Frieda Wallison: Conventional wisdom
September 5, 2008
MINNEAPOLIS ” Wednesday night was Sarah Palin’s night. The sense of anticipation about what she would say in her big speech and how she would say it had been building for several days, given the intense and mostly negative media scrutiny focused on her since her candidacy was announced. She did not disappoint those of us at the Republican National Convention. Wednesday night was a memorable experience.
My husband and I arrived at the Xcel Center, the site of the convention, early in the evening, coming from yet another reception. These parties are not frivolous events. They’re a chance to meet people from all over the country, hear what’s happening in their states, and exchange views on the election. When we arrived at the convention arena Wednesday night, we had a few hours to go before Sarah Palin was scheduled to speak, but we wanted to get the full flavor of the evening and hear all the speakers.
Many of the early evening speeches addressed economic issues and the important role of small-business owners, entrepreneurs and lower taxes in our economic well-being, the Republican view of some of the factors necessary to bring back the economy. Most of the speakers were women, some who own small businesses and others corporate chieftains like Meg Whitman, retired CEO of Ebay and Nickelodeon, and Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, both with senior positions in the McCain campaign. As more and more participants arrived at the convention hall, eventually filling almost every seat, the direction of the speeches shifted to more political topics.
In a show of unity, three of John McCain’s principal primary opponents ” Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani ” spoke in favor of the Republican ticket, often bringing down the house with witty barbs sent in the direction of the other party. In his inimitable way, Giuliani, speaking immediately before Palin, alluded to her popularity as governor of Alaska with an 80 percent approval rating. “You’d never get that in New York City,” he quipped. And with his voice dripping with New York sarcasm, he said her critics did not think her home town of Wasilla, Alaska, was cosmopolitan enough or that she was flashy enough. Needless to say, these remarks brought down the house.
As these speeches were being delivered, the Palin family (except for the candidate) arrived in the convention hall and were escorted to their front-row seats in the VIP box. That caused quite a stir, and all eyes in the hall turned in their direction. Because of my assigned location, I had a direct and close-up view of them.
The press cameras all descended on the area immediately in front of the VIP box, and it was so crowded that circulation from one side of the arena to the other was completely cut off in that spot. Some of the cameramen rested their equipment on other cameramen, and they were all jockeying for position. It did not look very comfortable. Once the Palins arrived, there was no hope that the speakers at the podium would receive any attention from the cameramen, and throughout the rest of the speeches ” until Palin made her entrance on the stage ” the cameras remained fixed on the Palin family. Talk about media attention!
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When Palin entered to speak, the atmosphere in the Xcel Center was electric. The previous speakers, Giuliani last but not least among them, had done an excellent job of priming the crowd, and the arena erupted in a prolonged and deafening ovation for the Republican vice presidential candidate, campaign signs waving. It was an unbelievable moment.
She did not disappoint. Starting softly with a brief description of her improbable life, including a moving tribute to her husband Todd: “After five children and two decades of marriage, he’s still my guy,” she demonstrated why her nickname on her high school basketball team was “Sarah Barracuda.”
We’ll all remember her line describing the difference between a hockey mom (like her) and a pit bull as the absence of lipstick, and we understood Fred Thompson’s description of her the night before as the only candidate for the presidency or vice presidency other than Teddy Roosevelt to have field dressed a moose. The audience interrupted her speech repeatedly with standing ovations and chants of “Sarah, Sarah.” When her family and then McCain came on stage to join her, the convention went wild. I was thrilled to be there and to be part of an unforgettable experience.
The roll call vote of the states to formally nominate McCain, which followed Palin’s speech, was anti-climactic but entertaining nevertheless. The spokesmen for almost all of the states used the opportunity to tout the special attributes of their state, ranging from products and favorite sons to sports teams and scenic wonders.
Dick Wadhams, the chair of the Colorado Republic Party and chair of our state delegation, announced that all of the delegation’s votes were being cast for McCain and referred to the state’s “purple mountains majesty” and the “fruited plains,” borrowing some lines from Irving Berlin.
As is customary, when it came time for the delegation from Arizona, McCain’s home state, to cast their votes they passed. So did a number of other states at the end of the alphabet in order to give the tally clerk time to get back to Arizona and allow that state to put John McCain over the top with their votes for his nomination as the Republican Party candidate for president.
Shortly after that, the convention adjourned for the evening, and my husband Peter and I dragged ourselves back to our hotel for some much needed rest and rejuvenation for the next day’s final events, most importantly McCain’s acceptance speech.
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