Grotesque, unprecedented, bizarre, unbelievable. Sarah Palin was all of that in Hong Kong yesterday. And more. Dressed in a cutesy virgin-white blouse and black skirt with the infamous bee-hive hairdo, she was a blessing to every predicting spectator.
"There'll be one or two self-deprecating remarks, a reference to healthcare, taxation, out-of-control spending and a poorly told joke," my investor companion muttered when the lady walked on to the stage of the Hyatt conference room. All he forgot was the bit about Islamic terror. Alas, she did not fail us. "No recording, no photography, no video tapes, no mobile phones," they kept shouting over the public address system. And you could see why.
It was Sarah's trip to Asia and her first appearance since her resignation as Alaska's top Mum. In her state capital, she told us, you could see a moose in the middle of the city. It was not a common sight in Hong Kong. Why, in Alaska, where 20,000 square miles of the state was glacial and with only two humans per square mile, "it seems to me that God just chucked this bucketful of resources there". It was then we realised that whoever wrote the Palin sermon for her, they had – mercilessly – allowed some of the real Sarah to show through. Even husband Todd got a mention. He had flown with her into Hong Kong. And – here was a reference to the Alaska fish and caviar consumed in this "beautiful", "magnificent" and "libertarian" part of China – "some of the fruits of our labour, mine and Todd's, ended up on tables here". The caviar at the Hyatt, it should be added, comes from Iran.
But Alaska was more than just a fish market. It was "the air-crossroads to the world" where "Main Street, for me, it's a small town tucked between two mountain ranges". It went on and on. Alaska was "the last frontier", a "place where you can still feel that pioneering mountain spirit... It has shaped me." We sat there, mystified. Was she trying for the presidency next time round? Or re-election to the governorship of that wretched glacial state?
To prove her shining Republicanism, Sarah quoted Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. She quoted Lincoln. She quoted Thomas Jefferson. History and common sense were not on the side of liberalism and "utopian pipe dreams". But there'd been progress. In the past, we had the "horse and buggy business", she said, then Ford came along with the motor car and the kids sat singing in the back, but now the kids have headsets. And what happened to the Reagan legacy? "Many Republicans in Washington gambled it away."
She talked, of course, about the infamous "death panels" – a big smirk here from Sarah – and "market-friendly responsible ideas" (this must have been the speech-writer) and offered slippery advice: "We can responsibly develop our resources without damaging the environment."
She spoke too fast. She gabbled her words. Scatty was the word for it. We slalomed between the fall of the Berlin Wall, the break-up of Yugoslavia and 9/11. Then it started. The war on "vicious terrorism", the war against "violent fanatics who wished to end our way of life", our battle against "radical Islamic extremists" with "twisted vision". This was not a clash of civilisations but "a war within Islam". We slalomed again. Asia – "what an amazing place!" – was at its best "when it was not dominated by a single power".
What on earth was happening? Had Sarah just looked up from her podium and seen China? Addressing what was surely the neo-conservative wing of the Republican party, she could not "turn a blind eye" to Chinese policies that created "uncertainty", which supported "questionable regimes" and "made a lot of people nervous". America wasn't going to impose its values on other countries, but America was going to have to "ramp up" its defence spending.
Then family again. "I have a husband," she said. "I think I could have used a wife. He's awesome." This really floored the Chinese. Poor Todd.