It was Tony Perkins who had the fateful pre-Sarah slot on Friday at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. The Family Research Council president delivered a forgettable speech by any measure, if any in the audience even bothered listening. He was like the warm-up act for the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. He could have unveiled the Unified Theory of Everything or heralded the Second Coming, and nobody would have noticed, because Sarah Palin was next.
The magnitude of the Palin phenomenon is difficult to wrap one's brain around. Did Geraldine Ferraro garner such unfettered enthusiasm and attention two years after her ticket cratered? Obviously, at an event where Republican VIPs paid seven hundred dollars a pop (children under the age of ONE admitted free), she was going to be well received. But it's not just here that Sarah-mania grips crowds. It's at fundraisers. It's at book signings. It's online. And it's pretty obvious that her presence in New Orleans frightened off Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.
Still, she's not a great speaker. She's rarely eloquent and remains awkward in front of an audience. She's not especially accomplished, though the anticipation she builds prior to every speech would lead one to think she's Charles de Gaulle. Her ideas aren't especially unique or revolutionary. She doesn't propose to uproot the GOP or rewrite the party platform. But she's got the elusive x-factor. She exudes charisma and a well-calibrated folksy charm. To quote Rich Lowry on her star power, "This is a quality that can't be learned; it's either something you have or you don't, and man, she's got it."
There are a great many effective leaders and credible future presidents in both the Republican and Democratic parties. But there are only two rock stars. One lives in the White House. The other lives in Alaska. Before a crowd of nearly four thousand, she wasted no time cutting into the Obama administration. "Now we've got the makings of the Obama Doctrine," she said, "Coddling enemies. Alienating allies." She ridiculed the administration's treatment of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, saying they treated him poorly, "and then acted surprised when he responded in kind." And she joined a common theme of the conference, criticizing the administration's treatment of Benjamin Netanyahu, saying, "Jerusalem is not a settlement and Israel is our friend."