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Steel Magnolia

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

ST. PAUL - I have never met a weak woman, or a male victim in Alaska. You've got to be tough to survive in a state that is further away from Washington than any other, except Hawaii. In terms of the contrasts between how most Alaskans think and what passes for reasoning by career politicians in Washington, Alaska might as well be a colony on the moon.

Initial criticism from the Obama campaign (and his media acolytes) is that Gov. Sarah Palin lacks experience to be vice president and, if necessary, president. That Obama lacks experience to be president has led some pundits to say that issue is now a wash, harming neither candidate. Not true.

There is good and there is bad experience. More importantly, there is worldview. Obama and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, see America as a nation in which government plays a primary role in individual lives. John McCain and Sarah Palin see the individual as primary and government as a protector of freedom that can help the less fortunate become self-sustaining.

One can already sense the lines of attack against Palin. Why did she have a child she knew would be born with Down syndrome? We used to call such children "mentally retarded," before the word "retarded" became an epithet commonly hurled by teenagers. She practices what she preaches about her pro-life views. She had this child because she didn't want to play God.

Speaking of God, Palin is a serious, practicing Christian, unlike some in the Democratic Party who have studied how to manipulate religious language and imagery to dupe some churchgoers into voting for Obama. In contrast to Obama's pastor for 20 years, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who preached hate-filled, anti-American sermons, the sermons at Palin's former church, Wasilla Bible Church (she now attends a church with similar beliefs called Juneau Christian Center), were far more Bible-based and traditional. Sermon titles dealt with personal sin, how to give God joy, assurance of an afterlife and how to get there by serving God and others. The media will go to the church's "statement of faith" and try to paint her as a bigot and exclusionist for believing what Jesus said about Himself and the path to salvation.

Watch during her debate with Joe Biden - and even before that Oct. 2 event - for journalists to portray her as a know-nothing about foreign affairs. They'll try a version of the pop quiz given to George W. Bush during the 2000 campaign when he had trouble naming the leaders of Chechnya, Taiwan, India and Pakistan. Palin could score points with voters who loathe the big media by not only answering such a question correctly, but by also asking this one ("how is it your network pays you so much money to ask a stupid question like that?")

Unlike the Democrats, who only talk reform, Palin has bucked her own party to attack corruption and get things done in Alaska. Imagine a Democratic politician doing that.

As for being the first Republican woman on a national ticket, this ought not to be about gender, but ideology. Sarah Palin seems to have more common sense than a lot of male politicians. That should play well with Middle America and blue-collar voters who rely more on their own common sense than poll-tested pronouncements by elected officials. And she wore a skirt and heels at her introduction last week in Dayton, Ohio. That should count for something among men and women who are tired of pantsuits.

Someone pinned "Iron Lady" on Margaret Thatcher after she became prime minister of Britain. It was meant as criticism. Thatcher took it as a compliment and used it to advance her conservative agenda.

Sarah Palin is going to need a moniker other than "Barracuda." I offer her "Steel Magnolia." In the 1989 film "Steel Magnolias," Ouiser Boudreaux, played by Shirley MacLaine, delivers one of many classic lines: "I'm not as sweet as I used to be." While anything can happen in politics and McCain's selection may be risky, my bet is that the pretty, pro-life, gun-toting, hockey mom is going to pleasantly surprise a lot of people with her toughness and common sense view of life and the world.

If I were Joe Biden, I'd be careful. This steel magnolia might reduce him to tears.

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