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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.

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.