Along with the rest of America, I turned on my TV to get a first glimpse of Sarah Palin in action during the GOP convention. I had been aware of Palin before John McCain selected her, but only vaguely, and this would be my first chance to see her in action.
The day before her debut, I watched as she made the customary rounds that all speakers do, walking around the podium, checking out the TelePrompter and surveying the hall. She looked nervous. If looks could speak, she was saying, "Oh dear, what in the world have I gotten myself into? I am way out of my league."
Uh, oh, another Dan Quayle, I thought.
But what I saw the next night was not Quayle in New Orleans, but a tough, powerful, political figure, cool and confident, tossing off jokes and mocking her opponents. The fact that, nationally speaking, she was a political neophyte and yet was speaking so forcefully and powerfully on a national stage brought to mind Ronald Reagan and his powerful debut that has come to be known simply as "The Speech."
The fact that Palin was attacking her political enemies with such charm and with a twinkle in her eye reminded me of another legendary speech by Texas Governor Ann Richards in 1988, when she famously chirped that George H.W. Bush had been born with a silver foot in his mouth.
But Palin was like Reagan in ways beyond speaking style or delivery, because she had managed to capture, as few had, his spirit, the spirit that had turned working class Democrats who hadn't voted for a Republican in a generation into Reagan Democrats, voters who had suspended their dislike for Republicans in order to vote for Reagan.
The Obama campaign appeared to be flummoxed by McCain's choice of a running mate for a few days, as though they had been preparing for the usual suspects: Romney, Pawlenty, etc., but hadn't given a thought to the possibility of having to face Palin.
But then something happened to Sarah Palin. Handlers began to take her into back rooms and tell her how little she knew and how she'd have to quickly learn the names of presidents of small countries and bills in the Senate and how many missiles were in various nuclear arsenals around the world. And that process seemed to kill her confidence, shut down her natural political instincts and kill what made Palin such an interesting political animal.
The cocky, scrappy Sarah Palin who looked like Tina Fey and sounded like Ann Richards was replaced by the deer-in-the-headlights look that Americans have seen before in politicians ... a candidate who was unsteady, unsure of herself, trying too hard to be something she wasn't — and trying to make the ridiculous argument that a handler had obviously given her: that being close to Alaska somehow gave her insight into foreign policy with Russia.
The Palin story is steeped in religion. Her supporters believe she is a modern day version of the biblical Queen Esther, sent by God to save the nation from peril "for such a time as this," and prophetic e-mails proclaiming that Palin is going to win are being forwarded around cyberspace as we speak.
But there may be another story that fits Palin's dilemma: In the story of David and Goliath, the young, future king decides that he will take on the 9-foot giant and goes to King Saul and tells him of his plan. Saul is bemused by the teenager who has no chance against the giant, but he consents and immediately gives him the appropriate gear, a heavy protective outfit worn to battle, known as a "coat of mail," along with the king's sword.
David, Scriptures imply, was physically overwhelmed by the get-up and barely able to move. Telling the king thanks but no thanks, the young shepherd boy threw off the gear and proceeded to gather stones found by a brook in his slingshot, which he used to fell the giant.
Not unlike the young shepherd boy, the best thing Sarah Palin can do in the remainig hours before she faces her own Goliath in the form of a tough, smart senator with three decades of experience, and the best thing the McCain campaign can do for her, is to let her rid herself of her coat of mail — the overzealous handlers — and let Palin run wild and be the natural, untamed politician she is.
David spent his youth battling bears and lions, but he knew nothing about battle. His victory came when he was freed of the then-modern tools of battle and allowed to bring his native skills, cultivated in the wild, to a battle for which he was by all accounts not trained for.
Palin's political skills are the equivalent of David's battle skills, honed in the Alaskan wilderness where she operated as her nickname "Barracuda" suggests, ruthlessly defeating opponents who crossed her (including her own mother-in-law, who ran for mayor after Palin) and political mentors who she thought had become corrupt (Gov. Frank Murkowski).
If that Palin shows up at Thursday night's debate, it will because she dismisses the advisers, trusts her instincts, regains her confidence and remembers where her success came from.
Mark Joseph is a multi-media producer and the author of the forthcoming Sarah Barracuda: The Rise of Sarah Palin. He has written extensively on politics, pop culture and religion for a variety of media including Beliefnet, Christianity Today, The Jewish Press and others. His books include "Faith, God & Rock 'n' Roll," and "Pop Goes Religion."
Mark Joseph is a film producer and marketing expert who has worked on the development and marketing of 25 films. His most recent book is The Lion, The Professor & The Movies: Narnia's Journey To The Big Screen.