"Isn't She Lovely?" That's the Stevie Wonder song that introduced vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin to Lancaster, Pa., early this past Saturday morning.
And no one blinked. Don't get me wrong, she is lovely, but isn't that a beauty pageant anthem? Of course, it is the same song that escorted Michelle Obama off stage at the Democratic National Convention. But she's the wife, not the candidate.
It was an odd start to an oddly tame political rally. Certainly, most of the 8,000 or so Pennsylvanians gathered at the minor-league baseball stadium were on their feet and cheering or clapping much of the time. But the rally was fairly devoid of shout-outs or extremely boisterous behavior. Maybe that was a reflection of the swing-state crowd, which included more large families with toddlers and retired servicepeople than super-amped lifelong Republicans. One mom whose baby rode on her hip in a sling pinned a sign to the outside that read, "Sling vote for Palin." (The Amish farmers in attendance -- more than a dozen that I saw -- also failed to contribute to the din.)
That doesn't mean she wasn't a hit, of course.
Country singer Tracey Lawrence had already warmed up the on-their-feet crowd with three songs and his message to get out and vote, which he somehow tied that to God and country. (His quiet Southern-accented voice was difficult to hear on the single-microphone system.)
Speaking of God and America, they seemed to get as many or more cheers as Ms. Palin. She made several references to the bounty of natural resources God has given us. She mentioned "In God We Trust." She talked about Ronald Reagan's "City on a Hill" farewell speech, laying out its Christian conservative connotations. And, of course, she ended with the combination "God Bless America."
Each mention merited roars of approval and thunderous applause.
Now, you big-city cynics may not get the God and country all rolled up into one, but it is still an ingrained truth in the middle states. (Full disclosure: I am a registered Independent now living in the swing state of Pennsylvania, after eight years of living in New York City. And yes, I get a lot of mail.)
And that's what Sarah Palin gets about the conservative middle in America. They do put a lot of stock in family and faith, and voting on one issue is a way of life. Literally. (Just as large numbers of the opposing viewpoint base their vote on one issue.) And, by the way, just because they're not knee-deep in irony doesn't mean they're stupid sheep. When Ms. Palin said she and Sen. John McCain would balance the budget in one term, the retired serviceman sitting behind me said, "That's ambitious." (He later told me that he was voting for Mr. McCain, saying "I could never vote for Obama," because of what he perceived as a lack of support for the military.)
Ms. Palin toted baby Trig on her arm as she made her way to the podium, bundled in bunting (it was about 40 degrees and very windy, although she charmingly declared the weather "toasty warm to me") and reminded us that special-needs children "inspire a special love." (One of my friends, who was not at the rally and whose first cousin is an adult with Down's Syndrome, observed that anyone who might be inclined to comment about why the baby is on display so often instead of napping and having his needs more carefully attended wouldn't or couldn't because of the perception they'd be attacking special-needs children.)
Ms. Palin's other hits were other Ronald Reagan references, promises for no tax increases and several mentions of Mr. McCain's war record.
She did bring up "Joe the Plumber" (six references) and ACORN. She talked about renewed drilling in the U.S., but that only prompted a scant crowd chant of "Drill Baby Drill." By my count, there were only two mentions of "maverick." There were zero uses of the phrase "doggone it" and the only "you betcha" to be seen or heard was on a protest sign out front ("Pitbulls make poor diplomats. You Betcha.").
And so she left the stage again to the strains of "Isn't She Lovely?" -- and so she was.