Like Alaskan miners panning for gold, reporters up in Juneau are combing through hundreds of pounds of Sarah Palin emails, looking for the nugget that’ll make it all worthwhile. So far, it seems more bust than boom.
There have been no bombshells, nothing that radically changes the picture of the most famous and controversial woman in US politics today. Just the image of an ambitious politician, hands-on in the daily details of governing a vast though sparsely-populated state, and with a deep and wary skepticism of the press – plus a now-familiar sense of personal grievance – that preceded her becoming a national figure.
She’s miffed when reporters ask about the government paying her family’s travel expenses or that tanning bed in the governor’s residence.
There were darker rumors and blog posts to respond to as well: Suggestions that she’d had an affair or questions about the true parentage of her son Trig.
"Guys, I may be pretty wimpy about this family stuff, but I feel like I'm at the breaking point with the hurtful gossip,” she wrote her staff at one point. “I hate this part of the job and many days I feel like it's not worth it."
A strong supporter of Alaska’s gas and oil industry, she finds ExxonMobil’s legal fight against paying victims of the Exxon Valdez oil spill “outrageous.” She even praises Barack Obama for his “great speech” on energy.
In a state with the population of a medium-size city spread over a vast area, plus an isolated capital, politics is not only very local but also unusually personal. For Palin, this may have been especially true.
She and her husband Todd (a close, though informal, advisor who didn’t hesitate to wade into policy matters) took a close personal interest in the firing of a state trooper – critics say on trumped-up charges – who happened to be going through a messy divorce with Gov. Palin’s sister.
When state public safety director Walt Monegan refused to fire the trooper, Palin fired Monegan.
Weeks before John McCain shook up the political world in tapping her to be his vice-presidential running mate, Palin and her staff were angling for that possibility.
“Palin and her staff began pushing to find a larger audience for the governor, wedging her into national conversations and nudging the McCain campaign to notice her,” Becky Bohrer of the Associated Press reports from Juneau. “Palin and her staff talked excitedly on June 19 about plans to repeal Alaska's fuel tax. Ivy Frye, a longtime Palin aide and friend, said she would send details to McCain staffers when they became available.”
"They're going to love it!" Frye wrote. "More vp talk is never a bad thing, whether you're considering vp or not. I still say President Palin sounds better tho..."
When Palin appeared on the Glenn Beck show for the first time, admirers around the country took keen interest in a woman who seemed so unlike other politicians.
"You would make an excellent president (forget being VP!!!)," a Virginia woman wrote. "It is so refreshing to hear someone speak in a common sense manner."
"I think you could do a lot for the Republican Party and would be an outstanding choice,” wrote a man in Louisiana. “Is this within the realm of possibility?"
In the time since then, Palin has been continually mocked on Saturday Night Live and elsewhere. Fellow Republicans – at least the more conventional ones – are wary of her power in shaking up the GOP. No one, it seems, has a neutral view of her.
But as Molly Ball at Politico.com describes the woman sketched in nearly 24,000 emails released this week, “Palin comes across as neither an airhead nor a prima donna.”
“She is warm and supportive with her staff, who are loyal to her in turn,” Ball writes. “She frequently misspells in haste or phonetically … but her writing is fluent and grammatical. Nor is she a figurehead. She is active in guiding policy, a self-assured politician who knows where she stands.”
But as Ball also notes, the email archive ends in September 2008, before Palin became so polarizing. “It reflects a period before she gave up governing to become a freelance sharp-tongued partisan…”