Sarah Palin's Bizarre Bombshell

By James Antle, The Guardian - July 4, 2009

Is Sarah Palin finished? That's the question her friends and foes alike are asking now that she has kicked off the Fourth of July weekend with an announcement that she won't even finish her term as governor of Alaska, let alone run for re-election.

Given how quickly she would have needed to make the transition from governor to presidential candidate if she were to seek the Republican nomination in 2012, it is not surprising that she is taking a pass on a second term in 2010. But to leave office before even her first term is expired "“ she plans to resign in three weeks time, on July 26 "“ seems like a bizarre dereliction of duty. It certainly will do nothing to address concerns, widespread in 2008, that she is too inexperienced to be commander-in-chief.

The timing of her announcement could not be worse. Not only did she drop this bombshell right when most Americans are going on vacation, an ideal moment to bury unfavourable news. Palin also looks like she is buckling after a series of unflattering media controversies, most recently including a Vanity Fair profile that reopened all of the old wounds of the McCain-Palin presidential campaign.

Conservative blogger AC Kleinheider writes: "Sarah Palin has now succeeded in becoming, if she was not already, pretty much everything her critics have accused her of being." Andrea Mitchell reported on MSNBC that sources close to the soon-to-be former Alaska governor claim she "has had it with politics" and just wants out.

Maybe. And given the current condition of the Republican party, one wonders when the other shoe will drop. Is there some scandal that has not yet been reported in the national press? A new ethics investigation? Is the governor of Alaska about to face legal problems?

But in her speech, Palin didn't sound like a person who was quitting or cutting and running. "I polled the most important people in my life, my kids, where the count was unanimous," she said. "Well, in response to asking, 'Hey, you want me to make a positive difference and fight for all our children's future from outside the governor's office?' It was four yeses and one 'Hell, yeah!' And the 'Hell, yeah' sealed it."

Palin argued that it wouldn't be fair for Alaskans to have a lame-duck governor: "Many just accept that lame duck status, and they hit that road. They draw a paycheck. They kind of milk it. And I'm not going to put Alaskans through that."

Her logic is questionable "“ at what point should a second-term president of the United States, barred by term limits from seeking reelection, resign to avoid lame-duck status? "“ and the merits of her decision even more so. Did not the people of Alaska expect Palin to serve the full four years when they elected her?

Don't count "Sarah Barracuda" out yet, however. There are several possible reasons for Palin to take this gamble. The first is that she ensures that she will be succeeded by an ally, Lt Governor Sean Parnell, giving him a leg up in 2010 rather than one of her many rivals in the state GOP. That could come in handy both in evaluating her legacy and during a future national campaign.

Second, Alaska is isolated politically and geographically from the lower 48 states. It is not a solid base for a politician's national aspirations. As governor, anything Palin does to make the country remember she exists will elicit accusations that she is forsaking the responsibilities of her office.

Finally, there is an enormous void within the national Republican Party. It has no reliable spokesmen or leaders. Its key elected officials are clearly not up to the task. Its most promising governor with apparent 2012 ambitions has imploded. The assorted pundits and retires politicos who have been picking up the slack "“ think Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, and Rush Limbaugh "“ don't have any constituency to hold them accountable.

If "“ and it is a big if "“ Sarah Palin can become an effective national voice for the GOP outside of the governorship, she will go a long way toward helping her cause in 2012 and beyond. Palin would have to play a role similar to the one performed by Ronald Reagan in the more than five years between his leaving the governorship of California and finally winning the Republican presidential nomination: the conscience and the voice of the Republican Party.

Can she do it? Palin's ardent fan base aside, she has never accomplished anything at Reagan's level. She delivered a fine speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention and avoided disaster in the vice-presidential debates with Joe Biden. Other than that, her contributions as John McCain's running mate were mixed at best.

Palin's entire political career has been based on risk. Her decision to run for governor in 2006 by taking on the establishment of her own political party was an unambiguous success. As McCain's high-risk running mate, she delivered only half of the rewards: she rallied the conservative base, helping to suffocate Bob Barr's third-party challenge, but did not in the end bring in the women voters who were initially intrigued by her candidacy.

Now Governor Palin is risking it all again. This time, she's far more likely to fail than to succeed. But if she does manage to prove doubters wrong, this strange announcement will instead be remembered as Sarah Palin's independence day.

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