Friday, August 29th 2008, 1:06 PM

In many ways, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama made women the focal point of their speeches at the Democratic National Convention. Both discussed the importance of earning the right to vote, their roles as mothers and wives, and both called for more attention to “women’s issues.” To hear it, you’d think we were all still stuck in the kitchen, desperate for a lift up.

But John McCain‘s selection of Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska, as his vice presidential running mate is an even better story – and one that has very little, if anything, to do with making history.

For the sake of this argument, let’s pretend the attractive mother of five isn’t a woman, and let’s call her Sam.

Sam Palin has impeccable conservative credentials. He’s a reformer, he’s pro-life, he’s for small and effective government and he’s for drilling domestically, even if it’s in his own state. He supports capital punishment and opposes same-sex marriage. He shocked eco-activists looking to put polar bears on the endangered species list by revealing that in his state, the population has actually risen. He’s forceful with big oil companies, but, like McCain, wants to address climate change in serious ways.

Furthermore, he’s likable. He’s a family man. Sam hunts. Sam fishes. He plays with his kids, one of whom has Down syndrome.

And he was elected governor of Alaska as an antidote to government corruption and fiscal irresponsibility. He’s found creative ways to bring money to his state (he sold a private jet belonging to the state on eBay for $2.7 million), and made $237 million in budget cuts.

Though he’s only been governor for two years, he served as a mayor and city councilman since 1992. And of the three candidates on these national tickets – McCain, Barack Obama and Joe Biden – he’s the only one to actually have run anything. Sam’s been successful as a businessman, a mayor and a governor. He brings youth and an everyman appeal to the ticket, he softens McCain and he appeals to the conservative base.

While Mitt Romney, Eric Cantor and Tim Pawlenty would have made decent choices for McCain, Sam’s resume and qualifications make it difficult to imagine anyone else as well-suited to run with John McCain.

If Palin were in fact a man, the choice would have been obvious, quietly applauded and generally supported by right-leaning voters.

But Sarah has something the other three don’t – and it isn’t anatomical. She is a direct response to the false promises of the Obama campaign thus far. She is a direct response to the cloying pageantry of the Democratic National Convention. And she is a direct response to the empty platitudes of “hope and change,” an example of real hope and change for Americans, not because she’s a woman but because she’s a committed conservative.

She is a throwback to the cowboy individualism of Barry Goldwater, a nod to the fiscal policies of Ronald Reagan and a flag-bearer for the common-sense pragmatism of ordinary working parents everywhere. Selling a plane on eBay is just one example of the kind of problem-solving intuition she’ll bring to Washington.

Carrie Lukas, head of the Independent Women’s Forum, has rightly said that all issues are women’s issues. What makes an “administration good for women is advancing the conservative agenda of limiting government and returning power to the people.”

She says the Reagan administration has been the only one to significantly advance the rights of women, not because of pet projects designed specifically for them, but because he cut taxes and reduced regulations. And as a result, she says, “Women have greatly prospered in the modern economy.”

To listen to Michelle and Hillary, though, the past 50 years have been disastrous for women, and the next President needs to pick up where Gloria Steinem left off. To the contrary, the selection of Sarah Palin by John McCain for running mate signals a real and very significant promise of change in Washington – not because she’s a woman, but because she’s a real conservative.

Cupp is author of “Why You’re Wrong About the Right,” with Brett Joshpe. She lives and works in New York City.