A Voice for America?

John McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, told the Washington Post this week that a “very masculine” draft of the VP nominee’s speech had been written before McCain announced his bombshell of a pick in Sarah Palin.

They obviously tossed that one. Because the speech Matt Scully, President Bush’s former speechwriter, came up with last night for Palin could not have been delivered by any other of McCain’s top VP contenders. I’m not saying it was “feminine” (whatever Davis meant by “masculine”), but it was uniquely tailored to the person at the podium. And she delivered.

The picture of Palin was painted last night: She’s a small-town rebel with a cause, a pit bull of a hockey mom who believes America is great, no matter what the New York Times says. And Palin’s message was unlike anything we’ve seen in this campaign—or in the past decade or so, for that matter.

She delivered it directly to all those people she said make the country what it is--the people in those small towns “who do some of the hardest work in America, who grow our own food, run our factories and fight our wars.”

“They love their country, in good times and bad,” said this small-town gal from Wasilla. “And they’re always proud of America.”

That was the best moment of her compelling speech last night, and it captured the message John McCain has consistently failed to deliver in this campaign. So far, it’s been a campaign about change, and we’ve seen this narrative emerge and almost become conventional wisdom: America overstepped its bounds, disgraced itself on the world stage and must repent for its ills.

But that’s not a narrative a large swath of this country believes or accepts. Go to a place like rural Alabama, where I grew up. Or, I suspect, many small towns in Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania and Florida. There are a lot of Americans who don’t particularly care what the New York Times thinks, much less the Europeans.

Yet McCain, inexplicably in this campaign, has never stirringly delivered a Reagan-esque defense of America as a shining city upon the hill, with lights blazing as brightly as ever. That may be because McCain, after all those years in Washington, doesn’t get it. He wasn’t raised a common man, but an officer’s son, and he’s been a US Senator for 20 years now.

But he’s got a running mate, we saw last night, who can say “hell yeah” and “yee haw” with the best of them. (I’d love to ask McCain if he’d ever heard “Redneck Woman,” made wildly popular by the singer, Gretchen Wilson, who was on the stage after Palin last night.) He’s got a running mate who proudly clings to her guns and her religion---and can disparage Barack Obama for “talking about us one way in Scranton and another in way San Francisco.”

Palin showed last night she can talk to all those people who want to believe in their country’s greatness as they struggle to pay their bills. They may not like George Bush--but they want to believe America is the best country in the world, and they want to sing Toby Keith loud and proud.

On the national stage, Palin presented herself as someone who is perfectly willing to pull out her boot and---well, if you know Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” you know where I’m going with this.

So regardless of why McCain picked her and how suddenly he made his choice---because he thought she was a reformer or would appeal to women voters or reinforce his maverick image---he got a candidate who can talk to a large part of America that none of the candidates really have.

That’s obviously not why he picked her—if he’d put a premium on that, he would not been determined (until last Sunday) to tap Joe Lieberman as VP. That thought kept going through my mind last night—how staggeringly different Palin is from Lieberman---and how do you explain McCain turning away from one and picking the other?

In Palin, McCain got a running mate who could almost not be more different than Joe Lieberman-- and a running mate who, in many ways, is nothing like McCain himself.

And that means regardless of what the next two months hold—and the stories by the journalists crawling through Alaska, the upcoming clash with Joe Biden, the ongoing debate over whether Palin is qualified right now for the Oval Office—we got a race that just got a lot more interesting.

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