One year ago today, August 29, 2008, political life in America (and my life) underwent a sea change. On that day, in a basketball arena in Dayton, Ohio, John McCain announced that Sarah Palin would be his running mate for the 2008 Presidential election.
Now, this is not a diary to pronounce how Sarah Palin gave birth to her fifth child at the top of Mount Everest while closing up the hole in the ozone layer. Rather, it is just a personal reflection on that day and what Sarah’s nomination meant to me, and my interpretation of what that has meant, and will continue to mean, to the American body politic.
I first became aware of Sarah Palin in early 2008. Matt Drudge had a link near the bottom of his page that said something like “Hottie for VP”. Being a normal American male, I of course followed the link, which led me to Adam Brickley’s now famous (and enshrined in the Library of Congress historical archives) “Draft Sarah Palin for Vice-President” blog. I immediately began researching Gov. Palin and liked what I saw and read. I watched every interview with her that I could find. I even watched clips from the 2006 Alaska gubernatorial debates. I became convinced that she was the only potential running mate for McCain that would help close the enthusiasm gap between him and Obama, and his best bet for winning the White House.
I spent the next 7 or 8 months pushing this idea to everyone I knew, including commenting on every news article I could find on McCain’s VP choices. Adam’s blog became a daily fixture for me. But even as late as August 28, the prospect of a Palin candidacy was just a fringe possibility that very few people gave much credence to. Two days before the announcement, for the first time in my life (despite being a longtime political activist), I actually prayed to God for a specific political outcome. I had become disheartened by the media’s love affair with Barack Obama and the minimal prospect of beating him in November. I so wanted John McCain to do something, anything, to inspire me. As I went to bed on Thursday night, Drudge had several articles highlighting Tim Pawlenty on his site. I went to bed hopeful, but somewhat resigned to the likelihood of a disappointing announcement and an unenthusiastic, doomed, Presidential campaign.
When I awoke on Friday morning, I slowly trod to the computer and pulled up the Drudge Report. To my utter astonishment, there was the McCain/Palin button graphic that I also had on my computer desktop! The headline said, “And the mate is?”. I could hardly contain my excitement as I read the articles about the mysterious plane from Alaska to Ohio and watched Fox News speculate on whether or not it was Palin. When they finally announced that it was official, my family and I were ecstatic.
Now, we all know the story, the ups and downs, that have followed since that fateful day. We have many disagreements about Sarah Palin: Should she have resigned or not? Does she have any prospects for future national office, or not? Is her limited term as Governor an impossible obstacle to future office? And so on, and so on…
But what we are missing in these disagreements, is this. McCain’s nomination of Sarah Palin, and her subsequent introduction speech electrified a moribund conservative movement like nothing else did, or even could have, at that point in our history. We were largely a demoralized movement by 2008, worn down by the disappointing presidency of George W. Bush. While he did keep us safe after 9/11, he betrayed conservatives on very many domestic fronts. Had he sold himself originally as a moderate Republican, we could have used his failures to energize our movement. But since he had suckered us in by proclaiming himself a “compassionate conservative”, conservatives now were stuck with the blame for his big government, big spending ways. The voters had taken note, and wanted nothing to do with conservative politicians. They were unhappy with the last 8 years, even to the point of backing an unknown, radically leftist, Chicago thug politician with absolutely zero experience running anything.
Sarah Palin’s ascension changed the conservative nation overnight. Millions of people who had zero (or even negative) enthusiasm about politics and the 2008 campaign suddenly showed up at Republican Headquarters around the country. The volunteer ranks exploded overnight, and suddenly there were McCain-Palin signs everywhere where previously there were only Obama and “Change We Can Believe In” signs. The conservative movement had received a transfusion of energy, enthusiasm, and optimism that we had lacked for a long, long time. From a personal perspective, though I had grown up in an activist Republican family, I had not been involved in party politics for a long time. I immediately signed up to be a Precinct Committeeman, and now am very active in my county GOP. I bought a button maker and made almost 2000 buttons for the 2008 campaign, most of which were either given or sold for cost to my county GOP HQ. They flew off the shelves as fast as I could make them. We had 10,000 people on our town square for John McCain’s midnight rally on election eve.
Now, of course, the election did not turn out like we had hoped. My high hopes for a Sarah Palin vice-presidency (and subsequent presidency) now yield sharp pangs of disappointment when I think about them. I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for her, though, and I sincerely believe she will be a player on the national scene for years to come, perhaps even as a national candidate.
But the main point of this diary is not to argue Sarah Palin’s future one way or the other. It is simply to make the point, on this anniversary date of her debut on the national stage, that McCain’s act of nominating her (and of course her magnificent performance at the GOP National Convention) provided the jolt of electricity that restarted the heart of the conservative movement. Barack Obama has been a catalyst with his reckless, dangerous, socialist agenda. But I truly believe that had it not been for Sarah Palin’s nomination, we would not have the effective opposition movement we have today. Perhaps we would still have a Tea Party movement. Perhaps we would still be arguing against nationalized health care at congressional town hall meetings. But the crowds would be much smaller, less effective, and likely less mainstream. Barack Obama may have gotten us off our butts and out on the streets fighting to restore the America the founders intended, but it was Sarah Palin who woke us up and made sure we were awake to see the threat.
Thanks Sarah! Happy Anniversary today, both on your marriage and on your selection. I wish you the best and hope to see many great things from you in the years ahead.
Conservatives, continue to fight the good fight! We can, and will, save our nation.