Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- It was probably not the intention of liberal investigative journalists to expose Sarah Palin as a figure far more sympathetic than her public image. Twenty-four thousand pages of email voyeurism reveal a politician who has successfully hidden her virtues behind closed blinds.

As Alaska governor, Palin was kind to her staff, responsive to her constituents and protective of her state. She sought God's guidance in difficult decisions, made time for her family and found media questions on the provenance of her youngest child to be "flippin' unbelievable." These revelations read more like a campaign commercial.

Even Palin's vices are unremarkable in a politician. She was ambitious -- which defines the breed. She feuded with state politicians -- which other governors have been known to do. She paid too much attention to her press coverage -- again, hardly unique. From what I've seen, the emails contain just one damning indictment of Palin's judgment: She accepted public relations advice from Newt Gingrich.

Reading through some of the messages brought to mind the rising governor I met in Alaska in June 2007. Palin was a reformer who had opposed the corrupt Republican establishment of her state. She governed from the center-right. Her style was more practical than ideological. Over lunch at the governor's mansion in Juneau, Palin was engaging, informal and earnest. The contemporaneous emails show that she was careful to avoid excessive partisanship -- even willing, on occasion, to praise Barack Obama.

Four years later, it is difficult to find this Palin in her public utterances. Her suspicion of the media has become antipathy. Her style is often abrasive and self-pitying. She encourages an odd sort of conservative class resentment, attacking George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush as "blue bloods." Her hyperpartisanship can be embarrassing. Michelle Obama's concern about child obesity, in her view, violates our "God-given rights to make our own decisions" -- a Jeffersonian defense of Twinkies in high-school vending machines.

How did a likable, consensus-oriented governor become such a divisive figure? This is a different and deeper scandal, in which many are implicated.


Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
 
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