Exiting the Sarahsphere

Bloggers sad to see Palin step down

By Daniel Libit
|  Friday, Jul 24, 2009  |  Updated 7:15 AM EDT
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With Sarah Palin’s tenure as governor of Alaska coming to a self-determined close, there’s one group facing some major change: the bloggers. Palin — the object of their attention for the past 11 months, the person who gave them unfathomable readerships and platforms — is departing the local Alaska scene. And the occasion will be marked by many.

On Sunday, Philip Munger, whose day job is working as a composer and music teacher, is hosting a resignation party at his lakefront house in Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Valley. Munger has gained a significant following on his Progressive Alaska blog, one of a handful in the state that have been nipping at Palin’s heels since Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) tapped her as his running mate.

“We are not going to celebrate Sarah Palin going down,” Munger demurs. “The topic of the party is how can we work together to change Alaska for the future.”

Among those scheduled to attend, according to Munger, are each of the Democratic candidates for the Alaska governorship, as well as a roster of progressive bloggers. Despite what Munger says, their mood can only be expected to fluctuate between jubilance and joy.

Yet there will also be a sense of loss. Munger even confesses that he’ll miss the woman he has torn to pieces online. “I guess so, to be totally honest,” he says. “I think all of us will. But she was an enormous distraction.”

Of the many things the Sarah Palin saga has been — from its glorious beginning in Dayton, Ohio, last August to its befuddling checkout in Wasilla, Alaska, three weeks ago — is a tale of blogging.

The times made it so. The 2008 presidential campaign made it so. The nature of McCain’s running mate selection made it so. And Palin herself made it so.

“Bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie annoy me,” the departing Alaska governor complained to Esquire magazine in January.

The governor’s ever improbable arrival on the Republican presidential ticket began with a blogger. In late 2007, a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs student named Adam Brickley started a Draft Sarah Palin for Vice President blog — a year and a half before most people outside Alaska had even heard of her.

Along the way, another blogger, Shannyn Moore, the host of a liberal radio show in Anchorage, Alaska, become one the governor’s frequent critics. So much so that Palin’s attorney, Thomas Van Flein, threatened legal action against her on the day after Palin announced her resignation.

Moore had received death threats and a torrent of hate e-mail. Her 13-year-old daughter found that friends were reluctant to associate with her. To supporters and detractors, Moore had become the “Governor Terminator.” On the other hand, she procured prime blogging space on The Huffington Post and a “Wings of Justice” award from BuzzFlash.com. Not long ago, a woman from South Carolina invited her to come down south to help “get rid” of Gov. Mark Sanford.

Moore, who will be among those gathered at Munger’s on Sunday, says she is suffering from “Palin fatigue” but readily acknowledges the upside of it all. For years, Moore has been fighting a proposed open-pit gold mine in the Bristol Bay Watershed, which would threaten Alaska’s salmon and trout. Now she has many more eyes watching her.

“I am grateful for that,” says Moore. “I have no problem saying, ‘Thank you, Sarah Palin’ for a lot of things.”

Within the state of Alaska, the majority of Palin bloggers have been antagonistic toward the governor, so the counterbalancing force on the Web had to come from outside. After the presidential election, a group of commentators who regularly posted Palin-related threads at the conservative website Hotair.com began to organize.

Joseph Russo, a 23-year-old college student in New Jersey, purchased a Google blogger domain name, Conservatives4Palin.com, and asked Rebecca Mansour, a freelance screenwriter in Los Angeles, to join the cause. Sensing that the governor was returning to a state where she had overwhelmingly vocal critics, Mansour’s blog offered a consistent pushback effort. And so, from her perch in Hollywood, Mansour and about 20 contributors (none of whom live in Alaska) would turn an obsessive attention to far Northern affairs.

 

Mansour, who had briefly volunteered for Barack Obama in the earliest parts of the campaign, says she connected with Palin over energy independence. She did not like McCain from the start and became “creeped out” by people’s worshipful attitude toward Obama.

Of Palin, Mansour says, “I was dismissive until watching the reaction of the left. Because they overreacted so terribly, I felt sympathy for her. I hadn’t felt anything before it.” Mansour and her crew set about to counter the unfair treatment they felt Palin received from liberal bloggers and hypocritical politicians.

The blog’s “first big stir,” as Mansour puts it, came when they discovered that Republican state Rep. Jay Ramras, a critic of Palin’s extracurricular activities, had been absent from the Legislature no fewer than 10 times this year.

Later, the blog revealed that Ramras had purchased $172,000 of BP stock just weeks before voting against a law that would provide an Alaska Gasline Inducement Act license to rival TransCanada. In addition to assailing Palin’s critics, the blog helped raise $130,000 in support of her legal defense fund.

Mansour says she was “shocked” when Palin announced her resignation. In reaction, one of the regular bloggers on Conservatives4Palin, a military man who had posted anonymously up to that point, decided to reveal his identity as a sign of support.

“I burst out in tears, because I realized how much that meant,” Mansour says. “And readers started putting names in the comment section. And that’s a real powerful statement on the Internet.”

These days, Mansour looks upon the spectrum of Palin bloggers as a community. She recalls bloggers from both sides working together to keep anonymous posters from being outed and finds common ground with those who view the governor diametrically: “We have really come to find that we all mean the best for Alaska and the country,” she says. “We all have good intentions.”

Conservatives4Palin will only grow now that Palin is moving on from the Alaska governorship. The site currently gets about 20,000 unique visitors a day and expects to see surges in contributors and traffic in the coming months. The game will change, too: No longer will the purview be confined to Alaska, its legislators and liberal bloggers.

“The pool has gotten larger, and we’ll be following her around,” says Mansour. “And we’ll take it one day at a time.”

Which brings the story back to where it began: Brickley. He now lives in Washington, as he has since last August. Currently, he interns at a media company while searching for paid employment. Brickley says that although he had long been interested in politics, his blogging success has encouraged him to seek a career in new media.

Brickley retired his Draft Palin blog in January. “I wanted to leave it there,” he says. “I didn’t want to change it for something else.”

He has contacted the Library of Congress to see about having the site digitally archived and is waiting to hear back. Brickley has transitioned to The Brickyard blog, where he has expanded his focus beyond Palin. But he never strays too far from his dedication.

“The blog was the beginning of that chapter but not the end, he says. "I consider that chapter of my life to be very much open — and I personally don’t see it concluding until Sarah Palin is sworn in as president of the United States.”

Brickley has yet to hear from the governor or her surrogates but says if she ever calls with a job offer, he’ll accept — provided that he can stay in D.C. Until then, he can reflect on what began on his computer almost two years ago and all that has come since.

“It probably is one of the bigger victories in the history of political blogging,” he says. “The [pro-] Palin bloggers, we can’t take full credit, but we ran a lot of cover, did a lot of publicity and, in the end, she ended up on the national ticket.”

He’s ready and willing to take plenty of credit as a game changer.

“Barack Obama talked a lot about what he was able to do on the Internet, but that was a politician affecting the Internet. The Palin movement was people on the Internet affecting where politics went.”

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