Palin: Maverick or Rogue?

Created: October 29, 2008 13:38 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

TOLEDO, Ohio — The McCain camp has pushed back hard on the notion that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is operating independently from the senator’s campaign — or, in the colorful parlance of a typically unnamed staffer, “gone rogue.”

Having observed the McCain campaign for almost two years, I’m inclined to believe Palin’s less-scripted moments are, in fact, less a result of active disobedience than in the governor’s own somewhat McCain-like unwillingness to stick to a script.  Here, in Toledo, where she just gave a speech on energy independence, Palin’s own independence took a literal turn: If there is any one place she has gone rogue, it is against her teleprompter.

Visible over the shoulder of the press corps, the monitor that displayed Palin’s speech shifted occasionally, as its operator struggled to pick back up after she drifted off in tangents, dropping in folksy-isms like urging some “tappin’ into new ideas” and noting “special interests” –  “I’ve had to take on some of that,” she said, “especially up there in Alaska, where they didn’t want any shakin’ up.”

Her ad-libs are short on “g’s.”

Following along in the prepared remarks, another theme developed in the lines Palin delivered: herself.

To the statement, “So, we introduced the big oil companies and their lobbyists to a concept some of them had forgotten — free-market competition,” she inserted, a “when I got elected,” as in, “So, we introduced — when I got elected — the big oil companies.”

And when the remarks had her warning “energy security…demands of us that we shake off old ways, negotiate new hazards and make hard choices long deferred,” she made the plea personal: “I do not want to hand this problem off onto my children or to your children.”

Though the speech was mostly a recitation of energy-policy proposals that Sen. John McCain has been offering for months — nuclear power, limited offshore drilling, “clean coal” — Palin’s flourishes made the speech hers. The line, “Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas” could be said by either the top or the bottom of the ticket.  But, “God has so richly blessed our land with the supplies that we need”? You would pretty much have to write God into a McCain speech to get him to say it. Palin adds it on her own.

The media traveling with Palin say that none of these flourishes are particularly new. They are artifacts of her stump speech, and, obviously, part of being a compelling public speaker is to make speeches written by other people sound like you. Unless you’re Joe Biden, in which case you simply claim all your speeches to have been written by you.

Obama is deeply involved with crafting his speeches before they’re delivered, and so doesn’t tend to improvise. McCain has the advantage of having worked with the same speechwriter — Mark Salter — for 20 years, achieving a sort of mind-meld that allows Salter to anticipate even where a “my friends” or three should be added.

If Palin’s speechwriter wants to keep his or her job beyond next Tuesday — like, say, through 2012 — I’d take note of what Palin’s verbal crutches are as well. McCain’s “my friends” tic is both a way of giving a speech his own stamp and, often, a sign of emotional investment — he’s telling listeners to really pay attention this time. He means it.

To judge by the difference between her speech as written and as delivered, Palin’s version of “my friends” is simply “Alaska.” The speech writer directed Palin to mention it eight times. Palin went to the “Alaska” well almost twice as many times. Drill, baby, drill, indeed.

It would probably be unfair to read too much into Palin’s freelance speech writing, though it does offer some insight into a candidate who otherwise has been hesitant to speak off the cuff.

When she went out of her way, though, to heap praise on McCain at the end of her speech, it probably was out of genuine enthusiasm. And when she changed a line from “our children” living in a “more peaceful” world to a “safer” one, maybe it was because she thinks the terms are synonymous.

At least I hope so.