ALEX CHADWICK, host:
David Frum is a former speech writer for President Bush, the current President Bush. He's also a political commentator who blogs at National Review Online. David Frum, welcome back to Day to Day. And before last night's speech, this is what you wrote about Sarah Palin. The longer I think about this selection, the less well it sits with me. How do you feel today?
Mr. DAVID FRUM (Former Presidential Speech Writer, George W. Bush Administration; Columnist, National Post): I feel different, but I don't think different. I feel different in that - I was wowed by the speech. It was great, and not only was it a great speech. The speech was an opportunity for a politician to reveal the personality that flows through. Even when speeches are written for you, they expose something about you, and we saw somebody who's charismatic, who's exciting, who's got a wonderful combination of toughness and down-to-earth. I mean, she was - she made a very, very appealing presentation of herself.
But a lot of the worries that I had before the speech have not gone away. They basically come down to this. John McCain - who will be - who's just turned 72, if he wins, he'll be the oldest first-term president ever - has beside him, as his running mate, somebody with not an awful lot of executive experience, and about whom we know - all know - very little. And I don't mean about her personal life. I mean about the way she decides, how she approaches issues, and that I find - continue to find unnerving.
CHADWICK: When you wrote this piece - you've been writing online that you have some doubts about this election. You report that your mail is running 98 to 2 against you. Why do you think that is? What is it that Sarah Palin is tapping into?
Mr. FRUM: Well, that was in the first 24 hours. Since then, I have received more - a continuing amount of positive mail. Republicans, maybe everybody, are very attuned to symbolic cues, and the kind of thing I worry about, which is, what kind of decision maker will this person be? Will they take advice widely or narrowly? Have they thought about a range of issues? That's not a hugely interesting question to lots of my fellow Republicans.
She is a symbol of small-town America. She is a symbol of the most attractive side of the pro-life movement, not somebody who wants to prohibit in others, but somebody who has a commitment in herself and sees the pro-life movement as a movement, not of sexual Puritanism, but as a movement about cherishing the vulnerable and upholding the humanity of all kinds of human beings. They - she just is - so, she makes a case for people who care about a certain identity, and she made the case, she is the case, and people really respond to that.
CHADWICK: You've written that elections are about both politics and governments, and Sarah Palin is great at politics. She's - she's - obviously evokes this strong response from people, but you're really worried about the governance part of it.
Mr. FRUM: I - just to be - I want to underscore that not knowing how somebody will do is not to say they will do badly, but my candidate in 2008 was Rudy Giuliani. I know how Rudy Giuliani governs. With Sarah Palin, we just don't know the answer to that question. When she was mayor, the town was very small, obviously, and as governor - she's been governor for about a year and a half of an oil-producing state at a time of record high oil prices. She hasn't met a crisis. Rudy Giuliani said very effectively the other night that that's really the test of executive leadership, what happens in a crisis, and with, Sarah Palin we just don't know.
CHADWICK: If she can help make this election a contest between, I'm thinking about, small-town America or, I'm thinking about, our problems overseas, is that good for the Republicans?
Mr. FRUM: For sure that's good, if the Democrats agree to play that way, but they may do something smarter, because you always have to assume your opponents will bring their best game. If we make this - this is about small-town America versus suburban America, and that we represent the values of a part of America where, what, a third of the country lives? And they make the election about the values of the part of the country where, what, two-thirds of the country live? The math is not in our favor.
I mean, this is not the 1920s anymore. America is a suburban nation. And that was one of the things in the speech that struck me as a little bit of an overstatement, because people in suburbs also do hard work, and they also fight the country's wars, and you don't become morally superior by living in a different kind of town. And you shouldn't say you do when that kind of town is the numerical minority, not the numerical majority. If you're going to flatter people, flatter the larger group.
CHADWICK: It is John McCain's night tonight. He's got to deliver the speech. You're widely acknowledged as one of the best speech writers in the country. What would you - what would you ask of Senator McCain tonight?
Mr. FRUM: We've had a wonderful opportunity to hear about his biography and he's been praised by others. Not a good idea, ever, to praise yourself. You show what you are. You don't tell people what you are. Now he has to make the case as to how what he wants to do connects with the interests of ordinary people. Through his - through the past half dozen years, McCain's interest in reform - he had a very keen interest in reform, but it's tended not to touch much on bread-and-butter issues.
Most people don't see a connection with their lives and, say, campaign finance, whether McCain is right or wrong. Now he needs to show, I care about the things you care about. I'm not just a Washington insider. And he needs to connect his agenda on healthcare - which is hugely important - on energy, on taxes, all of those things, the pocketbook of middle-income people who basically have not done that well out of the past eight years.
CHADWICK: David Frum, former presidential speech writer for George Bush and a blogger at National Review Online. David, thank you.
Mr. FRUM: Thank you so much, Alex.
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