"Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!" in the words of that famous American Legend, Gomer Pyle, "Golly! Gee Whiz!" I was expectin' to meet Annie Oakley and instead I met Grace Kelly. Two beloved female American icons, with two very different endearing styles. Television, newspapers and magazines provide the public images of celebrities and political candidates. But, when you actually meet them in person you find them, more often than not, to be unlike the persona presented by the media. This was my experience in meeting Sarah Palin. Tina Fey's imitation does not do justice to her beauty nor to her brains.
As someone from a large Irish Catholic family where discussing politics is part of every meal, I learned early on that looking someone in the eye face to face is the best way to determine your opinion of a candidate. I fondly remember meeting J.F.K. when he was campaigning in California in 1959, and although I was very young, when he shook my hand, smiled at me and winked his eye, I was hooked. He had charisma. My encounter with Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska and the first Republican female nominee for Vice President was another enlightening and memorable experience.
She may be folksy while in her charming hometown of Wasilla, but when she is on the road, in San Francisco, Sarah Palin is also a very sophisticated, elegant and articulate politician. I brought my 27 year-old daughter Shannon, who is a third year law student, with me to meet America's most recent "talked about" role model.
We were preparing to be introduced to the Governor of Alaska when she took the lead and walked across the room, in a dark business suit and knee high boots, with her arms stretched out to greet us. She then put both her hands in mine and then in my daughter's to shake them warmly, telling us how happy she was to make our acquaintance. We then spoke about China and the importance of our relationship with this powerful country and how tourism from China to America was vital to our nation's economy.
Earlier in the year, I had heard from friends in the Chinese government that they had visited Alaska and met the Governor and they were very impressed with her shared desire to bring more Chinese visitors to her state and to the U.S. to help offset the balance of trade. We discussed that Chinese travelers spend more money than any other international traveler and that tourism was a key "people to people" form of diplomacy. I let the Governor know that Madame Ma, the Vice Minister of Commerce for China, was looking forward to meeting her in Beijing and I would be happy to make the introduction of these two dynamic women leaders, both committed to strengthening the friendship between America and China for economic stability and peace in our world.
On our drive home, my daughter and I spoke about our experience of meeting Sarah Palin. I asked her who did she remind her of that she had personally met. She immediately replied, "Margaret Thatcher and Arianna Huffington, she's fearless like them!" then she continued, "Sarah Palin will be a disarming 'iron lady' in her own way, when dealing with foreign leaders." But, my impression surprised us both the most. I thought about it, dipping into my memory bank of other politicians I had met over the years and it suddenly hit me. I exclaimed, "She's not Hillary, Sarah Palin is like Bill Clinton!" Not only because they share comparable CEO experience as governors. She has a similar unique "people to people" skill, reminiscent to Bill Clinton.
When she met with us, it was as though we were the only people she was paying attention to in the room. Her focused "caring" magnetism reminded me of another memorable encounter. In 1994 while taking a group of 69 inner city kids from South Central Los Angeles and Oakland to the White House with John Mack of the Urban League, we met President Clinton and told him we brought these kids to D.C. stopping enroute in Hope, Arkansas. He turned to us holding both my hands, gazing into my eyes and said, "Bless you." Fast-forward to October 5th, 2008, Sarah Palin has the same engaging approach. When we were saying goodbye to Governor Palin, like President Clinton, she stared into my eyes for a good 10 seconds and said, "Bless you." My daughter responded, "Mom, now that's what you call charisma." I knew she was hooked!