Perhaps the media and Democrats would have been better advised to set expectations high for Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech tonight at the Republican convention.  After ridiculing her as a small-town yokel for the better part of three days, Palin would have looked good if she managed to avoid drooling during her speech.  In the event, though, they could have set expectations as high as a Barack Obama acceptance speech, and Palin would still have exceeded them in a tremendous debut on the national stage.

Palin made it clear to the condescending media and her Democratic critics that she is no pushover, no cream puff.  Her nickname, “Sarah Barracuda”, seems a lot more fitting after tonight.  Not only did she defend her small-town upbringing, she attacked Barack Obama on almost every possible front, and for good measure went after Joe Biden and the mainstream media as well.

For instance, she sought to underscore Obama’s hypocrisy in talking about his love for working-class families while belittling them behind their backs, and included Biden in that criticism:

Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown.

And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves.

I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a “community organizer,” except that you have actual responsibilities. I might add that in small towns, we don’t quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren’t listening.

We tend to prefer candidates who don’t talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco.

And on Obama’s lack of any real reform in his entire career:

We’ve all heard his dramatic speeches before devoted followers.

And there is much to like and admire about our opponent.

But listening to him speak, it’s easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform – not even in the state senate.

Palin also took a shot at Obama’s rather grandiose view of himself:

But when the cloud of rhetoric has passed … when the roar of the crowd fades away … when the stadium lights go out, and those Styrofoam Greek columns are hauled back to some studio lot – what exactly is our opponent’s plan? What does he actually seek to accomplish, after he’s done turning back the waters and healing the planet?

She didn’t forget the media, either:

I’ve learned quickly, these past few days, that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone.

But here’s a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion – I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this country. Americans expect us to go to Washington for the right reasons, and not just to mingle with the right people.

In the moments after the speech, I told our on-air listeners that this was the kind of speech Zell Miller could have delivered.  Palin didn’t deliver it in a shrill manner or sound like she had a chip on her shoulder, though.  She sounded like she relished the opportunity to engage.  Palin has no intention of allowing herself to get steamrolled by Barack “Sweetie” Obama, Democrats in general, or a mainstream media that suddenly found itself becoming the echo chamber for anonymous Kos diarists.

She didn’t just play the role of attack dog, although her description of hockey moms as pit bulls with lipstick played very well with the crowd.  Palin delivered a stirring defense of small-town values and middle America, and told Americans that she’s one of them — just a mother who started off wanting a better education for her kids, then wanted to improve her community, and just kept succeeding all the way up the ladder.

Palin also delivered for John McCain as well.  She gave this quote which will certainly resonate for weeks:

In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers.

And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change.

They’re the ones whose names appear on laws and landmark reforms, not just on buttons and banners, or on self-designed presidential seals.

She extolled the virtues of McCain, calling him the real agent of change in Washington.  Palin talked about the remarkable story of an American hero who may just finish the final steps of a journey from from a cell at the Hanoi Hilton to the White House, and what that says about his honor and our country.  She evoked a stir of emotions when Palin noted that small towns across America have memorials to men just like John McCain, only he made it home — and that middle America understands McCain because of that.

Palin showed her mettle tonight.  Alaskans tell us that she is “tough as nails” and doesn’t run from a fight.  Tonight, she challenged Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and the media elite to a fight to the finish.  And she has bad news for them: she has no plans to quit.

Republicans should feel cheered and elated by this event tonight.  No matter what happens in this race, we have seen the future of the party, and it looks bright indeed.