ST. PAUL Going into the political convention season, a woman was expected to stir things up.
But her name was supposed to be Hillary, not Sarah.
Less than a week since being named as John McCain's choice for vice president on the Republican ticket, Sarah Palin's name is on the tip of all the blogs, not to mention the front page of the New York Times and every other media outlet in the country.
It's all the Republicans hoped for a country abuzz about McCain's unorthodox choice for v.p. but not for the hoped-for-reasons.
Following the party-approved portrait of Palin as a corruption-fighting, family values-harboring hockey mom with five children, including a baby born and pointedly not aborted with Down syndrome, comes a non-photo-shopped version that brings less flattering details into focus. Such details include the fact that the Palins' unmarried 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant and that Palin was back at work as governor of Alaska just three days after little Trig, the Down syndrome child, was born this past April.
Giving rise to questions about the thoroughness of McCain's vetting process; about McCain's judgment in choosing such a controversial vice president if he knew all the details; about Palin's character; about mothers in the workplace; about a public figure's right to privacy; about an out-of-control, invasive media, Sarah Palin has overnight become a one-woman 24-7 talk show topic.
Here at the scene of the Republican National Convention, the eye of the storm as it were, attention has quickly shifted from Hurricane Gustav to Hurricane Sarah.
On the record, most politicians are echoing Utah senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, both of whom voiced enthusiastic support for Palin as both a vice presidential nominee and a responsible parent.
"She's strong, capable and smart," said Hatch, who added, "and a real human being. John McCain made an excellent choice."
"Her private life should be off-limits," said Bennett, who praised Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's statement reflecting the same sentiment.
None of Utah's Republican Party state delegates here have expressed anything but support for Palin's nomination and sympathy for the public invasions into her family's privacy.
That's what they have to say, of course, and no doubt it is what Palin will say herself when she addresses the RNC tonight on an evening when she is to be officially nominated as vice president.
But doggedly defending McCain's choice and Palin's right to privacy with the accompanying deft backhand slap to the media for digging up the family's dirtier details does bypass two important points.
Namely, that by introducing Palin as a dedicated, wholesome, anti-abortion former beauty queen "hockey mom" who hunts and fishes and rides snowmobiles and shoots guns and raises her children with a smile, it is the politicians who brought family, and family activities, into the discussion in the first place.
The McCain campaign was the first to invade Palin's privacy and expose her family life to the world, but just the G-rated good parts.
And since McCain, should he be elected president, will have many appointed positions to fill, from the Supreme Court to Cabinet positions to ambassadorships around the world, it is completely appropriate to scrutinize his judgment in the context of what he's running for.
Either he knew the details of her personal family life and still went ahead with Palin as his choice for vice president, or he didn't sufficiently do his homework and is now stuck with the choice. I'm not sure either one is all that flattering.
As for Palin, one thing's certain. Barring the quickest resignation in vice president selection history, she will continue to generate controversy and debate, favorable and not favorable, throughout the campaign.For the Republicans, Gustav came and went. Sarah Palin, not so fast.
Lee Benson is filing columns daily from the Republican National Convention. You can e-mail him at benson@