It’s easy to get caught up in the aura of Sarah Palin, which is exciting in a Barack Obama-as-the-first-Black-President sort of way. Her effervescence is approachable, friendly and warm as she mouths out her “Thank Yous” to those who pay homage to her in their speeches and waves to the crowd, revealing sheer joy and genuine gratitude on her face. As Americans are likely to hear a hundred times before the election, she prides herself on being a gun-toting, hockey-momming, moose-eating, ice-fishing Alaskan — although, she’s also quick to admit that she is not unlike most women who live in her state. To juxtapose her wilderness prowess, she can also say that she won the “Miss Congeniality” award in the 1984 Miss Wasilla beauty pageant and was a runner-up for the Miss Alaska contest that same year.

She has a very warm smile that says “Trust me,” but she’s also balanced by a cool intellect that says “Beware,” which creates a very interesting dichotomy. After Sarah shows off her warm and friendly side, she switched gears to launch a pointed reaction to some of the early criticism coming from the Obama camp. The early scuttlebutt attacked her for being the mayor of Wasilla, a city of 9,780 people. Palin quipped, “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities.” She also accused Obama of doublespeak, stating, “I might add that in small towns, we don’t quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren’t listening. We tend to prefer candidates who don’t talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco.” This is the calculating side of a woman who can run with the big dogs entrenched in oil bureaucracies and corrupt administrations, surpassing them with not just endurance but also artifice.

A TIME article paints an interesting portrait of wily Sarah Palin the mayor. Nathan Thornburgh writes, “Palin was a highly polarizing political figure who brought partisan politics and hot-button social issues like abortion and gun control into a mayoral race that had traditionally been contested like a friendly intramural contest among neighbors.” She ran on a pro-gun, pro-life platform that steamrolled her competition. Later, in her gubernational race, she would switch gears to make corruption her new platform since her opponent shared her Republican values.

In her RNC speech Wednesday night, following a star-studded line-up of previous presidential candidates, Sarah Palin emerged in all her School Teacher / Hockey Mom Glory. She was, by no stretch of the imagination, incredible. Her presence was stately and exuded intelligence, aggressiveness and pointed sarcasm. By the end of her 46 minute speech, her tongue-in-cheek demeanor was getting tiresome, but nevertheless, the base was rallied to her cause, screaming after each line. Yes, this is the energy and the enthusiasm that’s been missing from the McCain camp for a while now.

She began by attacking Obama’s “message of Change” with one of her own — saying that the Republicans want change too, that their team is Maverick and Historic too, but they have the experience to get it done. She wanted to prove that it’s all about character – and that they’re the ones with the character America needs. “But the pollsters and pundits overlooked just one thing when they wrote him off. They overlooked the caliber of the man himself – the determination, resolve, and sheer guts of Senator John McCain. The voters knew better,” she said to cheers.

She then talked about her family for a while to show her softer, Middle-Class-friendly side. Sarah Palin is a mother of five, but she’ll challenge all the James Dobsons and Laura Schlessingers who say women should stay home with their children. She lavished praise on her son, Track, and her nephew for enlisting in the army, gearing up for his deployment to Iraq. She also mentioned her son Trig, who was born with Down syndrome, while describing his existence as evidence of her strongly pro-life stance. Conveniently, her 17-year-old daughter Bristol’s pregnancy also puts her money where her mouth is. The camera pans to her high school sweetheart husband, Todd – a four-time champion of Alaska’s Iron Dog snow-machine race, who is always beaming with pride and clapping supportively. Todd employed Sarah for a while in his commercial fishing business but went on to work in upper management for BP Oil. When his wife became governor, Todd left BP to return as a (non-management) oil-field production operator to prevent any conflicts of interest for his wife.

Palin didn’t hesitate to take aim at the Media, saying: “But here’s a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion – I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this country. Americans expect us to go to Washington for the right reasons, and not just to mingle with the right people. Politics isn’t just a game of clashing parties and competing interests. The right reason is to challenge the status quo, to serve the common good, and to leave this nation better than we found it.”

In many ways, her two-year tenure as Governor embodies her message of reform. She has every right to boast about putting the luxury state jet (purchased by the previous administration using taxpayer money) on eBay, firing the governor’s security detail and even getting rid of the resident chef. She put a halt to an 11-mile bridge leading from an unused mine and the earmark “bridge to nowhere” as part of her $237 million in pork-barrel project budget cuts. She fought for the jobs of farmers (by firing the entire Board of Agriculture and Conservation) when the Alaska Creamery Board threatened to shut down the unprofitable state-run Matanuska Maid Dairy Farm. She gained favor with labor unions by strongly supporting the construction of a natural gas pipeline to Vancouver and won taxpayers over by passing increased oil profit taxes, which will arrive in the form of $1,200 annual checks to each citizen to help with rising energy costs. As mayor, Palin secured $27 million in federally funded projects for Wasilla and, as governor, an unprecedented $197.8 million. Critics say her support for earmarks as a way of obtaining cash for the people of her state is controversial and the polar opposite of McCain’s staunch anti-pork stance, which brings up an interesting question: IS pork barrel legislation and add-ons acceptable, so long as it benefits a few citizens, rather than CEOs?

One would logically assume that anyone living in Alaska has a strong conservation spirit, which is only partially true for Palin. On one hand, she has a cabinet of advisers on greenhouse gases and climate change. On the other hand, she supports the shooting of wolves from helicopters to keep moose population up and predator population low; she adamantly advocates “responsible” drilling in ANWR; and she condemns efforts to protect the Cook Inlet beluga whales or list polar bears as an endangered species. Conservation is sort of a mixed bag with Palin and it’s a complicated topic for a reformer. Is she kowtowing to non-profit interests, to local oil interests, to NRA-member interests or to public interest?

She also shook things up as mayor – only some of the reports aren’t as flattering. Librarian Mary Ellen Emmons says she was fired “for not being loyal” when she refused to censor books that Palin’s constituents found offensive. Police chief Irl Stambaugh, Public works director Jack Felton, finance director Duane Dvorak and museum overseer John Cooper all received similar terminations for being deemed disloyal to the new administration. Under her governorship, Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan also made headlines when he alleged “wrongful termination” after refusing to fire State Trooper Mike Wooten, the ex-husband of Palin’s sister. Do her actions reveal a darker side of this charming VP nominee? Palin supporters say the shake-up was nothing more than small town politics and perhaps these people were just casualties of her agenda to reduce town museum spending and keep the library personnel small. She was championed for decreasing property taxes by 40%, reducing her own salary and improving infrastructure like sewers and railroads.

In her speech, she launched an aggressive tirade about Barack Obama, first accusing him of lacking experience: “We’ve all heard his dramatic speeches before devoted followers. And there is much to like and admire about our opponent. But listening to him speak, it’s easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform – not even in the state senate. This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting, and never use the word ‘victory’ except when he’s talking about his own campaign.”

Then she gave her view of Obama’s plans: “But when the cloud of rhetoric has passed … when the roar of the crowd fades away … when the stadium lights go out, and those Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot – what exactly is our opponent’s plan? What does he actually seek to accomplish, after he’s done turning back the waters and healing the planet? The answer is to make government bigger … take more of your money … give you more orders from Washington … and to reduce the strength of America in a dangerous world. America needs more energy … our opponent is against producing it. Victory in Iraq is finally in sight … he wants to forfeit. Terrorist states are seeking new-clear weapons without delay … he wants to meet them without preconditions. Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America … he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights? Government is too big … he wants to grow it. Congress spends too much … he promises more. Taxes are too high … he wants to raise them. His tax increases are the fine print in his economic plan, and let me be specific. The Democratic nominee for president supports plans to raise income taxes … raise payroll taxes … raise investment income taxes … raise the death tax … raise business taxes … and increase the tax burden on the American people by hundreds of billions of dollars.”

In essence, Sarah Palin is riled up and ready to debate! Although, the larger question remains: Is Sarah Palin ready to lead? Many of her supporters say that she has more executive experience than any of the other candidates running, which is true. But what could we expect under her administration? How much would her creationist, pro-gun agenda come into play when it comes to policy making decisions? Would she immediately overturn Roe V. Wade? Would she cut scientific research funding that relies on stem cells? Would she can all the “Loyal Bushies” or convert them to “Loyal Palins?” We’re likely to see drilling at ANWR and energy rebate checks – but will we see empathy for endangered species or a shift toward energy conservation? She may be able to dump many ineffective departments and reduce the size of government, but how many jobs will be callously lost?

In many ways, she’s exactly what John McCain needs to return vigor to his candidacy. All pundits – left and right – agree that she effectively rallied the much-needed Conservative-Evangelical base. It should also be noted that she managed to inspire “well over $1 million in donations” since her Wednesday Night Speech, although Obama also drummed up $10 million that same night. Sometimes Palin and McCain look awkward standing there together, waving to the crowd, with body language that is both austere and disconnected. McCain first met Palin in February of this year, so perhaps it is still a little like a blind date for them. Now that a strong woman has been added to the ticket, will she be content to simply check on the status of McCain’s health and sign off Christmas card greetings so Cindy doesn’t have to do it anymore or will this small town Alaskan transform our society more than we could have imagined?

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