Happy Birthday, America! Our Modern-Day George Wallace (in heels) is giving up the little power she hasSaturday, July 4th, 2009
Sarah Palin represents the worst of America, in all its attractive yet self-destructive glory. She is ignorant – and does not care to educate herself. She is confident, without much reason to be. She is unreflective, and proud of it. Like a wahhabi among Muslims, she does not consider most of her fellow-countrymen “pro-American.” Like a reincarnation of Richard Nixon (or a classic Marxist) she seeks power through class warfare. Like a second coming of George Wallace, she waves the flag in defense of prejudice and hatred and incites crowds to near-violence.
And yesterday, Sarah Palin announced she would resign her office. She sounded the same themes she had in her national debut – those themes that I hopefully deride as yesterday’s but fear may be themes again tomorrow. This is no surprise, as as in her first speech on the national stage she accused those examining her record – the media – of being part of the “Washington elite” and looking down on her – and ridiculed her opponent as a crusader for terrorist rights. And when a comedian made a joke that she saw she could exploit, she talked used this as her excuse to rail against the “Hollywood/NY” elites who did not understand real American values. Again and again she invoked the same, old tired class warfare images.
The question is, why does this woman – who has a solid shot at the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination – decide to give up her governorship?
As everyone acknowledges – and especially given her tawdry history of small-time lies, personal vendettas, and misuse of public power and funds – she may be trying to sidestep some brewing scandal the press hasn’t gotten wind of. Even Will Kristol, the foremost Palin defender in the country acknowledges this. But if this does not turn out to be the case, there are still significant reasons why she might be stepping aside – in a calculated move to better position herself for 2012.
As Kristol later suggested, she might be – in this instance, “crazy like a fox.”
As Marc Ambinder points out, as Governor of Alaska, she is a sitting duck and marginalized from the centers of power she so desperately wants to be part of. The heady presidential campaign clearly gave her a taste of something she now craves – the attention and adulation of adoring crowds. She seems to believe she is destined for greater things than merely governing a state with a population the size of a medium-sized city.
But as long as she is governor, she is generating a record that can be picked apart and attacked – and she is unable to effectively reach out to the Iowa and New Hampshire Republican primary voters she will need. At the same time, her national ambitions – and her role in the McCain campaign – have hurt her in Alaska – as her popularity has dipped and legislators have begun to feel as if she is looking beyond Juneau. As only 51% of voters in Alaska said they would reelect her as governor, she would likely face a tough campaign.
At the same time, Palin is facing the same problem as many other governors: the states are facing a crunch, and without help from the federal government are going to have to make drastic cuts in services or raise taxes. In Alaska, the downturn – and the drop in the price of oil – has lead to a deficit of nearly $3 billion over the next two years, with little chance of recovery until the price of oil goes back up. By resigning in the middle of this year, she gets to avoid the painful cuts in government services or raises in tax rates that will be needed to keep the state functioning. Governing during this deficit explosion would make it harder (though for Palin, far from impossible) to deride Barack Obama’s deficit spending (most of which Obama himself inherited from another former Governor who liked to cut taxes and increase spending).
Given these two motivations, one can see why Will Kristol suggests this move might be crazy like a fox.
But remember this: by giving up in the middle of her term, Sarah Palin has forever disqualified herself from the presidency. I’m sure she doesn’t think so – and I’m sure her most ardent supporters do not think so either. She may make a solid run for the Republican nomination – and, she may get it. But every reason she gave for resigning would be doubly true if she were to win the presidency. Her family would be under greater scrutiny, and the butt of more jokes. Lawsuits against her would eat into her time – as they did Bill Clinton’s. If the relatively low-level of scrutiny and pestering lawsuits she is subject to now have intimidated her from staying in office, imagine what pressures she would face sitting in the Oval Office.
The American people will remember that when the going got tough in Alaska, she went. And she didn’t accept any blame – instead, she played the same game she has played as long as she has been in the national spotlight. She blamed the media elite and everyone else who isn’t “proud to be American” and who instead “deride[s] our ideals.”
America can forgive her the class warfare. They can forgive her inciting her supporters to near-violent outrage. They can forgive her betrayal of the man who brought her out of obscurity. They can forgive her for using her children as political props. They can forgive her for all of her small lies. They can forgive her her ignorance. And they can love her for her saucy winks, her baseless confidence, and her faux-religiousity. What the American people cannot forgive and will not look past is a quitter – and the message from yesterday’s events – the message that comes through loud and clear above her strident attempts to distract – is that Sarah Palin is a quitter.
Never again will the Barracuda of Wasilla attain the glory that was hers for one glorious September night – as she strode onto the stage, confident beyond reason and shining with the light of Destiny.
This I hope, and I pray. For our nation’s sake, most of all. But for the moment, what can we do but celebrate that our modern-day George Wallace has stepped down, and the spectre of a Palin presidency is just a bit further away.
[Image by sskennel licensed under Creative Commons.]