The night formerly known as Night Three of the Republican National Convention was dedicated to "Reform and Prosperity." But more important, it was the party's, and the country's, first substantial look at Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who in no time at all has become not only a national politician but a subject of controversy and a figure of symbolic import.
She was the night's story, down to how well she would handle speaking off a teleprompter: "But we will see, because we're open-minded about what we're going to be anticipating," CNN's Wolf Blitzer said.
Far from being a drag on the event, the unexpected news of the Bristol Palin pregnancy was a gift, both to the party and to the press. It turned a spotlight on a favorite Republican enemy: "the media," which were castigated, a little more than they deserved, for making a story out of a story. And it gave the press, which had been expecting a dull convention, both a narrative to exploit and another chance to talk about itself.
Mitt Romney led the parade of former opponents who preceded Palin. He was dour and a little belligerent. Mike Huckabee followed, measured and humorous and lightly pastoral. He opened with a good joke: "I am genuinely delighted to speak here on behalf of my second choice for the Republican nomination for president."
Rudy Giuliani's subsequent stand-up routine had a different, distinctly acid tone; even his statement that Barack Obama's rise was "remarkable" played as a knock. (Never have the words "community organizer" been pronounced with such distaste as they were Wednesday night in St. Paul.) He was interrupted frequently by chants of "USA" and other things I couldn't make out.
Palin followed Giuliani immediately, her introductory video nixed to save time. It was expendable, in any case, as her speech comprised both a family album and an elucidation of her record. She did just fine with the teleprompter, given the speed with which she was hustled into this position. It was an impressively assured performance, both friendly for the folks and brutal for the ranks.
When Palin was joined at the end by McCain and her extremely handsome family -- that he looks like Grandpa in that mix is possibly not a bad thing -- it was hard to see how she could be anything but an asset to the campaign.