I have a confession: I just can't get enough of Sarah Palin. I say this as an aficionado of both the culture war – in which Palin was rapidly promoted last year to four-star general – and spectacular political flame-outs. When she gave her impossibly weird statement announcing that she would be leaving the governorship of Alaska, it was like your favorite band's farewell tour. You got to hear the old hits (Man, I hope she does "I'm Being Oppressed by the Liberal Media Elite"!), but the whole thing was touched with the melancholy that comes from knowing that there probably won't be any new albums.
Before she fades into a life of motivational speaking and writing bad memoirs, it's worth taking at least one more look at this unique political phenomenon. All but the most inane commentators (I'm looking at you, Bill Kristol) agree that her decision to resign all but put an end to Palin's presidential aspirations, presuming she has them. Anything is possible, of course, but chances are we won't have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore.
Not that she has disappeared. In fact, in the days after announcing that she'd be leaving the ceaseless agony that is public life, Palin seemed everywhere. Not only did she give multiple national media interviews, she even grabbed a bunch of camera crews and took them fishing, just so everyone would know how reg'lar she is. You could also find her in Runner's World magazine, where the interview included a statesmanlike photo spread in which the smiling governor, clad in spandex, adopted a series of sexy stretching poses. Time magazine offered a cover profile of Palin (titled "The Renegade") filled with so much purple prose about her home state, it read like it was written by the Alaska department of tourism ("In Alaska, though, her answer could mean exactly what it says -- that she doesn't yet know what she'll be doing in 2012. Here, you make each day from the materials at hand.")
Alaska's rough and ready reputation notwithstanding, it turned out that Palin might be able to field-dress a moose or gun down a wolf from a helicopter, but she can't bear the slings and arrows of comedians and bloggers. America has seen its share of thin-skinned politicians, but there may never have been one as obsessed as Palin with the idea that someone, somewhere, is making fun of her. She has engaged in one public feud after another, most notably with Levi Johnston, her erstwhile son-in-law-to-be, and David Letterman. She barely seems to make a statement without mentioning mean things that have been said about her on blogs or talk radio. She's not the only one; the Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti, who is writing a book about Palin, recently wrote, "The file on my desktop labeled 'Insult List' is an attempt to track every foul thing that's been said about Sarah Palin since she rose to national prominence."
What's so bizarre is not just that Palin and her defenders are so consumed with every attack on her, but that they seem unaware that the same thing happens to every politician of such prominence in America today -- just ask Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. It may not be pleasant, but it's part of the bargain of running for national office. A politician who built her career on resentment and sneering contempt – of the "elite," of the media, of liberals, of people who live in cities, of anyone who didn't share her particular values – just couldn't take it when people sneered back.
There are still more than a few Republicans hoping that Sarah Palin will lead them out of the political wilderness and back to the White House. But history is not exactly on her side. Twice in the past two decades, Democrats were led out of their electoral doldrums by a dynamic figure new to the national scene. Republicans, in contrast, have been in the habit for the last 40 years of nominating the guy who came in second the time before (this was the case with Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, and John McCain). Depending on how you scored the 2008 primaries, this is very good news for either Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee.
Most importantly, though, one has to wonder on just what basis Palin would offer herself for the presidency. She couldn't sell technocratic competence, the way Romney or Bobby Jindal might. Nor could she ride that old favorite, "new ideas" – the very idea of a Palin candidacy based on "ideas" of any sort is laughable. Nor could she have the biography-driven candidacy of a Dole or McCain. So what would the rationale for Palin '12 be?
In truth, there is none. When McCain first introduced her to the country, nobody knew anything about her, and at first she seemed charming and stylish and energetic, just what the Republican's moribund campaign needed. But then she had to answer questions, and it quickly became apparent that she didn't know the first thing about how government works, to say nothing of the issues she might have to confront in Washington (nor does she to this day; witness her recent comment that if she were president, the ethics complaints that have dogged her in Alaska would no longer be a problem because "your department of law there in the White House would look at some of the things that we've been charged with and automatically throw them out"). Even some prominent conservatives realized that a dozen trips to Neiman Marcus couldn't give this emperor any clothes.
Despite the fact that she has virtually no chance of reaching the White House, I do hope that Palin decides to run for president – there is no one in the Republican party half as interesting, even if it is in a Britney-Spears-meets-Dan-Quayle kind of way. If she does run, she will likely be the sideshow freak of the presidential carnival, the irresistibly bizarre attraction running off to the side of the main program. Now that she has cast off what in her Republican convention speech she called the "actual responsibilities" of governing, she has become what she and McCain accused Barack Obama of being: just a celebrity, famous for being famous.
Imagine for a moment the train wreck that a Palin presidential campaign would be. I get excited just thinking about it. So yes, Governor, spend the next year talking to adoring audiences of conservative activists, write that book about what America really needs, get yourself rested and ready. We can't wait.
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