Washington Matters


Don't Get Caught Up in Palin Speech Hype


St. Paul -- Does anyone think Sarah Palin will flop tonight at the Republican convention? Of course not. She'd have to have the teleprompter fall apart or her microphone go dead to score anything less than a 10 with the warmest crowd she could have in the convention hall. After all, she only has to deliver a speech written and vetted by a team of political operatives. At some point, probably sooner than later, the bar will rise much higher.

The media is making this speech sound like a make-or-break opportunity, buying into the McCain team's hype that this will be a crucial moment for the GOP vice presidential nominee. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Tonight she could say, "Thanks. It's nice to be here," and the crowd will erupt. Her speech will tell the story of her life that that strategists want told and her policy declarations will be in keeping with McCain's.

Palin won't go near the controversies swirling around her candidacy and she won't mention any of the positions she's taken -- like support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- that are at odds with McCain. There will be no tough questions and no gaffes. She'll steer far clear of controversy tonight, speaking rather about faith and family, women in politics and business, patriotism, military service and government reform and some light references to frontier life in Alaska. This is hardly a job interview, after all. That was done in McCain's short vetting process, where the bar was also arguably set surprisingly low.

Her job tonight is to make history by saying, "Thank you, I accept your nomination." What she says is less important than how she appears -- specifically, whether she sounds like a potential commander in chief.

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But that will change soon and the bar will get a lot higher. Let's move ahead a week or two in this very short general election race. At some point Palin have to hold a real press conference and answer some of the questions about her record and affiliations. She and the McCain campaign can't reject media inquiries for long, especially by insisting that those who question whether she is up to the job are being sexist.

Then, on Oct. 2, she'll debate Joe Biden. She'll have to demonstrate knowledge of the issues, but debate formats tend to be limiting and most candidates can get by with short answers that they've rehearsed in advance.

Public pressure for fuller answers of questions will rise, partisan politics aside, I bet, especially after the glow of the convention fades. The more she delays a full airing, the higher the risk that she will be seen as a stealth pick and incapable of handling tough questions, let alone tough decisions were she one day to be president.

 



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