The first time NEWSWEEK's Karen Breslau saw Sarah Palin, she was calling on the governor in Palin's Anchorage office. "As a journalist, and a female one at that, I am embarrassed to admit that the first thing that struck me about her was that she's so, well, striking," says Karen, our San Francisco bureau chief. "Her stern librarian's bun and the thick glasses did little to obscure the fact that she is an exceptionally attractive woman." Palin's tireless pace was also striking, and now the country is doing what Karen did when she called on the governor in August 2007: getting to know a woman in high office, with high ambitions, but who, at 44 and as governor of a fabled but hardly central state, understandably remains an enigma.
As the Republicans gather in St. Paul to nominate the John McCain–Sarah Palin ticket, McCain's choice of the young Alaska politician to serve as his vice presidential running mate has added yet another element of history and drama to a year already heavily laden with both. "She knows energy policy—and clearly has no shortage of it personally—but her grasp of national and global issues is a mystery," says Karen. "It is staggering to think of her as a player on the national stage, but no matter what happens, Sarah Palin will be a riveting story."
You can begin reading the first chapter of that story in the profile, by Karen and Evan Thomas, of the improbable nominee. McCain and Palin took a moment after their first joint appearance in Dayton, Ohio, to pose for our cover, which was shot (as was the Obama-Biden image in Springfield) by Nigel Parry.
With reporting from Holly Bailey, Suzanne Smalley, Eve Conant and Pat Wingert, I wrote a companion piece to last week's essay about Obama and his father. Perhaps most interesting: McCain spoke to me—unprompted and in some detail—about his father's battle with alcoholism, a struggle that taught the young McCain that even the greatest of men are flawed, and which I think makes McCain a more nuanced personality than either his admirers or his opponents tend to think. There are also pieces from Jonathan Alter, Ellis Cose, Jonathan Darman, Michael Gerson, Daniel Gross, Fareed Zakaria—and a swing-state map annotated by Karl Rove.
En route from Orlando to Atlanta the other week, McCain and I wandered off on what seemed a conversational tangent about Herman Wouk. (Joe Lieberman, who was sitting a seat ahead of us in the front cabin of McCain's plane, heard Wouk's name and jumped up to join the exchange.) Back home, I paged through "The Winds of War," which McCain said he had recently reread. In the closing pages of the novel, Victor (Pug) Henry—a naval officer, stoic but human—stands on a promontory overlooking Pearl Harbor as his son sails to war aboard the USS Enterprise: "He could almost picture God the Father looking down with sad wonder at this mischief. In a world so rich and lovely, could his children find nothing better to do than to dig iron from the ground and work it into vast grotesque engines for blowing each other up? Yet this madness was the way of the world. He had given all his working years to it. Now he was about to risk his very life at it. Why?
"Because the others did it, he thought. Because Abel's next-door neighbor was Cain. Because with all its rotten spots, the United States of America was not only his homeland but the hope of the world. Because if America's enemies dug up iron and made deadly engines of it, America had to do the same, and do it better, or die. Maybe the vicious circle would end with this first real world war. Maybe it would end with Christ's second coming. Maybe it would never end." Without defeating Hitler, Henry thought, "the world could not move an inch toward a more sane existence. There was nothing to do now but win the war." There was nothing to do now but win the war: sounds like something you might hear from the Republican nominee for president of the United States.