Once again, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has shown us why she is such a fascinating political figure. Last Thursday, this blog laid out a course of action Palin should consider in the event she decides to run for the presidency. Not running for re-election in order to concentrate on preparing herself for either 2012 or 2016 was among the suggestions. Then, in the midst of the Michael Jackson media frenzy and on the eve of July 4th, Palin announced her resignation from office effective this very month. In a rambling and barely coherent announcement on Friday, the Alaska governor threw a bombshell, not only at the Republican party, but at the larger world of politics.
The weekend news shows focused on the possible reasons for her stunning announcement. Some speculated that it was clearly a run for the presidency, while others opined that more bombshells may come. Respected journalist Andrea Mitchell claimed that sources close to Palin believe it was a deliberate and permanent withdrawal from elected politics. Nearly all pundits panned her timing and the content of her departing statement. But whatever course of action she chooses, Palin is not withdrawing from public life, whether it is in politics or in another public forum. She is a political celebrity rather than a mere elected official.
A year ago Palin was hardly a household name. She may have had the highest approval ratings of any sitting governor at the time, but no one really knew who she was and even less whether she would be a vice presidential candidate. Senator John McCain changed that and, for a brief two weeks, transformed his lumbering and lackluster campaign into an exciting challenge that had him leading the Obama-Biden ticket just prior to the financial meltdown in mid-September. Then came the Palin meltdown.
A series of television interviews in the mainstream media showed a woefully weak and unprepared candidate. A Saturday Night Live spoof by Tina Fey highlighted the fact that a new and exciting—and totally unprepared—political personality could soon be a heartbeat away from the presidency. By the end of the campaign, she may have been drawing huge crowds and energizing the GOP base, but she had become a liability.
Some have complained she was the victim of an unfair, pro-Obama mainstream media. She herself alluded to a bias against her, her family, and what she stands for. Her parting statement had a distinctly Nixonian tone tone, circa 1962. (“You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore!”) But media footage from the presidential campaign paints a different picture than simple anti-Palin bias.
She consistently came across as unprepared, and her demeanor conveyed an appalling lack of discipline, a self righteousness that repelled mainstream voters, and a lack of curiosity that would hinder any potential for growth. Americans were seemingly prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt, but her performance created uncertainty and concern about her very qualifications. She was, after all, running in a presidential election, not for American Idol.
Her latest decision is a major gamble if she intends to pursue a political career, especially if it includes a run for the presidency in 2012. Not finishing her first mandate eliminates her well-worn argument that she has executive experience. My reading is that the Republican party has written her off for 2012 and the manner she used in explaining her decision did not endear to the political professionals in her party. At best, she will remain a political celebrity we can expect to see on the lecture circuit, campaigning for Congressional and senatorial candidates, and doing high-powered fundraising events. We can also expect her to be a regular commentator in the media. But the question that looms larger than all others at this stage is, does she have the temperament to be president?
Until now, her one outstanding political feat outside of winning the mayoralty of Wasilla and the governorship of Alaska has been her speech at the Republican National Convention, where expectations were quite low and McCain was uninspiring. Since then, it has been a downward spiral culminating in the posting of a weird rehash of her resignation speech on her website this past weekend. If she is betting her resignation will help get her the presidency, it is a gamble that will probably not pay off.