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Palin Reemerges Into the Spotlight Via Facebook

(AP Photo )
The future of Sarah Palin has been heavily mulled over by many. The former Republican vice presidential candidate has yet to announce any plans for jumping back into national politics. She has a book deal, though she has not spoken very much about it. Unlike someone like Mike Huckabee, who could be a 2012 rival if she decides to run for president, she has yet to become a regular on cable television. And in fact, she gave up her bully pulpit as governor as Alaska.

In spite of all this, the charismatic Palin has stayed in the spotlight.

Over the past week, Palin has caused a firestorm of debate by ratcheting up the rhetoric criticizing certain health care reform proposals, accusing President Obama of planning to establish "death panels." Her description of the reform proposal has been widely debunked, yet the term has caught on with both liberals interested in debunking the claim as well as conservatives trying to perpetuate it.

Without a seat on the cable news circuit, without a political office to leverage and without any kind of formal structure through which to promote her ideas, there was one simple place through which Palin could spread her ideas: Facebook. The former governor has enthusiastically embraced Twitter, and this week she wrote multiple Facebook messages blasting the president's health care reform plans.

"The president is busy assuring us that we can keep our private insurance plans, but common sense (and basic economics) tells us otherwise," she wrote in a note on Friday. "The public option in the Democratic health care plan will crowd out private insurers, and that's what it's intended to do."

While Palin has aggressively jumped into the most controversial and pressing political issue of the moment, her Facebook postings do not necessarily mean she has any particular plans for herself, warns Fred Malek, a prominent political player who served on John McCain's presidential campaign team and knows Palin well.

"If she has something she wants to say, and she has a pretty hardcore group of loyal followers, then she has a great way to communicate with them" through Facebook, Malek said in an interview. He added, though, that "if she had a political strategy in mind, I would think she would have an organized a sequence of writings and thoughts to pass on. These appear to be more spur of the moment -- reacting to issues of the day rather than embodying any broad political strategy."

While Palin takes time to determine her political future, the social networking sites are the ideal place for her to remain in the public eye, according to conservative media strategist David All, because the Internet is already abuzz about her.

"One thing we do is just watch the organic interest for certain candidates and certain names (on social media), and she by far outpaces every other person," All said in an interview. "Whether that's positive or negative, people are talking about Sarah Palin. I think it's completely relevant to not be a modern ostrich and pretend it doesn't exist but to engage those communities and set the record straight when appropriate."

Palin has been able to create a narrative for herself through sites like Facebook, All said, both politically and personally.

"As a citizen, I think a lot of people find her fascinating," he said. "Here's a common sense conservative mother who was the governor of Alaska. They never got to know who the real Sarah Palin is. What she's doing now is helping tell the story of who she is."

Furthermore, it's arguable Palin has wielded some influence in Washington via Facebook. After creating dizzying controversy with her "death panel" comments, one of the Republican senators in a bipartisan group hashing out health care legislation said the group abandoned the idea that sparked the term.

Even the White House responded, through its own Internet communications, to Palin's false "death panel" claim.

"Here's the most powerful office in the land responding" to her messages on Facebook, All said.

Still, Malek said, if Palin wants to seriously pursue a national political career, it would take more than freqent Facebook notes.

"She would have to utilize not only social media but other outlets as well," he said.

Would Palin have been able to maintain such a high profile at this point in her career without social media?

"No, I don't think so," Malek said. "The instantaneous communication and ease of communication make it much easier to sustain a high profile and much easier to develop one."

All added, "She's not even a public official right now, so she can get away with saying a lot of things, and being aggressive -- and she has to."

All, however, suspects Palin's popularity would persist without social media. But the unfiltered platform gives her that much more leverage as a national figure.

"I don't think (there's) a shortage of interest (in Palin) from mainstream media," All said. "In fact, I think it's almost the opposite -- she's creating her own media."