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Palin and the generation gap

One question ABC's Charles Gibson neglected to ask Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin during his interview with her last week was this: You are young enough to be John McCain's daughter. Twenty-eight years separate you. Will you be able to walk into the Oval Office and say, 'Mr. President, you are wrong about this and here is what you should do instead?"

With so short a time between her selection and the election, have the two worked out her role in a McCain administration? If so, what is it? Will her role be substantive, or largely political and ceremonial?

Given that McCain has plucked her from relative obscurity, will she feel confident enough to tell a President McCain things he may not want to hear? There are already some issues on which Palin disagrees with McCain, such as global warming, drilling in ANWR and stem cell research. How hard would she push her own beliefs?

The last vice president to experience a large age gap between himself and the president was Dan Quayle, who was two weeks shy of his 42nd birthday when he was sworn in in 1989. President George H.W. Bush was 64. Their 22-year gap is close to the 28-year difference between McCain and Palin, but unlike the McCain-Palin relationship, Quayle had known his running mate for a number of years before he was selected. Quayle also had experience as a senator and congressman.

Quayle's youthful looks and exuberance at being selected invited the media to mock him, which they never tired of through his four years in office. In a telephone conversation, I asked Quayle if he thought Palin could deliver her own straight talk to McCain. He said, 'I believe she can. She is strong and not reluctant to express her opinion.' Asked whether he thinks Palin is prepared to be vice president, Quayle said, 'By January 20, she's going to have a lot more knowledge than she has today. Every single day she will gain valuable experience working with John McCain.'

Quayle also said every criticism leveled at Palin was leveled 'almost verbatim at me.' He said, 'People who supported us were called by the media and our opponents 'dumb' and 'mean-spirited.' He added, 'The liberal media are scared of effective conservatives.'

Recalling the 'running battle (Michael) Dukakis and I had for two weeks in 1988,' Quayle said, 'I just hope they continue to go after her.' He noted that when Dukakis kept attacking him, Dukakis' poll numbers declined.

The left is getting desperate. It thought this election was in the bag for Barack Obama and his legions of extremist acolytes, such as ACORN, MoveOn.org, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers. Now, with some polls showing the public is paying attention and may not be as enamored with Obama and his far-left ideas and associations as in the early days of the campaign, when it was seduced by his rhetorical skills, people may be experiencing buyer's remorse.

The New York Times, which is declining in circulation, revenue and influence, is raging against the dying of its once bright light. On Saturday, it carried an editorial and two columns critical of Palin. On Sunday, there were two anti-Palin columns and one attacking McCain for 'Making America Stupid.' The week before, the Times carried five anti-Palin stories on its front page.

The left-leaning Huffington Post carried the rant of a blogger named Michael Seitzman. He mocked Palin for mispronouncing nuclear ("nucular,' she pronounced it, which is better than Jimmy Carter's 'nuk-e-yer'). Seitzman proceeded to call anyone who likes McCain, Palin and President Bush 'an idiot ... mentally ill, mentally disabled or mentally disturbed.' Name-calling is the final refuge of the desperate.

This has been the Left's view of the Right since the Right decided it would no longer roll over and accept whatever the Left wanted to do. Anyone who doesn't agree with the Left's belief in higher taxes, bigger government, less personal responsibility and the use of the courts as a cultural wrecking ball is, by definition, qualified to be institutionalized.

The Left is concerned that all of its work to create a liberal version of 'The Stepford Wives' may be unraveling. It doesn't know how to handle Sarah Palin, but that's OK. It has become increasingly clear that Sarah Palin knows how to handle them.

E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas at calthomas@tribune.com.