After vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s Republican National Convention speech last week, the pundits were impressed, the party was ecstatic, and even the Democrats recognized that the Alaska governor may be a formidable foe.

In hindsight, it’s hard to imagine John McCain picking a better running mate, as the small town, straight-shootin’, outside-the Beltway mother of five has not only become the life of his party, but has been successful in making everyone forget that Republican leaders could care less about any of the conservative values she represents.

Conservatives have been uncomfortable with McCain since the primary and rightfully so. McCain’s support for campaign finance reform, his opposition to drilling in ANWAR, his vote against the Bush tax cuts, his subscribing to global warming hysteria, and his sponsorship of a bill that would have granted amnesty to illegal aliens are in direct opposition to what most Republicans believe. But still, say Republicans, he is the best man to fight the war on terror.

Consider two of the most prominent speakers the Republican National Committee saw fit to represent their party last week — Rudy Giuliani and Joe Lieberman.

The former New York City mayor is indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton on most issues, but is now considered a Republican star because he can invoke 9/11 with authority, and doing his best Mussolini impression, he can bang the drums for war abroad and a larger police state at home like no other.

If Obama, as Republicans claim, is indeed the most liberal Democrat to ever run on a major presidential ticket, then I defy you to show me where he stands to the left of Lieberman. In addition to being Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, Lieberman stands for universal health care, supports partial-birth abortions, is anti-gun, and opposed Samuel Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court. When WTMA host Richard Todd had the opportunity to ask radio host and former City Paper columnist Michael Graham why such an avowed liberal was being embraced by the Republicans, Graham replied, “Because he understands that foreign policy comes first and I agree with him.” When Todd asked the same question of South Carolina convention delegate Cyndi Mosteller, she said, “Because he understands the importance of 9/11.”

“This is a big tent party,” she added.

But apparently the tent wasn’t large enough for Republican Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, whose counter-convention in Minneapolis drew upwards of 12,000 supporters who listened to a day’s worth of speeches on reducing the size of government, returning to the Constitution, and a bringing the Republican party back to its conservative roots. Paul, who received more votes during the primary than Republican convention speakers Giuliani and Fred Thompson, had to organize his own event because, due to his opposition to the Iraq war, the GOP would not even let him in the door at his own party’s convention. Literally.

When I had the opportunity to ask Mosteller why antiwar Republicans like Paul or North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones or Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel were not given a voice at the convention, she replied, “If you get a tent too big, it’s bound to have holes in it.” When pressed, Mosteller added, “Hagel could not even get up on a national stage and even make a case … and you know why? Because the surge has, by God, worked.” So much for the big tent.

In a country where upwards of 60 percent of the people believe the Iraq war was a mistake and our troops should be brought home, the few Republicans who agree with the American majority are not to be tolerated in the GOP. If you are pro-gun control, pro-socialized health care, pro-choice, pro-amnesty, all of these liberal positions can be tolerated so long as you are pro-war. If you are a staunch conservative on virtually every issue, if you’re not pro-war, you’re no longer welcome in the Republican Party.

Palin, who reportedly once supported staunch antiwar conservative Pat Buchanan for president, mouths the same neoconservative foreign policy rhetoric that now defines her party. Another place, another time, far removed from the context of the McCain campaign, the likeable and conservative Palin might have given a different speech.

But for now this is irrelevant. Palin will be to McCain what Spiro Agnew was to Richard Nixon and Dan Quayle was to George H. W. Bush — conservative vice presidents who had virtually no impact on the moderate presidents they served. In a McCain administration, it is more likely that we would see Lieberman appointed Secretary of State than Palin being given any responsibilities more significant than office secretary. And if there is one thing this election, this party, and their convention made clear, it’s that Palin’s entire purpose is to pacify traditional conservatives on the multiple issues they still care about, so that in Republican victory, McCain and the neoconservatives can finally get to work on their only issue.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.