By putting the relatively unknown governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, on his presidential ticket, John McCain has demonstrated that rarest of all political qualities: willingness to take a real risk on a serious new venture with great potential. It's a sign of confidence, not desperation.
If the response from the conservative base is any indication, McCain has hit a home run with the Palin selection. A sullen GOP, set to vote reluctantly, if at all, for the "maverick" (some say unprincipled) senator from Arizona, has suddenly become electrified. In the first 36 hours after McCain announced his pick, $7 million in new contributions poured in online. This isn't because Palin is making history as the first woman on a GOP ticket. It's because of the type of woman and politician that she is. She's a normal person, a mother and wife, who entered politics in 1992 by running for city council in Wasilla, Alaska to oppose tax hikes. She became mayor and swept a bunch of cronies out of the bureaucracy. She ran for, and lost, a race for lieutenant governor. She served on the state's Oil and Gas Commission, where she went after the corrupt state GOP chairman, who had taken money from oil companies. In 2006, she ran for governor and won, after first beating the Republican incumbent for the nomination.
Throughout, she hewed to a few clear principles. She championed fiscal responsibility, cutting pork in the form of capital projects as well as larger symbols of waste, such as the infamous "bridge to nowhere" sponsored by Republican senator Ted Stevens. In a state that has been awash in oil money and political corruption, she also demanded real ethical standards and sent people who didn't meet them to jail, never hesitating to challenge Republicans who were corrupt or ineffective. And she was pro-development, supporting drilling in ANWR; for that matter, she has dealt extensively with the tricky energy issues that have become central to this year's election, and she understands them better than anyone else on either ticket.