Saturday, November 15, 2008

The rehabilitation of Sarah Palin

(Originally published 11/15/08)

This week was all about Sarah Palin.

The Alaska governor who spent her early days as the Republican VP nominee on a virtual media lockdown has spent the last seven submerged in a sea of interviews, striking back against disgruntled GOP aides who have grumbled to the press that she is a “diva” –- and worse.

Fox News Channel’s Greta van Susteren opened the media blitz with a two-part interview in Alaska. She chatted with the governor as Palin prepared moose chili in a three-piece suit.

Freed of the shackles of her tag-team role, the difference in Palin was apparent. It was hard to believe that the woman who sat down across from Wolf Blitzer was the same woman Katie Couric had befuddled.

Fortuitous timing was on her side. She wrapped her press push around the annual meeting of the Republican Governors Association, where she delivered a speech on the values and future of the Republican Party.

Yes, she still had to answer those exasperating questions about the wardrobe and the tension within the presidential campaign. But the tie-in naturally led interviewers to refer to her as a party leader and ask her about her plans in 2012; this, in turn, gave Palin a natural opportunity to demur but leave her options open.

Behold, the rehabilitation of Sarah Palin.

I’m split on Palin’s full-court media press. If she wants to be taken seriously, she should stop making herself the story and just do her job. It’s how Hillary Clinton polished her policy chops when she was elected to the U.S. Senate. But I understand why Palin feels compelled to address the stories those GOP aides are lobbing out there: If she wants to debunk them before repetition alone buys them credibility, she has to do so now.

This week taught us two things about Palin:

One, she would have run a far different campaign than the one the McCain campaign charted for her. Palin said she would have sought more media exposure, not less; mistakes and warts and all, that's who she is, and she says she wants authenticity with voters above all else.

Two, Palin doesn't tolerate incompetence well (ironic, I know). She noted during one interview this week that her frustrations are sometimes obvious. And they were during the campaign, as she struggled to abide by the tight parameters McCain's advisers set for her.

Both are for better or for worse. Authenticity isn't always pretty, and it's usually preferable for elected leaders to hold their tongues in difficult situations. But in a political system rife with made-for-TV candidates who wouldn't know to tie their shoes if their scripts didn’t order it, there are plenty of voters out there who happily prefer the refreshment of the unvarnished truth to the same cold gruel they've been digesting for years.

She may not be able to see Russia from her house. But this week’s media blitz proves that Sarah Palin is keeping a close eye on Washington –- and she intends to be around a while.

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