A Veep candidate like none before
Three months ago in Pennsylvania, John McCain held a town-hall meeting in Philadelphia in front of about 500 people. Yesterday, more than 10,000 turned up in rural Lancaster County, in the state's south. Some queued for more than four hours, including Annetta Good, 70. Was she here because of the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain? She looked sheepish. "No. It's Sarah Palin."
The Governor of Alaska, with staunch anti-abortion views and solid evangelical Christian credentials, has shocked even McCain with her drawing power now that she has joined the ticket as his vice-presidential nominee. No one inside the camp appears to care if she is swamping the news and overshadowing McCain....
The fire marshals at yesterday's event in Lancaster were forced to shut the doors with a couple of thousand outside. A stage was set up for McCain to come out later and address them. But it was Palin who electrified her fans inside. It was an Obama-like reception. As Palin was introduced, there were shouts of "Sarah! Sarah!"
It took 10 minutes for Palin, her husband, Todd -- along with, so the joke goes, "what's his name" -- to get to the podium. "Oh my goodness," Palin drawled in an elongated accent with echoes of a Canadian burr which has already captured the hearts of millions of Americans. "Thank you so much, it is so great to be here. This is absolutely overwhelming." Standing in high heels with her adventurer-cum-oil-worker husband by her side, Palin's star appeal is undoubted.
However, her stump speech was nothing new, other than a rendition of the greatest hits from her speech last week in St Paul, Minnesota, when she rocked the Republican Party convention with her self-confidence and her rhetorical evisceration of Obama. Again, she hammered Obama for saying one thing to working people in one place and something different elsewhere -- a swipe at the Illinois senator's comment earlier this year to a private gathering in San Francisco that working Americans were "bitter" and clinging to religion and guns. "Wherever he goes, John McCain is the same man," Palin said to a roar. "There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you."
McCain stood by Palin, pointing and acknowledging people in the audience, grinning broadly. He took the microphone and told the crowd: "You are convincing me more and more we will win the state of Pennsylvania." It will be a tough fight. Obama holds an advantage here but McCain is gaining. The last time a Republican won in this state was George HW Bush in 1988.
If crowd size is an indicator, it is neck-and-neck. Obama and his running mate, Joe Biden, were in Lancaster last week and drew a crowd of the same size. Biden grew up in working-class Scranton, about two hours to the north. Even so, that huge crowds are turning out for McCain and Palin shows the kind of support that narrowly carried George W.Bush to office in 2000 and 2004.
Her pro-life views swung it for many in the audience, amid doubts among conservatives -- until now at least -- about McCain's own views on abortion and religion. "He wasn't going to get my vote, until he selected Sarah Palin," said Colleen Ford, 31, holding a 13-month-old baby. "She's pro-life and she's proved it," she said, referring to Palin's decision to have a baby this year, Trig, despite knowing he would be born with Down syndrome. Anne Gjerde, 57, said she was planning to abstain from voting this year until Palin was selected.
A new Washington Post/ABC poll yesterday indicated a 20-point shift in white women to the McCain-Palin ticket -- from Obama holding an eight-point edge two weeks ago to a 12-point deficit now. But Obama's campaign manager said the poll was "wrong", and his internal polling didn't support the poll's finding.
Obamania makes way for Palinmania
Even before Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska had appeared on the stage to introduce Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, the chant went up around the hall: "We want Sarah!" A tear rolled down the cheek of a middle-aged woman volunteer who moments earlier had been barking orders to keep the exits clear. A mother clutched the hand of her 11-year-old daughter, whose face was made up like a clown with stars and the letters P-A-L-I-N painted across her face.
Outside, queues which began six hours earlier snaked around the sports hall as more than 9,000 people filed in. Hundreds would be left outside. They held home-made signs with slogans like "God, guns, lipstick" and "Read my lipstick - Palin." A vendor had run out of badges with Mrs Palin's picture and the legend: "Coldest State, Hottest Governor." One beaming woman wearing a "USA" baseball cap had scrawled a on a piece of cardboard: "A Real Woman = Governor, mom, CEO, pro-Life, God fearing, happy. GO SARAH!"
"I've never seen anything like it," said G. Edward LeFevre, a local Republican committee member. "The crowd, the enthusiasm, the upbeat feel and the emotion is unprecedented. Sarah Palin is quite a lady."
Then the 44-year-old mother of five appeared, with her husband Todd, also 44, and Mr McCain, 72, alongside her. The crowd went wild, the screaming and cheering eventually subsiding into a steady cry in unison of: "Sarah, Sarah, Sarah!" .....
Almost every woman asked about Mrs Palin used the word "real" to describe her. "We can relate to her," said Lori Ciarrocca, 40. "She's like other moms out there. She's a real person who speaks her mind and tells you how it is."
Tom Bross, 62, a Vietnam veteran who was twice wounded in combat, said that it was not just women she appealed to. "There are old rednecks who would have thrown me out of the local restaurant two weeks ago if I'd said they'd ever vote for a woman "Now Sarah Palin comes along and they're like a bunch of school kids tripping over themselves to listen to her."
'I am a liberal, but I'm blown away by Sarah Palin'
As American women are drawn to the Republican vice-presidential candidate, US writer Rebecca Johnson explains her appeal
It never really occurred to me that she might be the vice-presidential candidate. With so little time in office, even Alaskans hadn't yet made up their mind about Sarah Palin's job as governor of the state. I ran down to the beach to find my mother. A left-leaning Quaker who is president of the League of Women Voters in her Texas town, my mother is the least likely person to celebrate the election of a Republican to national office.
But as a young woman she had lived in Alaska, teaching English to natives and living on a houseboat. It was the place she had gone to escape her Southern Baptist country club-attending, bridge-playing parents and it loomed large in our family as a mythic paradise, a place where you could escape the chains of civilisation and reinvent yourself.
As soon as my mother retired from her job as a professor at a community college, we drove the Alaska-Canada highway together, revisiting the site of her early bliss. During that month-long trip, I glimpsed what she saw in the state. A whole day could go by without us seeing another soul: a solitude that complete could scrub the worst personality clean. The people we met were prickly, opinionated and original. Gore Vidal once famously said that California was so full of oddballs it was as if somebody had picked up the country and shook it so that all the loose pieces landed in the west. These days, the pieces are landing in the north.
With so few people around, conventional wisdom seems irrelevant and laws have a way of seeming arbitrary. When we were ready to sleep, we'd pull off the road and pitch a tent. But the harsh calculus of wilderness also reveals what is essential. You don't plan well, you don't make it through the winter. The wood pile outside Sarah Palin's parents' house is half a city block long for a reason. Forget New York City. If you can make it in Alaska, you can make it anywhere. When Sarah Palin says she doesn't care what we east coast liberals think about her, she means it.
"Sarah Palin is the vice-presidential candidate," I told my mother when I found her under a beach umbrella. We hugged each other joyfully. Politics be damned, Palin was a woman and she was an Alaskan! Moreover, I had been impressed with her when I interviewed her - not for her politics (I'm one of those east coast liberals she doesn't care about) but for the other things that people across the country are responding to right now:her warmth, her work ethic, her "can-do" attitude.
If life is simply a reprise of high school, Palin was the jock who attended church faithfully, ran the soup kitchen, and organised the bake sale. If her paper on the Lincoln-Douglas debate wasn't the most nuanced, so be it. Something has to give.
In my article, I wrote about how hard it is for Palin not to smile. The American media has been dismissive of that beauty-queen smile, but Palin really did enter the Miss Wasilla contest for the scholarship money. (To make extra money, her retired parents currently shoo the birds off the runway at the Anchorage airport so the birds' bodies don't muck up the engines' turbine.) Even then, Palin didn't like the pageant and was appalled when they asked her to turn around and show the judges her behind.
Once upon a time, I also would have been contemptuous of Palin's incurable optimism but, having been knocked around by life a bit, I now understand what a gift chronically happy people are given. Life hands them difficulties -a Down's syndrome baby, a 17-year-old daughter pregnant before her life as an adult has even begun, a much-needed job on the oil and gas commission that comes with too many strings - and she is not flummoxed or depressed or angry or self-pitying. She endures.
My liberal friends were outraged when rumours about Barack Obama attending a Madrassa or being a Muslim surfaced on the internet, but all week they have been gleefully trading emails of Sarah Palin distortions. There was the doctored picture of her carrying a rifle, wearing a stars-and-stripes bikini while a man in the background drank Schlitz beer. Or dopey quotes about God, creationism and moose, all of which have been subsequently debunked.
There have also been snide remarks about Wal-Mart and K-Mart, as if there is something shameful about trying to save money. The week before Palin's nomination was announced, people were talking about John McCain's inability to remember precisely how many houses he and his gazillionaire wife own. A few weeks before that, the news was Cindy McCain's $250,000 American Express bill (those lime-green shifts aren't free).
Todd Palin earns an hourly wage at his job on the North Slope oil field; Sarah Palin makes $125,000 a year as governor of Alaska. They're not poor, but Alaska, where most things have to be flown or shipped in, is an expensive state and they have five mouths to feed. Palin isn't shooting moose for sport; her family eats what she kills. If she shops at Wal-Mart for diapers, the vast majority of American women can relate.
It's no wonder the latest Washington Post poll shows an unprecedented shift of 20 points among white women towards McCain since he announced Palin as his running mate. Times are hard and getting harder. In a perfect world, people would vote based on issues. Care about a woman's right to choose her own biological destiny? Vote pro-choice. Unfortunately, life is still a lot like high school. We vote for people we like, people who make us feel comfortable and heard.
Having watched folksy George W trounce the patrician Al Gore and John Kerry, you'd think the Democrats would have learned this. Deriding Palin's modest background and lack of Ivy League credentials will only turn voters off. We should celebrate what is groundbreaking about Sarah Palin: a card-carrying member of Feminists for Life is a big step forward from Housewives for Life. And then we should talk about the issues.
Sarah scares Democrat actor Matt Damon: "The film star and Democrat activist likened the possibility of the Republican nominee for vice president becoming leader of the US to "a really bad Disney movie". "You do the actuary tables, there's a one out of three chance, if not more, that McCain doesn't survive his first term, and it'll be President Palin," Damon said during an interview at the Toronto Film Festival to promote ONEXONE, a Canadian children's charity. "It's like a really bad Disney movie, "The Hockey Mom.' Oh, I'm just a hockey mom from Alaska, and she's the president," the actor said. "She's facing down Vladimir Putin and using the folksy stuff she learned at the hockey rink. It's absurd. "I don't understand why more people aren't talking about how absurd it is. It's a really terrifying possibility. The fact that we have gotten that close to this being a reality is crazy."
Media sensationalism kills: "A teenage girl in central India killed herself on Wednesday after being traumatised by media reports that a "Big Bang" experiment in Europe could bring about the end of the world, her father said. The 16-year old girl from the state of Madhya Pradesh drank pesticide and was rushed to the hospital but later died, police said. Her father, identified on local television as Biharilal, said that his daughter, Chayya, killed herself after watching doomsday predictions made on Indian news programmes. "In the past two days, Chayya had asked me and other relatives about the world coming to an end on Sept. 10," Biharilal was quoted as saying. "We tried to divert her attention and told her she should not worry about such things, but to no avail." For the past two days, many Indian news channels held discussions airing doomsday predictions over a huge particle-smashing machine buried under the Swiss-French border."
Australian public broadcasting head praises Rupert: "Rupert Murdoch is the last, best hope for quality newspapers, ABC managing director Mark Scott has declared. Describing the Australian print media industry as a "pageant of distrust, misery and dashed hopes" in a speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Mr Scott said the growth of digital services was placing a bomb under the traditional commercial media business model. "Through all the turmoil within the Australian media industry, there is only one print mogul who has diversified his portfolio enough to offset the costs of quality journalism against profits made elsewhere in his business," said Mr Scott, a former editorial director at Fairfax. "And yes -- that last, best hope for newspapers is Rupert Murdoch."
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