Sarah Palin’s announcement that she is stepping down from her position as governor of Alaska, effective in two weeks, took the political world by surprise. Alaska’s lieutenant governor will be sworn in soon as that state’s chief executive in Pioneer Park. This will all be very orderly, but both the MSM outlets and the new media — the ones who are not out of town, taking mini-vacations for the holiday weekend — are oddly off balance about the whole episode.
To be sure, part of Mrs. Palin’s announcement was expected. Most people anticipated that she would let us in on a plan not to seek re-election as governor. The widespread assumption that she intends to campaign for the presidency in 2012 fueled speculation that she’d simply complete her first term and then retake the national stage. Hearing that the governor is not planning on even finishing out her first gubernatorial term has shocked a lot of people. It has also led to a rush to fling dirt on top of her political grave — particularly by bloggers who want to be the first to proclaim the governor “so over, so 2008.”
Hang on, though.
The timing of this announcement is very odd for someone who is trying to execute a strategy to get into the White House in 2013. Not only is this a “Friday afternoon news dump,” but it is the mother of all Friday afternoons. Because many people are taking today off and left their homes yesterday for the beach, the lake, the camp, or the hiking trail, we’re well into a three-day weekend for many. If the governor wanted widespread publicity for this unorthodox move, she could not have picked a worse time.
And, to the unending distress of the militant left, she is not the idiot that Katie Couric attempted to make her into, so there likely is some reason Palin wanted to “bury” this news, or at least keep the political paparazzi at bay for a little while.
We are left with the most awkward of thoughts. Perhaps Mrs. Palin wants … some privacy. Certainly, in the current cultural climate that is seen as an awful thing for someone in public life to even desire. In the early stages of the Mark Sanford scandal, his political enemies were able to point out that he had been, horror of horrors, incommunicado for a few days. Later on, it turned out that Sanford had been in Argentina, visiting his mistress; this appeared to validate the judgment of those who had jumped at the chance to proclaim Sanford’s political career “over!” And, of course, Sanford’s national career may in fact be “over,” depending upon whether people decide that he can be trusted as an executive in a way that they might not trust him as a husband.
Voters have made that very decision in the past in this country, and you know the names. The tradition goes back for decades — some say, centuries. (But don’t worry: everyone’s pretty sure that Richard M. Nixon was faithful, so we do have a role model.)
In a sense, those who wanted Governor Sanford to carry his Blackberry with him everywhere as if it were a bell around the neck of a cat turned out to be factually correct. There was, after all, a scandal brewing in Sanford’s private life. But were they morally right? If Sanford had indeed been hiking on the Appalachian Trail, with a clear set of emergency instructions in place over that long weekend, would that discovery have quieted the critics? Probably not. We are in an era when no public official of any kind is really permitted any type of privacy, no matter what.
This brings us back to Alaska’s Sarah Palin, who may have, indeed, decided to step down out of the spotlight for a while — perhaps to write her book, raise her child, or help with her grandchild. That’s the first possibility; the second would be that the astoundingly fecund governor is once more with child. The third would be that some sort of personal crisis in her life — or that of Bristol, Todd, or Willow — requires her full-time attention. (The Anchoress, Elizabeth Scalia, hopes that if that is the case, it isn’t a question of marital stress, and of course I agree.) The fourth theory — and in some ways the most likely one — is that she or a loved one is facing a health challenge, and that she needs to concentrate on health care issues.
If that does in fact turn out to be the case, how will those who are burying her prematurely feel later on about their gleeful pronouncements that the governor’s national career is “over”? And how will they feel if they are right for the “wrong reasons,” and Governor Palin has simply decided to stop fighting nuisance lawsuits and taking slams from the media and entertainment mainstream?
There does come a time, after all, when one simply gets fed up and decides that it’s time to get into the field and put down a moose or two; there’s nothing more patriotic than moose stew for Independence Day, after all. And if Sarah were at that point, I’m sure most libertarians and Republicans would understand — and would welcome her back into politics when she’s darn good and ready.