Associated Press

American politics has produced some surprises and some disappointments through the years.

Democratic candidate George McGovern chose Thomas Eagleton as his running mate in 1972, then had to ask him to withdraw after reporters began uncovering evidence he had been hospitalized several times and had undergone shock therapy. The first President George Bush was harshly criticized by some for his choice of Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle as a running mate, focusing mainly on his lack of experience. Although the Bush-Quayle ticket won in 1988, those criticisms never died down.

Thankfully, Sarah Palin did not appear to be either a Quayle or an Eagleton in her first prime-time speech this week. Her speech Wednesday was a strong answer to her critics. It helped focus the Republican ticket, with her references to small-town America, the concerns of small-business owners and her concerns about taxes.

She faced her critics head-on, discussing what it means to be a mayor and a governor, and describing herself humorously, but with deeper meaning, as a pit bull with lipstick.

Experience, or the lack of it, has been a campaign issue almost since the beginning of the republic. Newcomers to the national scene always face the need to show they can handle international issues and broad domestic problems. But an analysis of American history shows that some political neophytes do quite well in office (Harry Truman comes to mind). In many instances, America's record of leadership has been a testament to the notion of government by the people.

But Palin's impressive performance at the convention is not the last word on her candidacy. She delivered the speech to a live audience that was wildly enthusiastic and supportive. In the coming weeks, she will face one-on-one media interviews and at least one debate with Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden. Her record as a mayor and governor will be scrutinized. Her fitness for office will be illuminated in many ways, as will the fitness of all candidates involved in this race.

One more point: Despite concerns about how thoroughly John McCain investigated Palin's background, nothing so far uncovered about her family or her past disqualifies her. Yes, her teenage daughter has become pregnant out of wedlock, an unfortunate circumstance that occurs in too many families. But that is hardly a deal killer.

The nation should reflect on whether it would have similar concerns about a young male candidate with similar problems.