As governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin "demonstrated many of the qualities we expect in our best leaders," The Atlantic's Joshua Green reports in a must-read story. "She set aside private concerns for the greater good, forgoing a focus on social issues to confront the great problem plaguing Alaska, its corrupt oil-and-gas politics. She did this in a way that seems wildly out of character today -- by cooperating with Democrats and moderate Republicans to raise taxes on Big Business. "
After making the case, Green then asks, "What happened to Sarah Palin?"
And: "How did a popular, reformist governor beloved by Democrats come to embody right-wing resentment?"
Green concludes that the qualities that helped Palin battle entrenched Republicans "weren't nearly so admirable when deployed against less worthy foes." (That is, don't pee on the Democrats.) He also noted Palin's tendency to over-personalize everything. Yet Green could not help but wonder what might have happened if Palin -- somehow as a running mate -- had been able to steer Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign to take on Wall Street.
I have a different take.
Like Green, I see serious flaws in Palin's makeup. Start with a failure to do her homework. But I believe the media feeding frenzy that followed McCain's selection of Palin as his running mate distorted her as a human being in a fundamental way.
When McCain picked Palin, his campaign team thought the media would hail Palin as a fellow maverick, a moderate who could work with Democrats and avoided polarizing social issues by, for example, vetoing a bill banning benefits for same-sex spouses of state workers. That is, Camp McCain expected the sort of in-depth look that Green provided in "The Tragedy of Sarah Palin."
They also thought that personal profiles would portray Palin as a pro-life Republican who walked the walk when she chose to give birth to a son with Down syndrome.
Alas and woe to her, Palin had the misfortune of walking onto the national stage in the era of the blogosphere. A Daily Kos blogger charged that Palin faked giving birth to Trig five months earlier in order to conceal her teenage daughter Bristol's pregnancy. Other bloggers, as well as British and Australian newspapers, joined the pile-on. That rumor was put to rest for all but the most ardent Palin "birthers" when Bristol turned out to be five months pregnant.
While most reputable American news outlets did not report the rumors, The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz wrote at the time that reporters deluged the campaign with questions "about the governor's amniotic fluid, the timing of her contractions and whether she would take a DNA test to establish the baby's parentage." Those questions enraged the McCainiacs.
Palin's record as governor also went through the dirt washer. Palin wrote in her memoir "Going Rogue," "Suddenly I was a book-burning evangelical extremist sweeping down from the North on her broomstick." Factcheck.org felt compelled to report that Palin "did not demand that books be banned from the Wasilla library" and "has not pushed for teaching creationism in Alaska's schools."
Green laments that McCain/Palin didn't run "as mavericks," but instead "turned hard right." He doesn't seem to understand that the political press corps kept seizing unsubstantiated odd-bin tidbits to paint Palin as a right-wing kook and social-issues crusader -- and thus shoved Palin into the right-wing ghetto.
If a Republican cannot get credit for being a moderate, she might as well rush into the warm embrace of the GOP base. Like John McCain.
I do not absolve Palin for her post-campaign excesses. A stronger woman may well have withstood the barrage and -- after returning home and tending to state business -- emerged as a seasoned survivor. Instead, she resigned as governor to cash in on her role as the Republican whom lefties most love to hate.
That's on Palin. But when the media wonder what went wrong with her, they might start by looking in the mirror.