No, not Hollywood celebrities. That peculiar crowd will always provide their dubious support for Democrats. I’m talking about political celebrities. And in 2004, the biggest political celebrities in America were Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudolph Giuliani, both of whom were principal speakers at the GOP convention in New York.
The Democrats didn’t have that kind of star power. There were the Clintons, of course, but they’d been around a while and Democrats were concerned Bill’s rock-star status diminished their candidate. And there was a little-known freshman Senator from Illinois who made a splash with a stirring speech. But they simply couldn’t match the firepower of Rudy, Ah-nuld, and a still-popular President.
The Republicans got a 5% bounce from their convention, the Democrats a “negative bounce” of 2%, and Bush was reelected.
This year has been different. Every ounce of glamour, celebrity power, media fawning, and rock star status has been tied to the candidacy of that little-known Senator, now the world-famous Barack Obama. Until last night. Last night, a star was born.
Sarah Palin gave a speech that rivals some of the great convention speeches of my lifetime, such as Mario Cuomo in 1984 and Barack Obama in 2004.
Rhetorically, it was nothing special. On a printed page, it wouldn’t stand up against the best speeches of Obama, Clinton or even Bush – whose speech of September 20, 2001 earned its place in history.
But in terms of delivery and political effectiveness, she hit it out of the park. Or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say she slapped it into the net.
In her Wall Street Journal column yesterday, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan gave the following advice to Palin:
A voter laughing is half yours, and just received a line he can repeat next weekend over a beer at the barbecue or online at Starbucks. Here is a fact of American politics: If you make us laugh we spread your line for free.
Two of Palin's lines last night - "Lipstick" and "the difference between a community organizer and a small-town mayor" - are already being spread by voters for free..
We shouldn’t get too carried away here. It might feel like we’re at the 2-minute warning of this Presidential election, but I think it’s more accurate to say that it’s halftime (I know, I’m mixing my sports metaphors…). In terms of time, yes, it’s very late in the game. But most voters have just begun to tune in, and the next two months will be a barrage of debates, advertising and news coverage. There’s a long way to go and the score is very close.
And Sarah Palin has not even begun to be tested on the national stage. Remember that Barack Obama had months to refine his message in Iowa and New Hampshire before the nation began to tune in to every syllable he uttered. Palin will have a big spotlight and an even bigger microphone in her face from day one, and it would be shocking if she doesn't blunder at some point.
Finally, it should be noted that the famous convention speeches of Cuomo and Obama were given in losing causes.
But as Brian Williams put it so very aptly moments after Palin’s speech ended last night, “Game on.”