Beyond Palin's Personality

By Jim Wallis 09-04-2008

While many conservatives have known and admired Sarah Palin for some time, most Americans do not know her. So the intense media focus on the new Republican vice-presidential nominee was to be expected. But some of it has been inappropriate, especially when reporters go after the Palin family's choices. The suggestion that running for vice president with a 5-month-old special-needs child and a pregnant 17-year-old daughter should make her suspect as a mother is a blatant double standard that would not be applied to a male candidate. All four candidates should indeed focus on the needs of their families, and it's clear they all do. But a mother with children should have as much freedom to run for office as a father in the same situation.

Palin introduced herself to the country with last night's speech to the Republican National Convention. She gave the crowd what it was looking for -- the narrative of her life, an all-out defense of John McCain, and strong criticisms of Democrats, Washington, and the media. If anyone had any questions about her being a formidable political figure, those were put to rest last night. Republican leaders are taking pride this morning in Palin's high school nickname: "Sarah Barracuda." Many found her speech feisty and tough, while others found it negative and smug. But Palin has clearly united the three legs of the modern Republican Party -- social conservatives, economic conservatives, and foreign policy hawks -- and really energized that base, as was evident in the Convention Hall last night. Media commentators across the spectrum commented on the success of Palin's address. But the well-delivered speech still leaves many questions unanswered. As conservative columnist Steve Chapman wrote in the Chicago Tribune,

Palin has another, more complicated task that this speech postponed: reaching out to millions of people who are honestly wondering if she has the experience, depth and temperament to step into the Oval Office. What many of those Americans need to see are qualities like judgment, wisdom, tolerance and flexibility. Those traits were conspicuous by their absence tonight.

With two months to go, the questions will certainly be raised. The most important one that is emerging is which ticket will be most able to reach out to many people in the middle in both parties and the all-important political independents. Facts will be important. Whose tax policies will most benefit low-income and middle-class families? Who has a plan to reverse the economic downturn? Who has the smartest strategy for countering the real threats of terrorism? And who has the best and most comprehensive response to the full range of moral issues that are of deep concern to people of faith?

Now, all four of the political figures on their respective party tickets have been shown to have compelling personal stories. All four are "real people," as the slogan goes. But this election must not just be about personalities, or inspiring personal histories; it must be about the issues, the records, the leadership, and the facts. May God help us to stay focused on that. Last week belonged to the Democrats, this week to the Republicans. Now, after the showy conventions of the past two weeks, the real work of this election can begin.

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