Sarah Palin is not running for president, and it's because she, like most Americans, knows she should not be. But she's not leaving the spotlight yet.
We are about to see the flowering of a bright celebrity media career. We will likely to learn, in the next few weeks, that the soon-to-be former governor of Alaska has signed a big television contract with a cable network that will make her rich enough to meet all important financial demands for the rest of her life.
I find it interesting that a woman whose failures as a national politician were based in her inability to establish credibility with voters, could find success by reinventing herself as a media personality, convincing millions of us that she has something interesting to say every night.
But this is where the famous Palin charisma comes in. She looks good on television, and she can establish enough credibility with the camera to take a lot of people along for the ride. That works if you want to be a talk show host, not President of the United States. So that is as it should be.
In Palin's political denouement, I see something of which Americans can be collectively proud: In its own crass, inelegant way, the political system worked for us if, if not for Sarah Palin. She was not ready for the job of vice president, and the American people -- in large enough numbers to refute the charges of blind partisanship -- said thanks, but not thanks. Yes, she was attacked in the media. And yes, people made fun of her family. Maybe the harassment did drive her out of office. If it did, then that kind of public disapproval worked as it should have. People shouldn't care if she gets rich beyond her wildest dreams, but serious people should care about her inability to run the country. There were enough of those people to doom the GOP ticket in 2008, and Palin's chances today and beyond. Palin's political demise, I think, a fair testament to the fact that we have our priorities right.
The many rewards that come with being a television talk show host -- the money, the influence, the media ubiquity --may affirm Palin as one of the great American success stories of our time. Born in obscurity and of relatively modest means, she will have risen to great acclaim and unspeakable wealth. That's the sort of dream that keeps people coming to America. Is this a great country, or what?
But Palin's dumb luck does not mean she could run the country. That job is hard work meant for serious people, and Palin can't convince us that she is serious. So Americans, generally, have resisted her, and we may have George W. Bush to thank for that. We've learned our lesson with him.
Palin had the chance to be the Republican answer to Barack Obama. Like him, she was a fresh face with a new voice. Both electrified the respective bases of their party. But when each of them got the attention they sought, he was ready and she was not. To be fair, he chose the spotlight, while she was chosen for it. But the bottom line remains -- she was ill-prepared then and still is now.
I know there those who read the Palin resignation as a political masterstroke that moves her closer to the White House. There was the "absolute exhilaration" of the GOP county chair in Florida, who believes that Palin is "blessed" with leadership abilities. There is Howard Fineman, a veteran political writer, who declared, "I have covered politics for a long time. I can tell when someone is running for president. Sarah Palin is running for president." Conservative icon and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol mused to The New York Times that: "This unusual move might be the right move for her to become president of the United States."
I'm not at all surprised by this line of thinking, but I can't say that I understand it. Except for the most partisan of Republicans, I think it's hard for any reasonable person to make the case that Palin is a good candidate to run the country. She's done little in the last 10 months to suggest that she's a capable leader, and the resignation announcement did more to reinforce all her negatives.
And even some conservatives, who love Palin, recognize that. New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat, described the speech as "bizarre [and] rambling," and he believed that it would "take her off the political map for the duration of the Obama era." Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes, after lauding her political talent and charm, concluded that: "Even a super-abundance of charisma cannot make up for her shortcomings in experience and knowledge. It might be enough if she were running for a lesser office. The election of Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California proves that point. But running for president on charisma alone? I don't think so."
Most Americans agree.
We don't know what Sarah Palin is thinking, and we can't say with absolute certainty whether she has a political future or not. But if she does make a comeback, it'll likely be right after these messages from her sponsors.