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STEVE LOPEZ / POINTS WEST

Common ground with a Palin fan

October 01, 2008|STEVE LOPEZ

My trip to Sarah Palin country seems to have worked quite a few readers into a lather.

I'm a dunce. I'm a heathen. I'm a liberal hack carrying water for the publisher, the editor, the devil (none of whom I personally know to be a liberal, by the way).

The one e-mail that stood out for me, though, was from a Northridge resident. Mike O'Donnell, who once worked in the Nixon White House, began by calling himself a fan. Then he went on to say he was disappointed in my "slanted" dispatches from Alaska.

"Your disdain for Sarah Palin, her views which are strongly based upon her Christian faith, and her actions as a conservative legislator came through loud and clear," O'Donnell wrote. "Can I and your other readers who are conservative . . . ever expect you to write a political piece that is fair and balanced?"

A fair question, I suppose. I admit to having put a few Republicans on the rotisserie in my time. In my defense, though, I've also taken batting practice on the likes of Gray Davis, Fabian Nunez, Antonio Villaraigosa and Al Gore, to name just a few Democratic targets.

But O'Donnell sounded like a reasonable man, so I asked if we could meet.

Over the course of a two-hour chat at the Starbucks near Reseda and Devonshire in Northridge, I'm not sure either of us changed the other's mind about anything. But our conversation was much more civil than the back-and-forth John McCain and Barack Obama are having.

To be honest, I am biased, and I admitted as much to O'Donnell. I'm biased against unknown candidates being added to presidential tickets two months away from a wartime election and then kept away from the media for the most part.

It's difficult not to think McCain's running mate has been on a short leash because her handlers aren't sure she can ably answer questions on national and foreign affairs, and her interview with Katie Couric validated those concerns.

Did I go overboard in lampooning Palin for her comments on Russia, community organizers and the value of her experience as mayor of Wasilla?

O'Donnell certainly thinks so. Might it have been better to spend my few days in Alaska focusing on what she really knows about energy policy or climate change?

Perhaps.

But as for the claim that the "liberal media" are out to get Palin, my colleague James Rainey pointed out the other day that some of her harshest critics include conservative all-stars George Will, David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, Ross Douthat, Kathleen Parker and Stephen F. Hayward.

Mike O'Donnell -- a born-again Christian who left politics many years ago and works in advertising and real estate now -- listened patiently to my little speech.

Was he coming over to my side on Sarah?

Not a chance.

"Quite frankly," he said, "I like her."

That has a lot to do with his faith and hers, he said, and he was offended by my tongue-in-cheek comments about Palin and religion.

All I can do is plead guilty. While in Alaska I met with a man from Wasilla who told me Palin believes humans and dinosaurs walked the Earth together.

My guess is they didn't.

To O'Donnell, who grew up Lutheran but now attends a Pentecostal-influenced church in the Valley, my snarky attitude on the subject is a form of bigotry.

"We believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to love, protect and inspire," he said.

But his support for Palin goes way beyond the pews. O'Donnell, who was an advance man for Nixon and later worked on Capitol Hill -- which he found to be hopelessly corrupted by money -- thinks of her as a refreshingly different kind of politician.

"I honestly believe her whole goal for going into politics was to help others, and I think she's a smart, articulate, intelligent woman."

The one big advantage she's got over McCain, Obama and Joe Biden, O'Donnell argued, is that she's been an executive as mayor and governor.

I couldn't argue with that, but to offer some perspective, I did point out that the San Fernando Valley has three times the population of the entire state of Alaska.

"Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer and governor of Georgia," O'Donnell retorted.

Touche.

On the subject of experience, O'Donnell said, there's not nearly enough media emphasis on Barack Obama's lack of it. And a vote for Obama, he said, is a vote for big government.

Come on, Mike. As opposed to this era of fiscal restraint under President Bush, who is sticking us all with a gargantuan budget deficit and staggering debt?

He conceded the point. O'Donnell doesn't think history will look favorably on Bush, and if it had been up to O'Donnell, an Army vet, there would have been no war in Iraq.

The more we talked, in fact, the more common ground we found. Half in jest, I suggested the Wall Street debacle is the fault of his party, which never saw a corporate regulation it liked. He countered, more accurately, that the meltdown is all about greed -- corporate greed, political greed, and the effect of too many people feeling entitled to more than they could afford.

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