ST. PAUL – Forty years ago, mounting a comeback campaign after losing a presidential race eight years earlier, Richard Nixon secured the Republican nomination and then selected as his running-mate a former local official who had served a scant twenty months as the governor of a small state.
The choice was questioned by pundits and mocked by Democrats. They called the vice presidential nominee: “Spiro Who?”
But when Maryland Governor Spiro T. Agnew hit the campaign trail, he did so as “Nixon’s Nixon” – the attack dog the party needed to take the opposition apart while making the Republican presidential nominee look presidential.
It was the same role that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin assumed Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
In her speech accepting the Republican nomination for vice president, Palin did a full Agnew.
Like that other Republican vice-presidential nominee in that other time, the newly-minted Republican nominee defended herself against unsettling revelations with regard to her personal and political missteps by attacking the messengers.
“I’ve learned quickly, these past few days, that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone,” she announced with a sneer in her voice. “But here’s a little news flash for those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion – I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this great country.”
The “average hockey mom” from Wasilla was devoted most of her first real speech to the American people to the serious political work of tossing verbal brickbats at the men who lead the Democratic ticket.
Palin barely even mentioned Barack Obama or Joe Biden by name.But everyone knew who she was talking about when she picked up her party’s new theme of belittling Obama’s experience as a community organizer working with laid-off steelworkers in Chicago.
The former mayor of the small city of Wasilla, Alaska, turned questions about whether her tenure in that position qualifies her to be second in line for the presidency into a populist defense of small-town America that highlighted an embarrassing off-the-cuff comment made by Obama at a San Francisco fund-raising event with regard to “bitter” rural voters that embarrassed the Democratic candidate during his Pennsylvania primary campaign.