"Eye on Palin" has all the hallmarks of a slick, well-financed campaign with Governor Sarah Palin as the embodiment of evil for yet another conservationist group (remember the silly Palin/PETA dustup a few weeks back?). There's the stark layout of the website; the carefully calibrated language (references to an "Extreme Anti-Conservation Agenda"); a ticker tallying up the wolves killed by aerial hunting thus far; an attractive actress for a spokeswoman.
Topping it all off is an ominously darkened photo of Governor Sarah Palin grinning with a Dick Cheney-like combination sneer-and-smirk, next to the words "anti-wolf, anti-wildlife."
On the site, eyeonpalin.org, the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund-the political arm of a Washington, D.C.-based group of the same name that focuses on wildlife conservation-spells out its aims:
"We educate the public about Governor Sarah Palin's shameful record on conservation issues and hold her accountable for her positions and policies that threaten America's precious wildlife."
That may be a little indirect, but at least it's honest, in it's own way. Allow me to translate:
"We're nervous about Governor Sarah Palin's apparent appeal to a lot of conservatives in this last presidential election, so we're going to start attacking her record on wildlife now, rather than wait for her popularity to grow."
The fund's president, Rodger Schlickeisen, admits as much in a press release touting the site's launch.
"Sarah Palin isn't fading into the background, so neither are we," he says. "Given her known political aspirations, the American public deserves to know what she's doing in Alaska, and about her extreme anti-conservation policies. The list is long, and we will document it all, from her continued promotion of the aerial slaughter of wolves and bears, to her lawsuit to remove the polar bear from the endangered species list, even as the sea ice melts beneath it."
That clears things up a little.
Aerial wolf hunting is one of those issues that makes an easy mark for groups looking to gain attention and elicit sympathy for their cause, so it's not hard to understand why Defenders of Wildlife would stake their campaign on it. But if they were truly interested in stopping the practice, Palin is a questionable target. True, she's been an unreserved supported of predator control programs. But the Alaska State Board of Game meetings that are coming up later this month, or the legislators who've twice rolled back voter initiatives banning the hunts, would've been better, more effective targets-if they were truly interested in stopping the practice.
Instead, it seems like the most convenient issue for a salvo in what appears to be a pretty transparent political attack.
Palin seems to understand the campaign the same way, and responded accordingly.
Calling Defenders of Wildlife an "extreme fringe group," Palin accuses them of "distorting the facts about Alaska's wildlife management programs" and defends those programs as "scientific and successful at protecting vulnerable wildlife."
"Shame on the Defenders of Wildlife for twisting the truth in an effort to raise funds from innocent and hard-pressed Americans struggling with these rough economic times," the statement concluded. (At press time, emails to Palin spokespersons seeking specific examples of distorted facts remained unanswered at press time.)
But even though Palin is obviously a political target here, she does risk being tainted by the aerial hunting issue.
I'm sure I wasn't the only one who was puzzled when Palin mentioned predator control in her state-of-the-state address-as an answer to the high costs of health care.
"So, a healthier Alaska via personal responsibility, and subsisting more on our pure and plentiful Alaskan food sources! It's why we protect our waters and soils from pollutants, and it's a reason we manage our wildlife for abundance," she said.
"To ensure this, we've successfully brought the Habitat Division back into Fish and Game, as I promised. Our biologists have protected game by eliminating predators from calving grounds and we'll further protect herds, some of which are at precariously low levels of abundance-thus ultimately promoting the population growth of every species."
There's nothing wrong with advocating for more personal responsibility, or for eating healthy wild foods. But for parents of children with, say, fetal alcohol syndrome or a developmental disability-especially the ones that fall through the cracks of the current system-the promise of a greater abundance of fresh moose meat is bound to ring a little hollow.
Like it or not, this Defenders of Wildlife campaign is a pretty good sign that permanent campaign season has arrived for Palin and Alaska.
If there's anything to take from this first round it's this: If she continues to harbor ambitions for the national political scene, Palin still has a long way to go in learning to communicate her stances and beliefs to those who don't already share them. This might be amongst the first national attacks the governor will have to weather, post-presidential campaign. But it certainly won't be the last.