Friday, July 10, 2009

Sarah Palin: Politicus Interruptus

“If you can’t stand the heat then get out of the kitchen.”—Harry S. Truman

Sarah Palin’s supreme political moment came when she gave her acceptance speech for the Vice-Presidential nomination at last year’s Republican Convention. Since then she has descended slowly but inexorably towards a political precipice which has already claimed several promising new stars in the G.O.P.

Palin’s resignation as Governor of Alaska (although shocking to many) is really not surprising when considering her performance as a politician since August last year. When I first wrote about her I considered her presence a charming new start for the G.O.P. which badly needed some changes but now, after nearly a year in the spotlight, Sarah Palin no longer appears to be Presidential timber but more like Presidential kindling—mere fuel for the prairie fire which is always Presidential campaign politics.

At best political pundits can call her questionable move unorthodox but in reality her departure reeks of opportunism; a reluctance to risk her shaky political reputation in the risky and tedious business of governing the largest state in the Union; and, perhaps, a personal inability to rise above the attendant intense media scrutiny all potential Presidential candidates must endure if they are to achieve the Presidency.

Ever since Sarah Palin got the taste of the Presidency in her mouth it seems obvious in retrospect that she considers being the governor of Alaska as an obstacle to her quest for higher office. Now that she has become a national figure, the Governor’s seat has turned into a confining box (a political coffin maybe?) that she needs to jettison, to escape from. What Sarah Palin fails to realize though is that if American history teaches us anything it is that many governors have used their office as laboratories to develop and experiment with new policies which could then be translated onto the national stage. Franklin Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all followed that path towards the Oval Office. Sarah Palin’s refusal to do the same must be seen as a failure of political nerve. Alaska, like all other 49 states in the Union, is in an economic crisis. If Sarah Palin really wanted to demonstrate that she was worthy of the Oval Office then remaining at her post and working like hell to get Alaska out of its doldrums would be the best course for her. Of course there is always the chance that she might have failed in the attempt which, in turn, would have cost her dearly in 2012 but those are the risks every politician must take if they are to achieve the Presidency. Every President from Washington to Obama took some awesome risks to become President: that’s the nature of the job.

As it stands right now, Palin did not do enough as governor to show that she is Presidential material. What probably hurt her chances of winning the White House the most was when Republican Senator Ted Stevens failed to win reelection last year after being convicted of corruption charges (his conviction was later overturned due to prosecutorial bungling). Had Stevens won reelection he probably would have been forced to resign his seat. Had this had happened Sarah Palin would have been obligated to select a replacement for Stevens and I have no doubt she would have chosen herself to fill that role. Had this had happened Palin could have improved her political stock immeasurably. As a Senator she would have been better placed to address national issues than as governor. She would have been the 41st Republican Senator and could have used her seat as a powerful tool to block or filibuster the Obama Administration’s costly programs. She could have rapidly emerged as a catalytic presence in the Senate and could have provided some badly needed energy into the G.O.P. minority ranks. By 2012 she would have come a long way towards achieving the badly needed political experience and maturity necessary to become President.

But it didn’t happen that way.

Sara Palin may feel that garnering headlines is equivalent to being Presidential but if that were true then Jesse Jackson would have been elected President in 1988. Fortunately for America that did not happen. Indeed the way she does make headlines is disturbing in some respects. She complained in her resignation speech about the intense media scrutiny on her and her family. All well and true but does she expect the media scrutiny ever to lessen if and when she does close in on the Presidency? Even more disturbing is her Nixonian tactic of labeling every gaffe or miscue she makes media lies and distortions. That inability to learn from her mistakes and rise above them is more about her wanting to have her cake and eat it too. Her complaints about how the media has pried into her family’s affairs are disingenuous as well. She has not hesitated to use her children as stage props for her political campaign. Their willingness to be used in that manner makes them fair game for the media. Interestingly the Obamas have done a much better job at guarding the privacy of their young children than Sarah Palin has with hers.

Sarah Palin will run for President in 2012 but whether she will win the office is another matter for another time and place. A good viable female conservative Republican candidate would go a long way towards restoring the G.O.P.’s political and ideological spirit.

Sarah Palin, right here, right now, is not that woman.

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