Sarah Palin, a modern Cincinnatus?
Like the Denmark of Hamlet's time, the whole kingdom of the fourth estate contracted in one brow of woe at the unexpected news that Sarah Palin was resigning as Governor of Alaska. How could she? And on the day before the 4th of July, when plans to leave town were already set in stone! Not only that, she gave no advance notice of her press conference to the Important People who preside over the fate of nations: the pundits, newsrooms at The New York Times, CNN, etc., etc. -- no one knew, not Maureen Dowd, not Frank Rich, not Charlie Gibson or Katie Couric or even any GOP advisors who certainly ought to have been consulted.
What could it mean? Governor Palin leaving office before the end of her term -- handing over the reins of power to the Lieutenant Governor -- giving us no indication of what she had planned? What Machiavellian strategies were concealed behind that coiffed and smiling countenance? She said that she was sick of the "political bloodsport" that targeted her family, but what did she really mean?
The pundits were full of knowing speculation, though the announcement drove some to syntactical breakdown. Poor John Batchelor at The Daily Beast began his effusion with this train wreck:
The early excuse for the Republican circular firing squad of the holiday weekend is that Weekly Standard editor and party brainiac Bill Kristol claims that pugnacious McCain campaign enforcer Steve Schmidt has been caught gossiping to Vanity Fair’s Todd Purdum about Sarah Palin’s rambling and incoherent vice-presidential campaign last September and October. (Now that Palin has announced her resignation from Alaska’s governorship, the late excuse for the fisticuffs will certainly be that the boys smelled a special mom baking an apple pie in the kitchen of the GOP and they got in line early with a plate and appetite.)
The Anchorage Daily News solemnly informed readers that
If Sarah Palin is stepping down as governor because she has national political ambitions -- and she did not say she intends to run for president -- her move did nothing to shake what GOP pollster Whit Ayers called "the 'lightweight' monkey on her back."
Oh, Mr. Ayers: say it ain't so!
"If you're a serious politician and you're seriously interested in higher office, the best thing you can do is as good a job as possible in the current office," Ayers said. "I suppose it frees her from the responsibility of a full-time job. It does nothing to enhance the image she has that she's not material for the president of the United States."
Hmm: "enhance the image she has that she's not material for the president of the United States"? Well, never mind. The crucial thing is that the Democrats were full of glee at this new example of "bizarre behavior."
Jonathan Martin at Politico thought Governor Palin's announcement was positively "jaw-dropping" and told his readers that the announcement "has divided Republican ranks and the wider political community in a very familiar fashion."
Many establishment GOP operatives and political commentators of various stripes were withering, both about the decision and the way she announced it — in a jittery, hyperkinetic news conference that rambled between self-congratulation and bitter accusations at the foes she says are eager to destroy her.
The performance, by these lights, adds credence to the claims of some associates that Palin — burned by the intense scrutiny on her and the crossfire that swirls around her — is so fed up that she's ready to get out of elective politics.
Oh dear. The Washington Post was playing the same tune: although Governor Palin "has a flair for the theatrical," she "plays by her own rules" and, by God, they aren't our rules. Consequently, dark questions emerge:
But are Palin's rules those of someone with the capacity to seek and win her party's presidential nomination in 2012, as many believe is her ultimate goal, or of someone who has flashed like a meteor across the political skies but with limited impact? That question was at the center of the discussion yesterday among Republican strategists who were baffled by what they had just heard from Alaska.
Those poor baffled strategists! Not to mention the poor baffled columnists. Britain's Guardian wondered "Is Sarah Palin finished?" and went on to tut-tut that "to leave office before even her first term is expired – she plans to resign in three weeks time, on July 26 – seems like a bizarre dereliction of duty. It certainly will do nothing to address concerns, widespread in 2008, that she is too inexperienced to be commander-in-chief."
"Certainly," eh? "Inexperienced"? -- unlike the brilliant chap from Chicago who is even now discharging his obligations as commander-in-chief with such reassuring competence (Iran, North Korea, Honduras, Russia . . .).
Once again Sarah Palin has confounded the "progressive" commmentariat. What does her announcement portend? I know as much about her plans and strategy as they do -- i.e., absolutely nothing. But I have to say all the knowing commentary -- all the speculation about how stupid, or brilliant, or just plain inexplicable her behavior is -- seems to me to ignore a crucial possibility: that with Sarah Palin, what you see is what you get. Could it, just possibly, be that she meant what she said and that she believes she can pursue her ambitions more effectively outside government? "Outside government" -- the mind boggles. Is there life "outside government"? Is it possible that anyone in his right mind who had the chance of being a Governor/Congressman/Senator/President of the United States would choose not to be?
That's precisely the possibility that punditocracy and all those strategists, GOP and otherwise, just cannot wrap their minds around. Maybe they've heard of Cincinnatus. Deep down, though, they do not see how anyone could willingly relinquish political power. Sarah Palin must secretly be running for the presidency in 2012 or else, despite her tough talk, she is really a wimp who can't stand the heat (i.e., the incontinent and disgusting attacks on her family).
Again, I have no idea what Governor Palin's plans are. Maybe she is secretly plotting to overthrow MSNBC and install herself as Grand Inquisitor. Who knows? But would it really be so odd if this public servant decided that she had done her bit for her state and her country and that it was time to devote herself to her family and her private pursuits? What's really disturbing about this whole little drama has less to do with the Governor's decision to leave office than with the behavior and unspoken assumptions of the press. It has, with only a few exceptions, been a repulsive display. But then what else is new?