The Washington Post has a front-page story about Sarah Palin which essentially provides an open mic to her Alaskan detractors in both parties. Most of the criticism seems self-serving and frivolous (which is not to deny that there may be valid non-frivolous criticisms of Palin’s approach to governing).
Let’s start with the criticism from the Dems. The Post notes that, where Palin was once on decent terms with some of them, this no longer seems to be the case. However, as the Post recognizes, Alaska Democrats are unhappy with Palin’s role as an “attack dog” (the traditional role of a vice presidential candidate) during the 2008 election. Given Palin’s effectiveness as a basher of Democrats, and her status as leading national Republican, it’s not surprising that any honeymoon between the Dems and the first term anti-establishment governor has expired.
The Democrats claim that Palin is no longer a “pragmatist.” The only evidence cited by the Post is that she has voiced support for two anti-abortion bills and a bill that would bring back the death penalty. But, as the Post acknowledges, there have been no signs that Palin is going to push any of this legislation, and one of her top aides says it’s unlikely that she will. This sounds like the same Sarah Palin who, during her debates in the campaign for governor, calmly but unabashedly took the pro-life position and after her election, for pragmatic reasons, did not push a pro-life legislative agenda.
The Post seems to attribute unhappiness with Palin on the part of Alaska Republicans to “the part she may have played in McCain’s defeat.” But no reasonable person could believe that Palin played any real role in that the rather one-sided defeat; there isn’t even any good evidence that she was a net minus to the ticket. If some Alaska Republicans blame Palin, in part, for the results in November, it’s probably because of pre-existing resentment against her.
The main criticism expressed by Republicans in the Post article is that Palin appears too focused on running for national office. But this is the standard complaint with any governor with his or her eyes on the presidency.
One “prominent GOP strategist” counsels that Palin “should try to disappear for a while and be an indisputably effective governor.” But of course, Palin now is too much of a lightning rod to an indisputably effective governor. (Everything about her will be subject to dispute from now on). Under these circumstances, it makes more sense for her to act as office holders in her position normally do — strike a balance between her status as an elected official and a player on the national scene.
The bottom line on Palin’s national prospects is, I think, this: Her positions and her persona are such that, in a “politics as usual” environment, she would find it extremely difficult to be elected president. But 2008 may mark the end, for a while, of politics as usual. If we experience a populist reaction to a broken economy (the scenario most likely to bring the Republicans back to power), there is no clear reason why Palin could not lead, and be the main beneficiary of, such a movement.
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