So, What’s Next for Sarah Palin?

5 11 2008

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Sarah Palin has taken the collective soul of national politics, divided and conquered. In eight short weeks, a political unknown from Alaska went from hockey mom Governor, to national megastar, and finally came to rest with the simultaneous titles of “Conservative Rising Star” and “Most Feared Woman in America”. It’s been quite a ride.

Alaskans are sitting here wondering exactly what will happen. A political hush has fallen on the land. There’s been a lot happening up here while our Governor was whisked away to tour the nation, soak up the limelight in front of cheering crowds, and get a taste of political life outside her borders. She was confident, she told us. Confident in her readiness. She was wired for the mission. And no one who was paying attention would argue that point.

But, what IS the mission? When Palin was asked, months before her selection as the VP running mate for John McCain, if she was interested in the position, she came back with her now famous quote, “I’d have to know what it is that the VP does every day.” But, she then went on to say that she would need to know that the position would be “fruitful, especially for Alaska.” She finished up the interview by saying, “This job is pretty cool too.” That made Alaskans feel good. It made us feel like our Governor was special enough to be considered for a spot on the presidential ticket, but wans’t interested in all that. She was thinking of us first, and her commitment to the people of Alaska.

Then a strange transformation began to happen before our eyes. After the surprise nomination, and the subsequent campaigning, our hometown girl started acting differently. Maybe it was the crowds, maybe it was the taste of power, maybe it was Neiman Marcus. But suddenly here was our governor talking about expanding the powers of the Vice President, dropping tens of thousands of dollars in other people’s money on fancy clothes, smearing local politicians and public servants back home, and dropping hints that she’s entered the national scene and may not want to leave, at least for the long term. That was a lot to take for many Alaskans.

We sort of feel like the high school sweetheart whose steady girlfriend went off to the big city and found somebody better, somebody more worldly, somebody with more money, and dropped us like a hot potato. Only now he broke up with her, and she’s on her way back. Awkward.

It remains to be seen if Alaska, the jilted boyfriend will take Sarah back. There are lots of fences to be mended, and relationship counseling in our future. While there are many Sarah fans who will welcome her back with open arms, there are many who have turned their back, and others who feel downright vengeful. It will be a tangled knot to untie.

The Alaska Legislature upon whose bipartisan support Palin depended to actually accomplish things is now fractured. She never had solid Republican support, and depended heavily on friendly Democrats…friendly Democrats that she didn’t think twice about throwing under the bus during the Troopergate investigation. Keep in mind that when I refer to “the Troopergate investigation”, I mean the real one, conducted by the Alaska State Legislature. I don’t mean the one that Palin instigated herself, to investigate herself, to clear herself which was conducted by a 3-person board, appointed by the governor, that reports to Palin herself. Just so we’re clear on that point.

Chances are, too, that the very engaged, very motivated Obama supporters in Alaska were not too pleased with our Governor as she whipped crowds across the nation into a froth about their candidate “palling around with terrorists (plural),” resulting in shouts of “Kill him” and “Terrorist”. We now learn that Palin decided to bring Bill Ayers into the picture without clearing it with the McCain campaign, and that the Secret Service reported an upsurge in threats against the President Elect and his family right around the time that Palin began amping up the divisive rhetoric.

And don’t forget, Palin asked for Republican Senator, and Alaska political icon Ted Stevens to step down after his seven felony convictions for failure to disclose gifts on his Senate disclosure forms. This may seem like an eminently rational thing to do, but remember that Stevens is currently out front in this hotly debated Senate race. The results are so close, we won’t know for two weeks whether Alaskans have indeed elected an 84-year old convicted felon to the U.S. senate. But about half of Alaskans like him enough, despite that fact, to vote for him anyway. This is Stevens country, and Uncle Ted’s troops will be looking at Palin with a critical eye when she pops back into our lives, after shoving him on to the ice floe in front of the nation.

This is the new Sarah Palin, who went from an approval rating hovering at 90% after her election, to inspiring the largest political rally in the history of Alaska – not a rally to congratulate her, but a rally to demand that she come clean with her promise of “open, honest, and transparent” government. And then there was the second-biggest political rally – Alaska Women Reject Palin. And the third biggest – Alaskans for Obama. Any way you look at it, there is now a rabid, engaged group of considerable size that opposes Palin with every fiber of their being, where there used to be none at all.

But, this is also the same Palin who got a hundred or so supporters to line the streets in Wasilla before daybreak to wave signs as her motorcade passed on the way to the airport to join John McCain after she voted in Wasilla on the morning of the 4th. And this is the same Sarah Palin on the presidential ticket that won the state of Alaska handily, despite the amazing organization of the opposition.

Palin has sliced her state down the middle and polarized her constituents in a way that I would not have imagined possible just a few months ago. The majority of Alaskans still support her, but her negative ratings have soared as Alaskans and the rest of the country have gotten to know her, and her political life will not be the cake walk it once was. And there are many investigations, and skeletons in the closet that are just beginning to emerge.

As for her future aspirations? She refuses to give a clear cut answer about 2012, saying that “Oh, you know, it seems like so far.” But Palin has tipped her hand as a political opportunist, and as one who has tasted power, celebrity and adoring crowds, and she likes what she sees. How will she handle going back to li’l old Wasilla? It’s anyone’s guess.

Her next opportunity to move upward on the national politial scene comes if Ted Stevens is elected, and subsequently expelled by the Senate. She is not able to appoint herself or anyone else to the seat, but she is eligible to run for that seat in a special election. Failing that, the next window of opportunity comes in 2010, when Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski is up for re-election, as is Republican Congressman Don Young. It is also the year she would run for her next term as Governor. There are many options, but there is a lot of ground to cover between now and then.

Has she so damaged herself politically in the state, that she will become an ineffective Governor, and one-term wonder? Has her foray into national politics captured the imagination of the people so much that they will want to see her back in DC, perhaps making her own presidential bid? Has the national Christian Conservative base found their dream girl? Or has the country, perhaps, in its landslide election of President Elect Obama shown itself to have evolved beyond the culture wars, and to have transcended the divisive politics of the past which Palin has now come to symbolize for so many.

It may be that Palin has found her national niche, but that this niche, with the help of a two-term Bush presidency and a weary nation, has proven too narrow to wield any actual power in turning a national election. Whatever the outcome, there is no question that Sarah Palin has been let out of the box.