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Politics

The Palin Phenomenon Revisited

Sarah Palin continues to draw big crowds -- so much so that after a couple days of solo campaigning, John McCain will be back at her side later today to take advantage of the excitement she generates.

It's almost too easy to criticize Palin's credibility; so much has come out to contradict the early story line pushed by the GOP campaign team. Each question provokes a new round of attack on the media, and may only strengthen support for Palin, but that's no reason for the press to back off from its job.

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Among today's disclosures....The Wall Street Journal questions Palin's claim to being a fiscal conservative who saved her state money by pointing out she bent to the will of dairy farmers near her home town to keep a state-run, money-losing creamery open. Its board recommended the closure after it cost the state $700.000, but Palin fired the board, appointed a childhood friend to chair a new board and kept the facility alive long enough to lose another $800,000 until the new board shut it down.

Palin's pledge to be an ethics reformer is called into question by the news that she won't answer questions from the investigator hired by the Alaska legislature to look into charges she misused her power in trying to get her ex-brother-in-law fired from his job as a state trooper. Earlier, Palin promised her full cooperation. The campaign now says the investigation is a Democratic witch hunt, although the deciding vote authorizing the probe was cast by a Republican.

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The news that Palin installed a tanning bed in the governor's mansion may seem frivolous, but it does raise questions about her self-promotion as a Wal-Mart-shopping "hockey mom." How many other Wal-Mart shoppers own their own tanning bed, at a cost of up to $35,000? It's true she bought it with her own money, and it's probably chintzy to point out it's still powered with state-bought electricity, but few other career moms with five kids would have time for such an indulgence.

And then there's the steady trickle of information about earmarks. The McCain campaign originally said she turned them down, but now it turns out she asked for $453 million worth in her 18 months as governor. Asked to explain the discrepancy, the campaign says she asked for fewer earmarks than her predecessor, as though that excuses the original claim.

Palin was also caught in what appears to be at-best a half truth in her claim that she ad-libbed her convention speech when the teleprompter broke.

What's especially galling is that no matter how many holes are punched in the campaign lines, they keep getting repeated, just as her claim to have refused the "bridge to nowhere" keeps getting repeated.

At some point, voters have to begin feeling their intelligence is being insulted. There are already some signs that voters are smarter than McCain takes them for. While he's running even with Barack Obama in most national polls, Gallup reports that only 3% of his supporters really believe he'll bring the change he's promising. They're backing him instead because of his experience or because they don't like Obama and his policies, not because they buy into his new campaign strategy. So the Palin phenomenon may already be less than we think it is.

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