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After a Year of Sarah Palin, Alaska Wonders, "What the Hell Were We Thinking?"

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What a difference a year makes. A year ago today, after being stunned by McCain's VP pick, I had finished writing a piece called "What Is McCain Thinking? One Alaskan's Perspective." It's hard to imagine a time when the country was asking "Sarah Who?" but it was only one short year ago.

One of the selling features of Sarah Palin was her astronomically high approval ratings in the state of Alaska. After all, how could a governor have positives in the high 80s or low 90s and be anything less than an ace in the hole? So McCain must have thought. The answer became obvious, and embarrassing to those of us in the Last Frontier. We weren't paying attention.

During the gubernatorial debates in Alaska in 2006, Palin said to her opponent, the infinitely smarter and more qualified Andrew Halcro, "Andrew, I watch you at these debates with no notes, no papers and yet when asked questions you spout off facts, figures and policies and I'm amazed. But then I look out into the audience and I ask myself, 'Does any of this really matter?'" That may have been her shrewdest political statement. To Alaskans at that moment in time, it didn't matter. She was cute, she was spunky, she was gonna take it to the man, she had a scrumptious family, she was an underdog, she was one of us, and she had ... charisma! That's all we needed to know.

Gone was the stale, old, corrupt crankiness of Frank Murkowski, our former senator turned governor turned most loathed politician in the state. The lure of the bright shiny object was irresistible. Palin clobbered Murkowski in the primary, with the incumbent garnering a humiliating 19 percent of the vote. The devastating blow added to her appeal, and the promise of a Cinderella story in Alaska's future. Who doesn't love Cinderella? And the rest is history.

In many ways, it seems longer than a year. Much longer. Palin went back to Alaska, where her life turned into a nasty soap opera. There were revelations from McCain's staff about her behavior on the campaign trail; she was hit with a myriad of ethics charges (some of which, contrary to Palin's claims otherwise, stuck); she bailed on her relationship with the state's legislators and played politics with the federal stimulus plan; she got into a dog fight with Levi Johnston; she began a series of odd Twitterings, replete with a six-part ramble on Mommy Bear; she resigned amid chaos and deception, only to return as a diva on Facebook.

The very Democrats who served as a catalyst to the passage of Palin's grand ideas for a gas line were thrown under the bus. The Republicans who called Palin a "socialist" during her early governorship were already there. There's an old saying -- "How do you get Nellie back on the farm once she's seen Par-ee?" It became obvious to everyone when she returned to Alaska that she was wearing a metaphorical "Hi My Name is Nellie" name tag on her designer lapel. We were the farm, and the glittering white marble world of Washington D.C. and the great "Outside" was most definitely Par-ee.

As Geoffrey Dunn notes in his excellent piece today, another strange phenomenon became apparent -- an obsession with Barack Obama. The moment Palin started slamming community organizers, and talked about "pallin' around with terrorists," and telling the swooning crowds that Obama didn't see America like "we" see America, it began. She had found her niche, but in her home state, where Obama either trailed or lead McCain by a mere 3 percentage points before her nomination, it didn't play well. Neither did her bizarre habit of committing to events, and then canceling at the last minute, denying she'd ever said she would attend. First it was the national GOP who bore the brunt of this passive-aggressive event coordinating. But this week she did it twice, right here in the state, ostensibly accusing the predominant mega-church, and the head of Alaska's pro-life movement of lying. From the moment of her nomination until the day of her resignation, her numbers sank. It was like watching a slow motion film clip of the Hindenburg. The week after her resignation, the dirigible hit the dirt, and her negative numbers topped her positive numbers for the first time in her home state.

Alaska doesn't like a quitter, and the majority of Alaskans grew tired of having her speak for us.

But some Alaskans stuck with her anyway. Acknowledging her unsuitability for public office meant to acknowledge the horrible mistake Alaskans had made. We're already "on the farm." We don't need to give all those folks in Par-ee another reason to look down their noses and ask, "What the Hell is the matter with you people?" But they asked anyway. And we really had no good answer, other than to look at the ground and scratch our toe in the dirt and say, "I guess we weren't paying attention. Sorry..."

But, I won't allow Alaska to take all the blame. You'd like to think that anyone worth their salt, who has served in the senate for many administrations, would take a little time to find out about the person who would take the helm of the ship of state if you were to suddenly meet your maker. It's called "vetting," and it's a good idea. If the buck stops in the Oval Office and it is there that the responsibility lies, I wonder why nobody was asking Arizonans "What the Hell is wrong with you people?" Perhaps I'm a little bitter. Alaskans have been picked on an awful lot this year.

The Blame Game has become the favorite pastime of the Palin camp. It's Barack Obama. It's the ethics complaints. It's mis-communication. It's the Republicans in the legislature. It's the Democrats in the legislature. It's her daughter's ex-fiance. It's the damn "law." It's a misunderstanding. It's socialism. It's the media. It's haters. It's bloggers. It's a diabolical cabal of event coordinators across the nation telling lies.

And the way that each of these entities (regardless of size) was dealt with was with a big, fat sledgehammer. Barack Obama? Pals around with terrorists. Ethics complainers? Hope they get "backlash." Legislators? Don't give them face time. Levi Johnston? Liar and money-grubber. The law? Ignore it. The media? Quit making stuff up! Haters? You're jealous. Bloggers? Threaten to sue them.

Nuance is not the ex-governor's forte.

And how did those strategies work out?

Attacking the president with vitriol made her the Democrats' number one fundraising tool. Ethics complainers mentioned in press releases? Brought lots of attention to the ethics complaints. Freezing out the legislators on both sides of the aisle meant nobody really felt like 'playing ball' any more. Levi Johnston is probably going to be writing a book, and I'm betting it will outsell the puff piece "Everything I Need to Know I Learned Playing High School Basketball." Shredding the media and then asking them to be nice to you is generally not a good PR strategy.

And the bloggers? Well, every time she, or any of the pro-Palin websites or blogs acknowledge local Alaskan bloggers, it gives them more traffic, more attention, a more interesting story that people want to hear, and more credibility. Maybe I shouldn't let that little secret slip.

But it has been a fascinating year. The Clinton years when people opened one eye and said, "Everything looks pretty good I guess," and then rolled over and went back to sleep are gone. America has awakened. The conservative movement did not believe that Barack Obama could get elected, and like a beast who is cornered and threatened with its own mortality, it is raging. Nobody could have imagined the conditions today last year when everyone was frantically Googling Sarah Palin; that she and McCain would have been roundly defeated, that the country would have elected Barack Obama, that she would not even last one term as governor, and that such ugliness would have awakened in American politics.

What a long, strange trip it's been. Next year on "P-Day?" It's anyone's guess.

[Cross-posted at The Mudflats]

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