Now that Sarah Palin has finally admitted what some of us understood a long time ago -- that she is not going to run for president in 2012 -- some liberals are less than entirely relieved. After all, she's only 47, so she could torment us with a potential presidential candidacy for a couple of decades to come. But I'm not worried. Maybe I'm seeing this particular glass as a bit too full, but it does seem that even in today's Republican Party, at least some measure of seriousness is required to get all the way to the finish line. Candidates who are absurdly unprepared or insanely radical (or both) can make a splash, but they have a lot of trouble putting together a campaign that can go the distance (see Bachmann, Michele).
We all laughed at Palin's contention that she could be a greater force for good as an outside figure than as president of the United States, but the truth is that there's still an enormous difference in the way we think about media figures and the way we think about political figures. Even in our media-saturated age, I suspect most of us still make a distinction between the people who have the responsibility to deal with policy and the people who just go on TV and yap about it. And she's not even very good at that -- she can barely get through a five-minute discussion on The O'Reilly Factor without saying something gob-smackingly stupid.
There will be no reinvention of Sarah Palin. You might say, "Well, Nixon did it," but nobody thought Nixon was a buffoon. The knock on him was that he was smarmy (in 1960, Democrats wore buttons with his picture and the question, "Would you buy a used car from this man?"), which turned out, when the time was right eight years after his first presidential run, not to be that big a deal for voters. But it wasn't as though he spent the intervening years fighting with his daughter's nogoodnik baby-daddy and going on silly TV shows (well, maybe once).
We may get the occasional talk-radio host elected to Congress, and right now there's a former talk-radio host getting a lot of attention as a presidential candidate (that'd be Herman Cain). But even his supporters know he's never going to be president. As for Palin, she might run one day, but her candidacy would probably look a lot like Newt Gingrich's does this time around: Hey, there's that ex-politician everybody disliked, who kind of never went away. Kind of interesting, but you certainly wouldn't vote for him/her. Just like Newt, the more time Palin spends away from what she memorably called "actual responsibilities," filling her days with media appearances, the more granting her those actual responsibilities seems absurd, even for those on her side of the aisle.
So worry not. Palin may not disappear, but she won't be president, either. As conservative apostate David Frum says, "Palin will never become a party elder stateswoman. Over the past three years, it became apparent to all but a handful of cultists that her only interests were money and celebrity. She had no concept of public service, and no capacity to serve even if she had wished to do so. Soon even those last cultists will quietly abandon the argument."