Traditionally, in America, political candidates don't hide from the press. Yet, until last week, that's exactly what the Republican candidate for vice president had been doing. Unlike Joe Biden, who has met with the press more than 40 times since joining the Democratic ticket, Sarah Palin had never held a press conference or sat down for a one-on-one interview. She has now emerged from the political cone-of-silence that the lobbyists who run the McCain campaign placed her in. Not surprisingly, her conversations with Charlie Gibson, Sean Hannity and Katie Couric have generated enormous interest and comment.
Some on the right, however, wish she had been kept under wraps. Conservative columnists and pundits are competing to see who can say the pithiest disparaging thing about the fast-fading star from Alaska. They have been stunned not only by what she's said in the interviews, but also by the overarching sense that she is not a deep thinker on issues of policy, she lacks curiosity and she turns each question she can't answer into an opportunity to portray herself as a victim of East Coast elitists who reject the candidacy of someone who represents "Joe Six-pack."
At the same time, the brilliant writer/actress/comedian Tina Fey has dominated the cable news programs and entertainment television programs with her masterful impersonation of Palin, most recently satirizing the candidate's nearly incoherent interview with Katie Couric. What makes the Tina Fey skits so funny -- beside the wonderful contribution made by her fellow Saturday Night Live castmate Amy Poehler -- is that Fey nails her impersonation with a splendid but subtle comedic touch, and she salts her satire with verbatim Palin quotes.
Like many, I'm appalled that so much of what Palin says makes no sense. However, by focusing on the comedy, we may be missing a deeper truth about Palin. She is a remarkably successful politician, and she clearly knows how to communicate. She's a skilled and smart debater who's won every debate she's had to participate in, including successful televised debates with prior Alaska governors who she went on to defeat. When prepared, she is able to hone her language to take advantage of opportunities to define herself as a candidate who represents working people, who opposes the status quo.
This was on perfect display earlier this week when Palin spoke by phone with conservative talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt. When asked about working people struggling during hard times, Palin's response was as powerful as anything I've heard recently from any politician:
There's been a lot of times that Todd and I have had to figure out how we were going to pay for health insurance. We've gone through periods of our life here with paying out of pocket for health coverage until Todd and I both landed a couple of good union jobs. Early on in our marriage, we didn't have health insurance, and we had to either make the choice of paying out of pocket for catastrophic coverage or just crossing our fingers, hoping that nobody would get hurt, nobody would get sick. So I know what Americans are going through there.
She pulls a powerful emotional chord and aligns herself with the working families who are struggling today to deal with rising health care costs. She makes you think that she supports efforts to restrain those costs. She makes you think that she'll fight for you. She even makes you think that she's a supporter of unions.
But none of these things are true. If the policies promoted in the Republican Party platform are ever enacted into law, every couple will have to white knuckle their way through their early years with no health insurance and lots of tough choices. Plus there won't be many union jobs for them to land.
Palin's powerful presentation raises real questions: Does she know that John McCain's plan for health care is the opposite for health care for all? Does she support taxing employer-provided health benefits that come with millions of union jobs? Does she want to leave people to fend for themselves in a hostile, private health insurance market, purchasing health care for their families without the expertise and bargaining power that comes with employer-sponsored health care benefits?
Sarah Palin is plenty articulate when talking about the struggles she and her family have faced, and when she was talking to Hugh Hewitt she summed up perfectly the experience that so many young couples face with health care. I'd like to hear what she's going to DO about it: What exactly will Palin do to help families get the health insurance they need? What will she and John McCain do to help ensure that there are union jobs that provide the kind of health care security the Palins received when they "landed a couple of good union jobs"?