- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“The past is the past,” Gov. Sarah Palin declared at her first and only official press conference of the 2008 presidential campaign season, which, oddly enough, was held after the election. “It’s behind us.” Is it?

Mrs. Palin is in front of the media more now that the campaign has ended than she ever was as a candidate. Mrs. Palin, who it seems criticizes the media for her woes every time she moves her lips, is now providing as much fodder as possible to the McCain campaign staff she claims treated her badly.

While Republican Govs. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota sat down last Wednesday at the Republican Governors’ Association (RGA) annual meeting to evaluate what went wrong in 2008, Mrs. Palin was on a different mission: how to set things right for herself in 2012.

Before headlining an RGA panel discussion titled “Looking Toward the Future,” Mrs. Palin held a much-touted press conference in which she answered a grand total of three questions. The Alaskan governor is certainly looking toward the future - hers.

Mrs. Palin is hoping to create a bright future that includes an even more prestigious title than vice president. She started paving her way to the Oval Office before her running mate had even ended his concession speech. Having been denied the chance to deliver her own concession speech/2012 declaration announcement at that event, she had to wait a day or two to make her ambitions abundantly clear.

But the future race to the White House won’t be easy. Her fellow Republican governors who appeared on other RGA panels - Mr. Barbour, Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Jindal - as well as Florida’s Charlie Crist and South Carolina’s Mark Sanford, all consider themselves poised for higher office. And, I imagine, they at least slightly resent the fact Mrs. Palin was the governor tapped for a position she neither deserved nor understood.

Mrs. Palin, while brilliant in her role as campaign attack dog, is far from being the only up-and-coming GOP governor with a defined constituency and interesting future prospects. She will face stiff competition not only from fellow governors, but also from the likes of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts’s Gov. Mitt Romney and Arkansas’ Mike Huckabee in her pursuit of national office. Who knows? Maybe even Newt Gingrich.

Starting this early, it’s clear where Mrs. Palin has set her sights, and it’s clear she has no intention of looking back at Team McCain. Indeed, when she went “rogue” during the campaign, Mrs. Palin seemed rather desperate not to drown on Mr. McCain’s sinking ship. Mrs. Palin knew she alone would be held responsible for Mr. McCain’s loss if she didn’t go on her own offensive, so she threw away the campaign talking points and started to set sail in her own one-woman lifeboat.

The problem is that, aside from the diehard conservatives who gobbled up the partisan red meat she fed them at every campaign whistle stop, voters never really warmed up to Mrs. Palin. And, if the polls are right, many believe she doomed the ticket. With Sarah the Barracuda the only persona that made headlines, Mrs. Palin will have to come up with a new narrative going forward.

While Sen. Hillary Clinton was known for being tough, she looked like Little Bo Peep compared to Mrs. Palin’s lipstick-smeared pit bull. Even now, with the campaign over, Mrs. Palin still insists that President-elect Barack Obama is palling around with unrepentant terrorists. But, she told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview last Wednesday, she would be honored to help out Mr. Obama in his new administration, even if he did hang around with an “unrepentant domestic terrorist.”

Mrs. Palin, having returned her $150,000 wardrobe to the Republican National Committee, now stands naked in her ambition, the scope of which is breathtaking and sure to keep her negative approval ratings higher than expected. Even ambitious attack dogs should know when to stop. Vice President-elect Joe Biden showed impressive restraint on the campaign trail, whereas Mrs. Palin relished in being downright Machiavellian.

Blind ambition and a taste for blood should not necessarily knock her out of contention for higher office in the future. But it will force her new make-up artists to come up with something classier and more substantive than negative attack sound bites. Granted, campaigns sometimes bring out the worst in people. But once they’re over, they tend to also bring out humility and grace, qualities that need to be on display for any future wannabes for political office.

If this election communicated anything, it is that voters are tired of the old divisive politics of the past. The country wanted change. They chose someone who inspired hope and invited a new generation of Americans to take their seats at the table.

There is so much for the Republican Party to learn from the last two elections. In both election cycles, noted a clear-eyed Mr. Jindal, voters fired Republicans “for cause.” The country has matured beyond electing leaders who represent only a tiny fraction of the people segmented by artificial barriers.

Mrs. Palin belongs to the old era in which candidates could appeal to only a narrow segment of voters and still win the majority of the electorate. More people are voting now. And many of them will decide to run for office themselves, perhaps as Republicans willing to campaign in places where moderates breed, in cities where minorities reside or college campus that the “young and restless” call home for four years or more.

Mrs. Palin, meanwhile, will never become the face of a party in wilderness when she still cannot see the forest for the trees.

Donna Brazile is a nationally syndicated columnist, a political commentator on CNN, ABC and National Public Radio, and the former campaign manager for Al Gore.

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