I guess I don't have much to add to the continuing astonishment over Sarah Palin's decision to say "no mas" and vacate the Alaska governor's mansion except for this: I'm disappointed. I was seriously hoping that the Republican Party, in its current state, would continue to hold up Palin as their Great Oh-So-Very-White Hope for the next three years, just long enough to nominate her to go up against Obama in the 2012 presidential election, at which point she would flame out and put the GOP right back at square one in terms of rebuilding their national stature. God, what a fun ride that would've been. I was fully prepared to go deep cover and volunteer for Palin's 2012 Alabama primary campaign if it looked like that scenario might come to pass.
But it's not going to. My knee-jerk reaction to Palin's announcement the day before Independence Day, like a lot of people's, was that she was unloading her gubernatorial responsibilities so that she could devote herself full-time to the business of laying the groundwork for a balls-out 2012 presidential run. With her brand name beginning to take on some tarnish from Todd Purdum's unflattering Vanity Fair profile and the resulting infighting with McCain's people, she was going to metaphorically stomp off to her room in a huff, sulk for a few months until enough people in the Republican base came groveling to stroke her hair and tell her how pretty and awesome she was, and then burst forth in February 2011 (or earlier) with a recharged ego and a refreshed arsenal of lame down-home witticisms, determined to yank the reins away from President Hussein and reclaim America for the real Americans.
But if she really wanted to do that, why not just wait a few months and announce she wasn't going to be running for another term as governor? Why quit in the middle of her first term? If one of the big knocks on you as a vice-presidential candidate is that you have minimal political experience, why throw away the opportunity to gain any additional experience if you don't have to?
"Sarah Palin isn't smart in what we might call conventional ways," writes TBogg in a short but highly incisive post from earlier this week, "but she has grifter smarts" -- or, as Holly characterized it, "middle-school, mean-girl, locker-room smarts" -- and that elementary cunning was enough to lead her to a conclusion many of us arrived at months ago: There's no way she's ever going to get elected president. Her favorability ratings began tanking within a couple weeks of her acceptance speech on the floor of the Republican National Convention last September, and while dyed-in-the-wool religious conservatives thought she was the greatest thing since sliced bread (and still do), independents quickly decided they wanted nothing to do with her (and still don't). Reports say even her fellow Alaska Republicans had started to turn on her, to the point where she might not even have been able to win a primary challenge in a potential re-election bid -- and when you can't even hold together a Republican coalition in one of the reddest states in the country (Democrats haven't broken 40 percent in a presidential election in Alaska, much less won outright, since the 1960s), your prospects for building anything resembling an effective base of support nationally are in deep ka-ka.
So why'd she do it? Let's go back to TBogg:
. . . [Palin] knows that she can make a better living working the wingnut welfare circuit preaching to the already converted than she can in politics.
He also quotes Jill from Brilliant at Breakfast:
If she were about helping other working mothers and parents of special-needs children and health care for all and a stable job base, she could have been a credible contender for first female president. But alas, she is only an aging beauty queen, a Mean Grrrl who in politics has found a way to extend her reign as Prettiest Girl in High School to use people (or states) and then throw them away when they stop feeding her massive ego . . .
That description stops just short of summing up what I think is a central truth about Sarah Palin, a truth that clues us in to both why she quit her gubernatorial term in midstream and why she'll never be president. For all the talk about all the things that made Palin such a refreshing novelty on the national political scene over the past year or so -- her gender, her good looks, her unusual family, the exotic locale from whence she sprang -- she's not actually unique at all: She is George W. Bush, only female and cute. Like Bush, her most substantial political experience was a governorship of modest responsibilities, and whatever renown she'd acquired was primarily for superficial reasons (good looks = Bush's famous family name). Without much of an actual track record or stated policy slate to speak of, the neocon wing of the Republican Party decided on her as a blank slate upon which they could project their hopes and ideals, an assignment that she, like Dubya, tackled with gusto. But through it all she's expressed the same intellectual incuriosity that Dubya demonstrated throughout the entirety of his presidential term -- they both know what they feel about this issue or that issue, their minds are made up, and they're not interested in acquiring any additional information about it, especially not anything that would challenge the worldviews and prejudices they'd already spent so many years setting in stone.
Seriously, does a woman who can't come up with an answer better than "all of 'em" when asked a question as simple as "what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read" sound like she gives a flying fuck about becoming knowledgeable on the major issues of the day? Does she sound like someone interested in doing anything other than what Bush did as president -- i.e. bringing in "advisors" who will tell him/her exactly what he/she wants to hear and nothing more? Palin's legions of right-wing fans may not demand any more than that from her, because her willingness to "go with her gut" in the absence of any debate or time-consuming deliberation is one of the things they most admire in her, just as they admired it in Bush before her. But the rest of us, as evidenced by the 2008 election outcome, have come to our senses, and have started demanding a little more from the person who holds the most powerful title in the free world.
Evidently, even people in Alaska are starting to demand that as well, and that, as much as anything, is why she resigned so abruptly: The job got too hard, too many people didn't like her, she wasn't having fun anymore. So she quit, just like she quit a series of colleges and a position as head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. She's going to lay low for a while, then write a book (or have one ghost-written for her) and probably get a talk show on Fox News, re-establish her position as the spokesperson for the great not-so-silent not-quite-majority of aggrieved Tea-Party-throwing, Obama-hating ultraconservatives without actually having to get elected to anything, and thereby become the only thing she ever really wanted to be all along: a celebrity.
Is that an overly harsh assessment? Probably, but as hard as I try, I just can't find one shred of evidence that Palin has any stomach for the difficult and sometimes spirit-sapping work of actual policy-making, consensus-building, or governing. Leave out the sob stories about catty Vanity Fair articles or tasteless jokes late-night talk-show hosts have made about her kids; in the end, that stuff's got very little to do with actual politics. It's got more to do with the travails of simply being a celebrity, and while Sarah Palin may look like she's selflessly falling on her sword and giving up the limelight for the good of her family or her state or whoever, she'll be back. Only as a pricey lecture-circuit choir-preacher or Fox talking head, of course, not as someone poised to make any direct, tangible difference in what goes on in Washington.
But that just kind of makes the Saga of Sarah -- to the extent that there is one -- only that much more pointless and wasted in the end. You will have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore, sooner or later, but only if it's on her terms, and in a capacity where she doesn't actually have to put anything on the line. She'll say stupid things on big stages, people who should know better will give her more air time than she deserves, but in the end history won't remember her as anything even resembling a transformative figure; the Saga of Sarah won't end up being remembered as anything more than a year in its political life that America won't ever get back.