend "more." It was for low taxes, for small business, for the private sector, for less regulation, for governing with "a servant's heart"; it was pro-small town values, and implicitly but strongly pro-life.

This was so old it seemed new, and startling. The speech was, in its way, a call so tender it made grown-ups weep on the floor. The things she spoke of were the beating heart of the old America. But as I watched I thought, I know where the people in that room are, I know their heart, for it is my heart. But this election is a wild card, because America is a wild card. It is not as it was in '80. I know where the Republican base is, but we do not know where this country that never stops changing is.

Can they both be right? Well, no, not entirely, and to the extent that their readings can't be reconciled I incline slightly more toward Noonan's take. But I think these dueling interpretations capture a real duality in the speech. Palin's tone, her self-presentation, were as Brooks describes them - fresh, unpretentious, cheerful, forward-looking, and blessedly unencumbered by the burdens of Reagan nostalgia that hung so heavily over the GOP primary campaign. Her substance, though, was much more as Noonan describes it: Palin mainly hit old-time conservative notes on taxes and size of government, and it was left to John McCain to talk, with his characteristic uncomfortability, about health care and education, globalization and job retraining, and the other issues the party's base doesn't want to talk about, and the Democrats do. This may have been the right call for the convention; going forward, though, I don't think that division of labor plays to the two candidate's strengths. And for the sake of Sarah Palin's long-term prospects, especially, I hope the Vice-Presidential debate showcases a different side of her conservatism.