Palin to take the stage at RNC

Behind The News
September 3, 2008 12:53:56 PM PDT
It may be the only anticipated speech of the Republican Convention. Sarah Palin. What will she say, and how will she say it?

Even the Barack Obama campaign is expecting her to give a "great speech" -- she is "likely to bring the convention floor out of its chairs," according to Obama adviser Robert Gibbs.

At last week's convention for the Democrats, the worry was that Hillary Clinton was sucking up all the energy in the room. And in fact it was her convention, for all intents and purposes, until Wednesday night, when, during roll call, Sen. Clinton moved to nominate Obama by acclamation. And then, later that night, her husband sealed the deal, by making the case for Obama in what was arguably the best speech of the convention.

So far, this has been Sarah Palin's convention, although in a very different way from how Hillary Clinton made her party's gathering her convention. The drip, drip, drip of disclosures has left the Republicans off-message. They tried to get it together last night, with former Sen. Fred Thompson sounding like Barry Goldwater circa 1964. The delegates ate it up, but you have to wonder how Americans watching at home digested it.

And what a bizarre scene with Joe Lieberman, the VP candidate for Democrats eight years ago, keynoting the GOP convention in 2008. The hard-core delegates trust Lieberman about as far as they can throw him. John McCain wanted, if you believe the pundits and political reporters, to name Lieberman as his running mate. But the reaction when he floated that trial balloon was so viciously against Lieberman that McCain backed off. He ended up yielding to the party hardliners by picking Palin.

So now it's her turn in the spotlight. I said yesterday in this space that people are tested when they are forced or asked to rise to the challenge of the moment. We'll see of Gov. Palin can do that tonight.

We'll also see if, after her speech, John McCain can manage to turn this confab into his convention. If Palin continues to dominate, McCain will remain off-message. and you don't have to be a political scientist to know that his campaign would then be doomed.

The question of Palin's experience - less than two years as Governor of Alaska, and 10 years as Mayor of an Alaskan town with fewer than 7,000 residents - is certainly on the table.

This whole argument about experience -- after all, Barack Obama isn't exactly flush with it either -- started with Pres. Bush. When he was running for President in 2000, the New York Times did a fascinating profile of him, during which he told the reporter that he looked at his father's Vice President, Dan Quayle, and thought to himself, hey, if he can do that job, so can I!

Quayle was widely criticized for his lack of experience when the first Pres. Bush tapped him to be his running mate. At the time, Quayle had served 12 years in office - four as Congressman, eight as U.S. Senator.

By contrast, and just in terms of years of service, that's eons compared to Obama.

Maybe it's time to measure qualifications as something other than just years in service. After all, George W. Bush was Governor of Texas for less than two terms - in a state where the legislature is a part-time experience.

There are examples of people elected to big offices without any experience - the last two Mayors of New York had not one iota of political experience. And, although both Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg have their share of critics -- it would be hard to argue that either was unqualified.

So, we're left to look at the person. Do their professional and personal life experiences make them qualified to lead the country? That's the question.

We have Diana Williams and Dave Evans in Minnesota, covering the convention for us, tonight at 11.

We're also following the storm tracks of Hannah and Ike. Lee Goldberg will have the latest. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

Bill Ritter