She has received extensive policy tutorials and been briefed on foreign policy almost daily. Aides say she has taken particular interest in Pakistan and Israel and in causes of Islamic extremism, which she has related to the economic despair that plagues parts of Alaska.

People loyal to her say Ms. Palin is well aware of the political job in front of her. One aide said she had “gotten on the offensive,” pushing to include more policy in her speeches. “It’s important for her personally, for how she’s perceived, to ensure that she gets to show her depth.”

Again, these are opportunities Palin has had, and qualities she’s had to build, in the course of her short candidacy. And it’s ultimately misleading to weave the two narratives—of 1) Palin’s increasing independence from the McCain campaign, and 2) her speculative political future—together. That’s not to say that both narratives don’t deserve discussion. But this type of theorization—she’s disagreeing with McCain… cranes neck, looks ahead… she’s ready to go it alone!—can easily snowball.

It also, unfortunately, jives with the general press meme that The Election Is (All But) Over, with polls suggesting that Palin won’t, in fact, make it to Washington. This has, perhaps more than other things, enabled accounts of the tension between McCain and Palin to simultaneously dabble in projections of the fabled Next Step for Palin.

Palin may have a bright future in politics. Or her reputation may be ineradicably damaged by this year’s vice presidential run. Or, hell, maybe she will in fact seek out television, as Mike Huckabee, to variable effect, has done. Conjecture stories will abound. But it’s melodramatic, and a bit hasty, to base these narrative projections on the Republican ticket’s beleaguered actions on the campaign trail in the last week before an election. In other words, focus.


More in Campaign Desk

Reporting on the Endgame

Read More »

Jane Kim is a writer in New York.