When Sarah Palin announced recently that she would resign as Alaska’s governor and leave office a year early, it was probably one of the only things that could have could have bumped Michael Jackson’s death from the headlines, even if only for a moment.
When Governor Palin became John McCain’s surprise pick as a vice presidential nominee last fall, she became the talk of the nation. She electrified conservative audiences with her homespun humor and charismatic speeches. She became the woman that the liberals loved to hate. Her record as a reform governor, her refusal to abort her son, Trig, born with Down Syndrome, and her call to “Drill, Baby, Drill” at a time of record-high oil prices made her a lightning rod for liberal attacks.
To be fair, Palin made her share of gaffes on the campaign trail. In a moment made famous by Tina Fey of Saturday Night Live, Palin claimed that her governorship gave her foreign policy experience since Alaska was so close to Russia. The line turned into “I can see Russia from my house” in a Tina Fey skit, although Palin never actually said those words. Palin faced extremely tough scrutiny and criticism from the media during the campaign.
In contrast, Barack Obama, who also had no foreign policy experience and less executive experience than Palin was given a pass on the many gaffes that he made during the campaign. Referring to babies as punishment for sexual mistakes and the claim that he had visited fifty-seven states “with one to go” were two of his best-known bloopers, but these were largely ignored by the mainstream media. Obama was covered in such little depth, that by the time he was elected, very few people had any idea who he really was or what he stood for other than “change.”
The attacks on Palin soon crossed the line from policy differences to vicious personal attacks. Soon after her introduction to the country, liberal bloggers at the Daily Kos started rumors that Palin’s young son, Trig, was actually her grandson by her daughter, Bristol. In spite of the fact that the rumor was pure speculation, it was covered in the mainstream media as well.
When Bristol Palin was revealed to be pregnant a few weeks later, it should have disproved the internet rumor, but Sarah Palin faced even more criticism and attacks. She was alleged to be a hypocrite and an unfit mother since Bristol was not married.
On the heels of Bristol’s pregnancy came a new scandal. Hackers broke into Palin’s personal Yahoo email account. Her personal email correspondence was then posted on the internet. David Kernell, was arrested and indicted in the crime, which was minimized by the media.
Even long after the campaign was over, Palin and her family still faced attacks. In June 2009, David Letterman joked about Palin’s daughters having sex with former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and Yankee Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez. Letterman later apologized for the joke.
Any of these attacks would make most people have second thoughts a life in the public eye. But Palin’s problems were not limited to media attacks on her family. A former state trooper made allegations that Palin improperly dismissed the state Public Service Commissioner because he would not fire a state trooper who divorced Palin’s sister. A month later, Palin was cleared of wrongdoing by the Alaska Personnel Board. This announcement was made the day before the presidential election after the damage to the campaign had already been done.
The ethics problems did not stop there. There have been at least thirteen separate ethics inquiries against Governor Palin. Each complaint has been resolved with no finding of a violation of state ethics law. If Palin had been found to have violated the law, it is safe to assume that we would all know about it as we did during the campaign when the first inquiry was damaging for her.
There are three likely possibilities as to why Governor Palin is resigning. Many people assume that she is leaving office to work on plans for a presidential campaign in 2012, but I think that this is unlikely. If Palin were truly interested in a presidential campaign, she would still have plenty of time if he had fulfilled her full term of office.
Additionally, Palin has consistently joined Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee as leading contenders for the 2012 nomination. She must realize that a resignation will most likely hurt her chances since many people would perceive her as a quitter. A recent poll indicates that 40% of Republican voters believe resigning will her chances in a presidential run. For a candidate who is already portrayed as an intellectual lightweight by a hostile media, resigning doesn’t seem to be a smart strategy.
It seems far more likely that Palin will either retire from public life entirely or cash in on her fame. After the ordeal that Governor Palin and her family have endured in the past year, no one could really blame her if she decided to withdraw from the spotlight and return to a life of hunting, fishing, and family (of course that isn’t the same as saying that no one would blame her). Her claims that the relentless attacks against her have hurt the state of Alaska make sense in light of the millions of dollars that it costs to investigate each allegation.
In my mind, the most likely scenario is that she will use her newfound free time to enter the private sector. It has been reported that Palin owes legal fees of more than $500,000 from defending the accusations against her (citation). It is likely that she can make millions of dollars from a book. It is also possible that she could host a television show like former candidate, Mike Huckabee. A third possibility is that she might take a position with a conservative organization or think tank. She might even start her own advocacy group for issues that are important to her. Any combination of these is possible.
Entering the private sector would also have the advantage of keeping Palin in the public eye. She could continue to build her image and fight the stereotypes that the media has been creating about her. If she believes that she is well placed to start a presidential nomination, then she will still have that option.
Whatever Governor Palin’s thinking, it does seem that she has made her political future more difficult, if not impossible. It may not be an insurmountable obstacle, but at least for the moment, she is damaged in the eyes of many potential voters.
Villa Rica GA
July 10, 2009
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