In the final week of the presidential election, the hot political storyline centered on how the maverick hockey mom, also known as Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, is really a "rogue," a "diva" and even, Lord help us, a "whack job."
She's gone "off-message," "McCain sources" complain.
Off-message? Off-message! That's only something to complain about if you want Palin's running mate to lose. Palin's off-message is better than a lot of things I've heard coming out of a campaign that could have used some messaging help more than once, an operation that hasn't always been worthy of the seasoned public servant at its helm, John McCain.
Most of what Palin says — especially those statements raising the ire of some in the McCain camp — is sensible, it resonates. Palin exudes a common sense you can't buy in a political consultant. For example, she supposedly committed a major faux pas in admitting she has no love for automated phone recordings. While talking to the press in Colorado Springs, Alaska's governor asserted that she would prefer to personally communicate with American citizens rather than rely on robocalls and shrill TV advertisements.
Why shouldn't she say that robocalls are irritating? Ever get one? I can tell you that conservative friends of mine who have recently received such calls from Michelle Obama appreciated Palin's honesty. Even while the Republican presidential campaign defends the use of automated telephone messages, Palin's remarks were not only honest but smart politics. McCain sources complain at their own peril.
The motivation, presumably, of whoever is complaining to the press, lies in getting a head start on recriminations. If McCain-Palin ends up a losing ticket, someone is aiming to get in front of the pack by making the GOP's first female vice-presidential contender a scapegoat. But the most colorful and adamant Palin-basher within the Republican campaign gave the game away when he or she overshot. "She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else," the source, who went so far as to call Palin a "diva," told CNN. She doesn't trust anyone in her family? Now, I'm not in her family or in the position to know, but that seems a little much.
"And it's my own jacket," Palin said about the cream-colored blazer she recently wore, in the wake of the Republican National Committee's much-reported efforts to spruce up the candidate's wardrobe. That story didn't help her or the campaign, and she knows it. And she knows that high-end clothes and pricey primping — even if they make a lot of practical, televisual sense — run contrary to her image. Those headlines were a far cry from the governor who posed for Vogue last year in a parka.
It was a silly distraction of a story in some ways — only to get sillier when it eventually started a fight on "The View," after co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck appeared with Palin at a weekend rally. But it also previewed the direction the blame game might be headed should the Republicans lose the presidential election. And in this way, the diva story should serve as a cautionary note.
There are all sorts of reasons not to blame Palin for the down-to-the-wire nature of this close election, but to thank her. Without her, all may have been lost for the Republicans weeks ago. She has, by McCain's own admission, energized the campaign. She has presented America with an entirely new type of feminism, one that conservative women and the Catholic Church, can finally understand and identify with. She should not be faulted for providing the campaign and the election with a breath of fresh air. She's clearly not a creature of Washington; she's a citizen-legislator. She's an ambitious, honest woman who tries to make it all work without playing victim or sacrificing her family. She's not perfect, but who among us is? If the McCain campaign tries to make her responsible for any defeat or close call, Republicans ought to repudiate such tawdry efforts with due haste. In many ways, Sarah Palin is a step in the right direction. Don't you dare blame her.
Kathryn Lopez is the editor of National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.