Gov. Sarah Palin has returned to Alaska fully recast and amplified. But Alaska, too, has been recast and amplified. Oil prices, which provide the bulk of state revenue, were well over $100 a barrel in late August when Palin left to campaign with Sen. John McCain. Now they are slumming south of $60 a barrel, below the level required to balance the state budget. "She's coming back to a whole different world from when she left," said state Rep. John Coghill, Republican chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee. "If she comes back with a puffed-up ego, there's going to be problems." Palin, in an interview in her office on Friday, said she was ready to work. "Now we kick in that fiscal conservativeness that needs to be engaged, and we progress this state with $57-a-barrel oil," Palin said. But she did, however, allow that she thinks beyond her current role. "Around every corner is something new," Palin said, "so I look forward to seeing what happens next."
That whole anti-American, friend-to-the-terrorists thing about President-elect Barack Obama?
At the height of the campaign, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., told Chris Matthews of MSNBC that, when it came to Obama, "I'm very concerned that he may have anti-American views."
But on Wednesday, after narrowly escaping defeat, she said she was "extremely grateful that we have an African-American who has won this year." Bachmann called Obama's victory "a tremendous signal we sent."
Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska accused Obama of "paling around with terrorists." But she took an entirely different tone on Thursday, when she chastised reporters for asking her questions about the McCain campaign at such a heady time.
"Barack Obama has been elected president," Palin said. "Let us, let us -- let him -- be able to kind of savor this moment."
Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said she was hard-pressed to find a similar moment in history when the tone had changed so drastically, and so quickly, among so many people of such prominence.
"The best answer I can give you," said Goodwin, "is they don't want to be on the wrong side of history."
What do those who take a longer view, who know history well, say about what feels to many Americans like a singular, transcendent moment?
"Monumental ... a major shift in the zeitgeist of our times." That's Douglas Brinkley, the best-selling author and professor of history at Rice University.
"I can't think of another election where the issues were two wars and a crashed economy. There just isn't any historical precedent for this." So says Joan Hoff, a former president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency.
"It's an historic turning point ... an exclamation point of major proportions to the civil rights movement that goes back to the 1950s." That's James McPherson, author and professor emeritus of history at Princeton University.
John McCain has been here before, staring at a less-than-triumphant return to the Senate. But the circumstances this time are vastly different.
In 2000, McCain was welcomed back almost as a hero after he ended his primary campaign against George W. Bush. He was respected and prized for his openness. There was a sense that he had been wronged, dragged down by scurrilous attacks when he had reached for a higher tone in politics.
Now it is the McCain campaign that has been criticized. His free-wheeling relationship with the press was strained, he was accused of pandering to conservatives, and strategists said he damaged the prospects of other Republicans.
His colleagues are wondering which McCain will be returning to the Senate for a term that extends two more years.
"John is going to have to make a decision," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. "I think he will make the right choice and pitch in."
Many of his colleagues believe the same, that McCain will quickly reassert himself in the Senate and could, if he so chooses, be a valuable asset to Obama.
"If President-elect Obama lives up to his rhetoric to reach across party lines, and I hope that he will, he is going to need John McCain," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a longtime McCain ally.