By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
COLORADO SPRINGS — In the wake of Sarah Palin’s interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity and Katie Couric, critics moaned that John McCain’s running mate was laden with folksy charm but light on such sophisticated issues as foreign policy and the economy. Why else, they mused, would the McCain-Palin campaign shield the vice-presidential candidate from reporters?
The crowd roars with approval when Sarah Palin describes the Obama-Biden campaign platform as socialism.
Bay Buchanan, conservative CNN commentator and president of The American Cause, had praised Palin’s intelligence and candor — but observed a fading luster in the rising Republican star after campaign handlers cloistered her, drilled her on facts and instilled in her the fear of making a gaffe.
“She’s enormously successful by being who she is — Sarah Palin,” Buchanan said during an interview last month at the Women Leadership Conference, sponsored by Newsweek. “She doesn’t have to pretend to be something else.”
“It’s so refreshing in the world of politics to see someone who is genuinely themselves,” said Buchanan. The CNN commentator advised the campaign to ease the throttle and let Palin free to be herself.
The Alaska governor impetuously popped her protective bubble on the eve of her Oct. 20 campaign sweep through Colorado.
Holding her son Trig in a baby carrier, Palin disembarked from the “Straight Talk Express” jet and strode to the waiting local reporters and camera crews. Surrounding Palin were daughters Willow and Piper, Alaska’s “first dude” Todd, his snowmobile racing partner, Scott Davis, and many Secret Service agents.
Offering a preview of the following day’s campaign speeches in Colorado Springs, Loveland and Grand Junction, Palin described the differences between the economic plans of the Republican and Democratic presidential tickets.
“As it’s exposed and revealed, Senator Obama’s plan is to redistribute people’s wealth,” said Palin of the Democrat’s plan to raise income taxes on individuals who earn $200,000 or more annually and to ease the tax burden on those who earn less.
Palin said Obama’s economic proposal is viewed as “socialism” by some voters. She said the same inference could not be made of the federal government’s $7 billion bailout of Wall Street — even though recent polls indicate voters overwhelmingly oppose the rescue.
The spontaneous media conference caught the national press corps by surprise and stunned McCain-Palin campaign aides, who summoned campaign spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt, a former Bush administration staffer.
Schmitt politely but firmly intervened to end the barrage of questions on the tarmac.
Reporters, however, reappeared when the campaign entourage stopped for ice cream at the Cold Stone Creamery. Dressed in a casual hoodie top and pants, a relaxed and amicable Palin breezily fielded more questions from local media.
These scenes sharply contrasted with last weekend’s Saturday Night Live skit, in which Tina Fey portrayed Palin as being insulated from reporters and guarded by campaign aides. Palin’s appearance on the show drew record-breaking television viewers, although she was cautiously reserved in the two comedy sketches where she spoke.
Perhaps Palin took umbrage at Fey’s parody, heeded Buchanan’s sage advice or grew restless with the campaign staff’s shackles. Whatever the reason, a more open and fearless Palin emerged this week.
Palin has stepped up to the press plate — fielding questions from reporters and candidly batting answers without fretting over possible errors or statements that don’t mirror McCain’s positions.
She agreed to interviews by local media, including a Sept. 20 interview at KUSA-TV in Denver, and to appear on broadcasts by Christian conservatives Pat Robertson and James Dobson.
During the Denver television interview, Palin beamed when third-grader Brandon Garcia asked her to describe the vice president’s role.
“The vice president has a really great job because not only are they there to support the president’s agenda — they’re like the teammate to the president — but also they’re in charge of the United States Senate,” Palin answered cheerfully. “So if they want to, they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better.”
That sounds like a definition Dick Cheney would embrace, but, in fact, Article Two of the United States Constitution defines the vice president’s role as vital, but limited. The vice president assumes presidential duties if the president resigns, dies or is incapacitated while in office. The second-in-command executive also presides over the Senate and breaks tie votes. However, no power is accorded to promote or implement legislative policies.
A couple of days earlier, Palin told reporters that she prefers talking one-on-one to folks instead of resorting to the “old conventional ways of campaigning that includes those robocalls, and includes spending so much money on television ads.”
That said, she added a footnote to justify the McCain-Palin campaign’s robocalls that associate Obama with a “terrorist” — college professor Bill Ayers, an activist in the Weather Underground in the 1960s.
Although the McCain-Palin team has hammered this association, it’s a stretch. Obama chaired the Chicago Annenberg Challenge board of directors, which included several Republican business leaders. Ayers served on a separate subcommittee.
Palin has not only adjusted her public image to become more candid with the media, she also toned down the folksy quips and eye-winking gestures in public speeches that pump McCain and pummel Obama.
Palin rids speech of “You betcha” adlibs
At the Security Service Field — the Sky Sox baseball stadium — nearly 8,000 supporters braved the cold, misty rain and warmly cheered Palin’s speech. Casting herself as “one of you” and a “Washington, D.C., outsider,” the candidate delivered a down-home speech devoid of “you betcha” and “doggone it” color.
“We need someone with a bold and fair and free plan of action to take this country in a new direction,” proclaimed Palin. “We need John McCain!”
“In this time of great economic hardship and worry, John and I have a plan to keep our families in their homes and help our retirees keep their savings, their investments,” said Palin. “And help all of us to afford health care and help our students pay for college.”
“Our plan will get this economy back on track because it’s real. It’s pragmatic. It’s not just words,” vowed Palin. “We will bring tax relief to every American and every business.”
Several hundred hands shot in the air when Palin asked if there were any small business owners or employers in the crowd.
“You are the backbone of this economy. You are the backbone of America,” declared Palin. “Our small business owners and employers, we’re going to let you keep more of what you earn and produce so that you can hire more people — that’s how jobs are created.”
Palin reeled off the campaign’s goals to lower income taxes, double the child deduction on income tax, cut the capital gains tax and trim business taxes to keep jobs from going to other countries.
“Our opponent is not being candid with you about his tax plan,” asserted Palin of Obama. “So we gotta call him on this… It is not mean-spirited, and it is not negative campaigning when someone is called out on their record, on their plans, and also on their associations.”
“Barack Obama claims that he will cut income taxes for 95 percent of Americans,” said Palin, adding that Obama “calls it spreading the wealth. Joe Biden calls taxes patriotic… Joe the plumber said it sounded to him like socialism.”
Palin’s stump speech omitted that both presidential candidates voted for the massive Wall Street bailout and McCain’s plan to provide financial assistance to citizens to save their homes from foreclosures. Some voters view both rescue plans as socialistic.
“And we will balance the federal budget by the end of our first term!” vowed Palin.
If the Republican presidential ticket wins the Nov. 4 election, Palin said, McCain views her “mission” as government reform, developing energy independence and being an advocate for families with children who have special needs.
“It was Mother Teresa who said that God had created every one of us, every human being, for greater things — to love and be loved,” said Palin, whose youngest son was born with Down syndrome.
“John and I have a vision of America where every child counts and every child has a chance to contribute. Where every child is cherished — and that is the spirit I want to bring to Washington,” said Palin, adding that as governor, she had “secured funding and assistance for students with special needs.”
“As vice president, we’re going to do more with that spirit that will respect the culture of life,” she pledged.
However, she made clear that she doesn’t support tax increases of any kind, including Colorado’s Amendment 51, which would add one tenth of 1 percent to the sales and use tax, to provide services to Coloradans who are caring for the developmentally disabled.
In closing, Palin said the presidential election offers choices.
“It’s the choice between a politician who puts his faith in the government, and a real leader who puts his faith in all of you.
“It’s the choice between a politician who wants to redistribute your hard-earned money according to his priorities, and a true reformer who will lower taxes and create jobs and get his economy back on track with free enterprise.
“It’s the choice between a politician who will raise your taxes — which does threaten our future — and a leader who will work for you and the millions of Americans who are struggling to sustain a small business and grow this economy by creating new jobs.
“It’s a clear choice between a politician who believes in spreading the wealth around, and a leader like John McCain who believes in spreading opportunity.”
Palin concluded that she and McCain “believe in what Ronald Reagan believed in … We believe that the best of America is not all found in Washington, D.C. It’s here in the kindness and goodness and the courage of everyday American people.”
“USA…USA…USA,” chanted Palin, leading the crowd into a frenzied echo.
Throughout her speech, the crowd cheered each mention of the McCain-Palin ticket and booed every mention of Obama or Biden. Some members of the crowd were so enthralled by her message that they echoed phrases as if they were shouting, “Amen!” at a church revival. Others repeatedly yelled, “We do, too!”
Palin’s “I am who I am” persona has been compared to George W. Bush in his 1992 campaign for president, and there were echoes of Bush’s “If you’re not with me, you’re against me,” theme as she concluded her speech.
“If you believe in what we believe in, and you’re ready to shake up Washington and clean up Wall Street… If you’re ready to get this economy back on track and win these wars, John McCain and I are asking for your votes!” declared Palin.
“You’ve got it!” vowed loud voices throughout the crowd.
“Nobama! Nobama! Nobama!” yelled others.
Country western singer Hank Williams, Jr. strummed the guitar and sang, “Stop and think it over before your make your decision. If they smell something wrong, they’re gonna come down strong in the old McCain-Palin tradition…”