Inflexible Fliers

Both parties have wrapped themselves in the mantle of change this year. Only one appears capable of making it happen.

As I write these words, it is the first day of the Republican National Convention. The Texas delegates are easy to spot on the floor of the Xcel Energy Center, in St. Paul. They are decked out in blue work shirts that say “Governor Perry” above the pocket, accompanied by Perry’s ranch-brand-style campaign logo: a capital R topped by an arc. The governor has handed out white Stetsons too, and when Laura Bush walks onstage to introduce film clips of Perry and other Gulf Coast governors whose states are grappling with a diminished Hurricane Gustav, hundreds of hats wave in the air. One of the first people I run into is Roger Williams, the former secretary of state who is the chairman of Victory 2008, the Republican campaign effort in Texas. For most of the year he has been pretty glum about prospects in Texas—not whether John McCain would win the state, because that has never been in doubt, but whether the Republican ticket would motivate the party faithful to volunteer, contribute money, and, of course, vote. Today he is euphoric, and the reason is vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. “The energy level has been turned way up,” he tells me. “This is going to help our judges, our legislators. If we get our vote out, we win.”

McCain’s choice of Palin is the latest unexpected turn in this most unpredictable of presidential races. Or maybe it’s not so unpredictable after all. Two years ago, I attended a lecture at the University of Texas at Austin by conservative commentator William Kristol in which he noted that the 2008 election would be the first since 1952 (when Dwight Eisenhower defeated Adlai Stevenson) that did not feature a sitting president or vice president on the ballot. The absence of an

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