Whatever Sarah Palin’s future in politics outside Alaska, she will go down as one of the most trashed and controversial vice presidential candidates in American history, a victim of some bad journalism, a negative atmosphere she helped create, her shallow qualifications and sabotage by those who chose her as an improbable running mate for John McCain.

Even after it became clear long before Election Day that she would not reach the second spot in succession to the presidency she was still being derided seemingly by those who would drive a stake through any ambition she might have for a return to the national spotlight four years from now, perhaps as a senator when her term as governor officially ends, if not sooner.

The latter time frame might depend on whether Republican Sen. Ted Stevens manages ultimately to be declared the winner in his reelection bid and is later forced to resign because of a federal ethics conviction. Although history has frowned on governors who appoint themselves to the Senate, it would be her choice to fill the vacancy one way or the other or even to call for a special election in which she would be a candidate.

In the post-election analysis the effort to paint Palin as a profligate spending, moose shooting wilderness “whack job” who helped cost McCain the election was still underway. But this time the attacks did not come from her Democratic opponents but from anonymous Republican aides helped along by the mainstream media who allowed them to get away with titillating tattling without responsibility, an absolute violation of journalistic ethics and fairness.

Her immediate disclaimers about the clothes she bought or were bought for her and other reported incidents including greeting top campaign advisers in nothing more than a towel having just climbed out of the shower obviously won’t catch up with the initial reports. The towel report has been categorically denied by one of the advisers.

Palin’s qualifications, or lack thereof, for the potential role of president had McCain won is neither here nor there in what has been occurring in the aftermath of the defeat. She was chosen for her appeal to small town working class people and those for whom right to life, guns and a variety of other social issues are extremely important. She did what she was told to do and it was not an easy task. When she achieved some independence, she did better.

Throughout all the turmoil and assaults on her personally, she managed to stay calm and to respond, even on Saturday Night Live, with humor and good will. She did not think it appropriate to perform the rap piece that ended her appearance and that was the right decision.

It is a sign of the times that the basest motives are ascribed to those seeking public office and that the way to end a political career is to destroy a candidate personally rather than merely challenge his or her ideas. Unfortunately, she and McCain were guilty of some of this themselves.

The prospect of facing an onslaught of smears about their backgrounds, including their education, their families, and whatever else can be found, is the most discouraging aspect of trying to enlist qualified individuals for elected office. The McCain campaign should out those who whispered the stories about Palin and make sure they are no longer welcome in politics. A similar fate should befall those “journalists” and bloggers willing to repeat such allegations without identifying the source or vetting them for the truth.

Palin says she is now anticipating tackling the problems of her state with renewed energy. Her horizons obviously have been expanded by this experience. She has learned first hand the pain of negativism. If she puts that lesson to good use she may have a bright political future. Don’t bet against Caribou Barbie.

(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)

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