I walked in late for the Susan B. Anthony List breakfast last Friday and, right away, Sarah Palin blew me away.
She hadn't planned to have a special-needs child. She was governor of the state of Alaska with four other children, for goodness sake. The thought of abortion flitted across her consciousness and she remembered God's promise that she could handle whatever He sends her. Sarah Palin says now -- and listening to her it is impossible to disbelieve -- "Trig has been the best thing that has ever happened to me and to the Palin family."
The former GOP vice-presidential candidate is up on stage, rubbing her eyes in imitation of a sleepy toddler: "Trig, in the morning, he'll wake up -- he's 2 years old now -- he'll wake up and he pulls himself up to the top of the crib there. He looks around and he rubs his sleepy little eyes, and even though the day's going to be challenging, he starts applauding."
The audience explodes in appreciative laughter, and Gov. Palin drives the message home: "First thing in the morning, he looks around clapping like, 'Woohoo! What are you going to do with me now?' And I -- oh man, shouldn't we all? That's what we're learning from our boy."
It was an extraordinary speech.
Sarah Palin is something genuinely new on the American scene, and what's more, she clearly knows it.
Palin understands that she is building not just a new political movement, but a new cultural identity. She dubbed it "frontier feminism," and it was the theme she carried through from beginning to end.
She speaks emotionally as a mother, from the heart of motherhood, and she makes it what it should be: a source of power, not an admission of weakness or dependency, and a bond, the deepest bond among women.
She understands quite well the opposition of orthodox feminists and of many elite liberal career women to her sudden emergence as a national figure:
"And I thank the SBA List, too, for being a home to a new conservative feminist movement, is how I look at this. It's an emerging conservative feminist identity. Far too long, when people heard the word 'feminist,' they thought of the faculty lounge at some East Coast women's college, right? And no offense to them, they have their opinions and their voice, and God bless them; they're just great."
"But that's not the only voice of women in America. I'd like to remind people of another feminist tradition, kind of a western feminism. It's influenced by the pioneering spirit of our foremothers, who went in wagon trains across the wilderness, and they settled in homesteads. And these were tough, independent pioneering mothers, whose work was as valuable as any man's on the frontier. ... They went where no woman had gone before."
A speech that began with women as "mama grizzlies" defending their children's economic interests ("My kid is not your ATM") ends with a call for a new kind of feminism:
"As an Alaskan woman, I'm proud to consider myself a frontier feminist like those early pioneering women of the West.
"Now, maybe my jumping on the national stage was a bit of a shock to some people," Palin went on. "I know that some left-wing feminists, they sure didn't know what to make of an Alaskan chick out there talking about ... the Second Amendment and talking about raising family and kids -- the more the merrier -- and, you know, all that."
She proceeded to thank one of the largest and most effective pro-life organizations in the country, the Susan B. Anthony List, named for a key 19th-century leader who opposed abortion. "I'm grateful to have a place like this, full of sisters who are not put off by a gun-toting, pro-life mom of a fun, full family -- never dull."
Women can do anything. We can bear children under less than ideal circumstances. Like Sarah and her "strong and independent" daughter Bristol. 2010, Sarah Palin announced exuberantly, is the year "when commonsense conservative women get things done for our country."
I don't know if it's true or not. But I'll tell you one thing: Sarah Palin had me at the word "Trig."
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.