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Northern Exposure at the RNC

By Gilbert Garcia

If we cast aside the content of Sarah Palin's platform (and remember, this is someone who's anti-choice even in cases of rape or incest; who opposes all forms of sex education, aside from abstinence; and who tried to get books banned from her hometown library), she gave a great political performance at last night's RNC.

Without a doubt, she had a camera-conscious crowd prepared to adore her, but her timing, energy, and confidence erased any questions about whether her Alaskan appeal could translate to a national audience. Some of her cracks were unfair (and it's a little tiresome to hear Republicans mock Barack Obama's experience as a community organizer, given that Obama could have easily taken a six-figure Wall Street job coming out of law school, but elected to work with low-income people on the South Side of Chicago), but she has that rare ability (often associated with FDR, JFK, and Ronald Reagan) to serve up vinegar and make it taste like honey.

Her speech got me thinking about past Republican conventions, and I realized that she was the first truly dynamic young GOP leader to connect with a national audience in my lifetime. The Republican Party tends to hand over its leadership reins to older figures who've paid their dues and have finally earned their time (Nixon in '68, Reagan in '80, Daddy Bush in '88, Bob Dole in '96, and John McCain in '08), or, in at least one recent case, a family legacy. Palin is unique in that she's an out-of-the blue, true rising star, much like Bill Clinton in 1992 or Obama this year.

In fact, Palin is so dynamic that she's liable to make McCain look bad by comparison. When he clumsily took the stage last night and seemingly couldn't think of anything to say (other than affirming he'd made the right VP choice), it reinforced the sense that he's the doddering old grandpa carrying his picnic basket on Golden Pond. He never looks older than when he's standing next to Sarah Palin.

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