As I set fingers to word processor, I’m being transported through the night sky back to L.A. from the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. Many thoughts are roiling around in my brain, and I’d like to share some of them with you.
First, it’s been unique, absolutely (a word crossword puzzlers like me see frequently) a “oner.” I had the feeling right from the start this one would be like no other, and I was proven right on the first day.
Hurricane Gustav blew into New Orleans right on time, and the GOP decided they shouldn’t compete for people’s attention with a probable mass disaster. Sen. McCain was credited with the decision, but I suspect there was heartfelt consensus all around. So the delegates did little but some small official rituals to put the thing on record – and called it a day.
But they did one thing more. Something unprecedented. Something empathetic, humane, unpolitical and very appropriate. They took up a collection; they turned the early part of the convention into a virtual telethon, using their energies and zeal to raise significant monies to help the expected casualties. And they prayed.
I don’t know how many took note or connected the dots – I mean, made the connection between the humanitarian concern and prayers, and the goosebumpy fact that Hurricane Gustav was downgraded from almost a category 5 to about a category 1 overnight!
Down in the path of the still considerable storm, the National Guard, the mayor and governor, local and federal agencies, all were working feverishly and well to try to prevent any sort of recurrence of the Katrina catastrophe of 2005. But no human effort could have diminished the gigantic force of Gustav so quickly. Let’s go ahead and give God a little credit here. And a lot of thanks.
Then, on the second day, the actual convention swung into action, and with an unusual fervor. There were all the delegates decked out in every patriotic fashion imaginable, moving in and out of the beautiful Excel Center, attending caucuses and flooding back in to hear and cheer Laura Bush and Cindy McCain and a variety of other Republicans lesser known. After the evening programs, there were parties featuring country and pop stars singing and declaring their hope for the candidates.
After that, the tempo quickened even more; the national press was everywhere, variously interviewing politicians, delegates and an occasional celebrity. Depending on which channel you watched, you could detect the interviewers trying to get either unrestrained support or noticeably anxious reactions, either about McCain at the head of the ticket or about his startling pick for VP – Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.
This lady, unknown to most delegates and the American public at large, was a veritable bombshell. She had been a choice almost totally unexpected by anybody, and suddenly this lovely, animated, intelligent and articulate young lady governor was big news – headlines in print and lead items on TV news!
And – while we all were trying to digest her story, her accomplishments as mayor and now highly successful governor of our largest state – it was revealed that her 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, was five months pregnant, and of course unmarried. Media pandemonium ensued. And naturally, it swept through the convention and into every conversation everywhere.
Other memorable moments occurred: Laura Bush introducing her hubby speaking by video from Washington; a moving film retrospective of Ronald Reagan; Fred Thompson’s searing account of what naval lieutenant John McCain went through during his five-year stay at the Hanoi Hilton; and a historic address from Sen. Joe Lieberman, himself a former Democrat candidate for vice president, declaring his heartfelt support for his friend John.
On the last two nights, the whole campaign soared to a new level. By the time small-town hockey mom Sarah Palin finished her captivating, challenging, remarkably articulate speech, the party was galvanized into energetic unity. And 37 million viewers were introduced to a personality that will have to be reckoned with. (And Joe Biden will have to confront.)
And then the capper was an hour-long address by John McCain. He detailed some of his goals for energy and the economy, and he was heavy on his determination, having been a long tortured and deprived prisoner of war, to keep America free and strong. He really drew the distinction between his experience, maturity and service … and the flowery promises of his younger opponent with the very short resume.
Now, after its conclusion and the subsequent recaps, repeats and spins, positive and negative, I want to make a couple of predictions. They’ll be right here in print, and will be archived and accessible – we’ll see if I’m in any way a prophet.
First, I believe Sarah Palin, and even her daughter Bristol, will be tremendous plusses for the Republican ticket. I’m guessing that poor Hillary Clinton is swilling antacids and antidepressants, seeing that Obama didn’t value her and her 18 million avid voters, and left it to McCain to choose a very appealing and able woman as his running mate. She surely has seen the possibility that this relative newcomer may precede her to the White House, and even become president, shutting her out completely.
I believe women of every stripe and persuasion have seen one of their own – an exceptional one – rise to an unprecedented level and prove that a mother of five can juggle her duties as wife, mother, mayor, governor – and even vice president . And stay beautiful and engaging all the while.
I believe a visceral awakening has begun in the American psyche. I predict, as we endure a few debates and really analyze where we are in the world – in this time, and facing the daunting challenges already surrounding us – the choice will seem inevitable.
Between the McCains and Palins, there are 12 (and soon to be 13) children. I see a ticket – and an administration – that looks and feels like a big American family, with a wise, hardworking and experienced dad, and an able, energetic and cheery mom. Kids running in and out of the Oval Office, and that wonderful old feeling that every problem can be solved if we work together and believe in each other.
In times like these, won’t that be welcome? We’ll see …