Via streaming video, I watched Sarah Palin in New Mexico Saturday night, speaking to a very loud crowd before she introduced John McCain. Observing not as a partisan but as a student of politics, I found it nothing short of breathtaking. I was struck by the ease of delivery, the sense of calm at the podium, the smile when she chides Barack Obama (“I’m surprised he went there” she says before explaining his horrid record on earmarks), and the non-boastful way in which she gives chapter and verse on her own record of budget and tax reform and energy development. The total package of political skills is rare and almost unheard of in someone who previously never operated on a national stage.
Her proficiency and political showmanship raise two issues. First, when the two candidates separate for future campaigning, will her crowds dwarf his? (And does it matter?) She is now the star of the race, and the choice as to how and where to use her will be a tricky one for the McCain camp. Second, the assessment of the mainstream media — that she was an untested, unaccomplished hick — has proven to be so totally at odds with reality that average voters, even those not previously inclined to doubt the fairness of the media, may conclude that the press is utterly clueless and unworthy of their attention. Over the course of the campaign this might insulate the McCain-Palin ticket from the constant barbs and attacks that are sure to be launched against them.