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Decoding Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin's announcement that she would resign from her position as Alaska's governor took the political world by surprise and fueled intense speculation about her motives. Why did she announce this right before the Independence Day holiday weekend? Why did she not take any questions at her press conference? Why did she not want to serve out her complete term? Would she be viable as a future presidential candidate? Is there impending legal trouble that would embarrass her? Is she burned out?

Regardless of her true intentions, several Republicans are not happy with her and what she represents. Others have likened her to a train wreck. Professional women aren't too happy with her decision either.

Speculation about Palin's motives seems to center on three options:

Sarah Palin could have resigned to better position herself for a presidential run in 2012. Because Alaska is so far away from the early caucus and primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, it would be quite difficult for her to campaign in Ames (Iowa) one day while satisfying her constituents in Anchorage the next. As a governor, she has a lot of unique responsibilities that constrain her. But once these constraints have been removed, she could raise money more easily and travel more freely.

Interestingly, Palin put herself in a bit of a box by resigning. Shortly after John McCain announced Palin as his running mate, there was an intense debate about who had more experience--Barack Obama or Sarah Palin. Palin and her Republican defenders claimed that she had more executive experience than Obama did, which was true. But by resigning from her governorship without even completing a single term undermines this experience. And Obama's four years of executive experience as President will more than outweigh Palin's experience as the chief executive of a large state with a small population and a small town should they face off in 2012.

In this case, Palin may decide to play down her experience and argue that the "Washington elites," who have lots of experience, have been incapable of fixing the nation's problems. Therefore, her relative lack of experience could be refreshing. However, inexperience was one of the lines of attack Republicans used against Obama. If the nation sours on Obama because of his inexperience, why would they put another inexperienced politician in the White House? And how could Palin run on inexperience after she kept making the case that she was more experienced than Obama in the 2008 campaign?

One other problem with the presidential option for Palin is that one rationale for resigning as Alaska's governor was that she did not want to be a "lame duck." Using this logic, Palin could not possibly run for president. Any second-term president could be considered a lame duck. And if she were to only pledge to serve one term, she'd be a lame duck also. And the fact that the House and Senate are overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats right now (and will likely be in 2010 as well) would only make her even more of a lame duck as a Republican president. How could she claim she wants to "fight" for "hardworking Americans" if she's so easily able to walk off the battlefield before the fight is over?

A second option is that Palin wants to retire from politics and become a pundit, perhaps on talk radio or on television. The size of her following and the fierceness of their loyalty would suggest that she could be successful emulating Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, and Ann Coulter. But this would turn her into one of those "media elites" that she railed against so much on the campaign trail. She cannot credibly complain about the media (including bloggers, late night comedians, and cable television hosts) in one minute and then make her own incendiary remarks about Barack Obama (who "pals around with terrorists") and his "socialist" allies one minute later.

There's another problem with this route. Entering talk radio or hosting her own cable television show might land her a fortune, but it would also contradict her image of being a woman of the people (remember "Joe the Plumber?"). Rich, influential people who have their own book deals, syndicated columns, and television shows cannot whine about other people being members of the "media elite." Taking a fat paycheck and entering the world of punditry would ironically turn Palin into the same type of person she criticized so sharply in the past.

There also exists the possibility that Palin is genuinely tired of the political and media grind. But if that's true, can she ever truly disengage herself from politics? What will happen to her political action committee (Sarah PAC)? Would she really be willing to give up the thousands of dollars she could earn from giving speeches or working as a consultant or party strategist?

In less than a year, Sarah Palin has gone from zero to a million miles an hour. During this brief time, she has had to deal with a grueling presidential campaign, ethics investigations, fundraisers, speeches, and bigtime interviews. Perhaps the pressure was too much for her to handle in such a short period of time. So if she really does want to get out of politics, how long will she be gone? Nobody really expects her to retire to private life, as she is immensely popular among the Republican base. But if she does disengage herself, will she bolster her own profile or try to rehabilitate her public image among non-Republicans?

Having said all this, for someone who claims not to want to be a focus of the media, she (a journalism graduate) certainly has a knack for drawing everyone's attention. Unfortunately for her, however, the more time people spend trying to figure her out as a person, the less time they will likely spend paying attention to what she actually stands for.

3 comment(s):

Chris McNeal said...

Andrew Sullivan seems convinced that there is a scandal behind this and I have to admit, he's rubbing off on me. Whatever it was, it had nothing to do with "the people of Alaska" or "getting away from politics as usual."

S.W. anderson said...

Sarah Palin is a promoter — a self-promoter — who enjoys the limelight in front of cheering, smiling crowds, enjoys rubbing elbows with the wealthy and well-connected at times, enjoys the trappings of office and deference a high-profile elected leader is usually afforded.

However, Palin finds the day-to-day responsibility of governing a tedious drag. She's not a policy wonk who gets off on mastering the nuts and bolts of public-policy matters, laws and lawmaking. That's especially so when an obstacle like a serious-minded, uncooperative legislature gets in her way.

Palin exhibits a sense of entitlement. She seems to feel her popularity in some quarters should buy her a pass from having to mind her P's and Q's where ethics and dipping into public and party coffers to spend on herself and her family are concerned.

I can see Palin going on speaking tours. I can see her getting a ghostwriter to help her with a book telling her side of the story (ahem), then going on a book tour to promote it. That would probably suit her and might bring in some money, which would definitely suit her. I can also see her going out to campaign for other Republicans, showing up as a right-wing heroine who got picked on and hounded from office by liberal political and media elites.

What I can't see is Palin mustering the self-discipline to dig in and develop a thorough understanding of complex issues. Likewise, I can't see Palin sticking with the full run of a presidential campaign, beginning ASAP with serious, near-constant fund-raising. Running for president is the most grueling long-distance race in American politics. Nothing else even comes close. It's exhausting and all-consuming.

Palin has shown herself to be flighty. She attended four or five colleges in four or five years earning her B.A., for example. Unless the money was rolling in big time, the crowds were big and adoring, and the nomination looked like a sure bet for her, I could see Palin bailing out fairly early in the primaries.

For much the same reason, I doubt Palin would be happy holding down a job as a media pundit. Radio talk shows generally run three hours a day, five days a week. Those who do them successfully, like Al Franken when he was Air America's best talk-show host, and more-recently Rachel Maddow, put a lot of off-air preparation and homework into keeping on top of facts and events, learning about guests, and so on. It can get to be a grind unless you're self-disciplined and love it. I can see Palin getting antsy and burned out within a few months at most.

Thomas said...

I am going to start us off with a very provocative statement, maybe the most provocative statement I have ever made here: Sarah Palin is an absolute genius. I totally believe this. Never before in my whole life have I seen a person who can convince people to follow her every move. Up here in Seattle, by default, I have more liberal friends than conservative friends. And while they will never admit it, they all have crushes on Sarah Palin. I never really knew that crushes could work in two different ways. I mean, I am familiar with people having a crush on somebody they really like. For instance, back in the 90s, I kinda had a crush on Marisa Tomei. I thought she was an amazing actresses. My sister still thinks I watch her movies when nobody is around. Well, Mindy, a person can do worse than having a crush on somebody who won an Academy Award, okay? My liberal friends have a different kind of crush on Sarah Palin. They like to see her fall flat on her face. I mean, they like to see her fall flat on her face again and again and again.

Which brings me to the point where I explain how Sarah Palin is a genius. We all assume she quit her job as governor of Alaska because she is running for president. Um, why would we assume that? Running for president and then actually being president is generally a hard job. For every decision you make as a president, millions and millions of people will disagree with you. Your staff will wake you up often to answer some phone call at 3 in the morning. I do not envy President Obama. Dude already looks older than he did when he started. I do not think GQ will be putting the president on the cover anytime soon with all that gray in his hair.

On the other end of the spectrum, being a celebrity is generally an easy job. You get paid lots and lots of money. You are surrounded by "yes" men. People cater to your every whim. You can throw a temper tantrum because your hotel room is not stocked with your favorite mineral water and people will forgive you because "celebrities will be celebrities." I never hated Sarah Palin last year because I never thought of her as a politician. I thought of her as a celebrity who knows how to get the audience that she wants. If the audience is made up of partially of haters, who cares? An audience is an audience.

When John McCain picked Sarah Palin out of obscurity to be his running mate, it was akin to Steven Spielberg picking some obscure actresses that he had seen in a student film and casting her in "Munich" or whatever movie he is working on currently. When Mr. McCain called Sarah Palin, she realized this was her ticket out of Alaska. The issue was never, "Is Palin ready to be a heartbeat away?" The issue to Palin was, "Wait till they get a load of me." Palin was handed an opportunity to become the celebrity she wants to be. And, let's be honest with ourselves, we have given her what she wants.

Quitting the governorship of Alaska was a smooth celebrity move because it exhibits a certain diva-esque flair. Mariah Carey got mad one year at the Grammys because she only won three awards out of the ten she was nominated for. Eddie Murphy walked out of the Academy Award ceremony when he did not win the Oscar for "Dreamgirls." We like our celebrities temperamental and spoiled. Has this not been the way Ms. Palin has acted ever since we learned who she is? She is not angling for the presidency of the United States. She is aiming much higher than that. She wants to be the next Oprah. When Sarah Palin gets her own talk show, her viewing audience will be made up of united group of red states and blue states. Red state audiences will watch because they like her. Blue state audiences will watch because they will want to see her make a fool of herself. It will be a huge audience though. That is all that matters.

Sarah Palin knows all this. She knows you like to watch...her.

Copyright 2007-2010 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.