The Real Sarah Palin

I haven’t commented on Sarah Palin’s resignation as Governor of Alaska since Friday afternoon, when I noted the story and said that her resignation “seems bizarre to me.” Here are some additional thoughts on the subject.

I am, to begin with, an admirer of Governor Palin–the real Sarah Palin, not the creature of myth. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Palin phenomenon is that the mythical version, a caricature of Palin as arch-conservative, especially on the social issues, and populist almost to the point of know-nothingism, has been embraced by many of her supporters as avidly as by her enemies.

But the caricature has little to do with Palin’s actual record as a public servant. I don’t doubt that she is, personally, a conservative, but her record in office has not been particularly conservative and her political career owes little or nothing to the social issues. She represents, rather, an older strand of Republicanism–the reformist, good-government variety.

Given that Palin is now viewed almost exclusively as symbol, it is not surprising that the least-remarked portion of her resignation speech was that in which she recounted her administration’s achievements. But those accomplishments are, in fact, considerable:

Here’s some of the things we’ve done:

We created a petroleum integrity office to oversee safe development. We held the line for Alaskans on Point Thomson – and finally for the first time in decades – they’re drilling for oil and gas.

We have AGIA, the gasline project – a massive bi-partisan victory (the vote was 58 to 1!) – also succeeding as intended – protecting Alaskans as our clean natural gas will flow to energize us, and America, through a competitive, pro-private sector project. This is the largest private sector energy project, ever. This is energy independence.

And ACES – another bipartisan effort – is working as intended and industry is publicly acknowledging its success. Our new oil and gas “clear and equitable formula” is so Alaskans will no longer be taken advantage of. ACES incentivizes new exploration and development and jobs that were previously not going to happen with a monopolized North Slope oil basin.

We cleaned up previously accepted unethical actions; we ushered in bi-partisan Ethics Reform.

We also slowed the rate of government growth, we worked with the Legislature to save billions of dollars for the future, and I made no lobbyist friends with my hundreds of millions of dollars in budget vetoes… but living beyond our means today is irresponsible for tomorrow.

We took government out of the dairy business and put it back into private-sector hands – where it should be.

We provided unprecedented support for education initiatives, and with the right leadership, finally filled long-vacant public safety positions. We built a sub-Cabinet on Climate Change and took heat from Outside special interests for our biologically-sound wildlife management for abundance.

We broke ground on the new prison.

And we made common sense conservative choices to eliminate personal luxuries like the jet, the chef, the junkets… the entourage.

And the Lt. Governor and I said “no” to our pay raises.

A solid record of achievement in only 2 1/2 years? Absolutely. Red meat for populist conservatives? Not especially.

So I have high regard for Sarah Palin, the effective, good-government reformer. But that brings us to Palin’s press conference and her resignation. The biggest problem with her press conference was that her stated reasons for resigning her office didn’t make much sense.

She referred to the abuse that she and her family have taken from liberals in the press and elsewhere. No doubt about it: the liberal assault on Palin and her family has been the most despicable I’ve ever seen. If she had announced that she is leaving politics to return to private life, no one could have blamed her. But that isn’t what she is doing; she is resigning as Governor but, evidently, running for President. So the attacks will continue and likely intensify.

She said that she didn’t want to continue as a lame-duck governor. But the only reason she was a lame duck is that she had just announced she wasn’t running for a second term. If she didn’t want to be a lame duck, all she had to do was not hold the press conference.

Recognizing that these themes didn’t account for her decision, Palin went on to explain that her real reason for resigning is that she and her office have been fatally distracted by the frivolous ethics complaints that the Democratic Party has mounted against her. She said that most of her time, and her staff’s time, is now spent defending against such complaints–successfully, as every one so far has been dismissed. Most of them have been obviously stupid.

So Palin said she was resigning for the good of Alaska, since her successor will be free of this burden. Plus, she has run up a $500,000 legal bill in defending against the Democratic Party’s silly charges.

This explanation has a great deal of appeal, but I don’t think it holds together. Does Palin really want to set a precedent that a Republican who is unfairly attacked by Democrats will quit? If that principle were followed, the Republican Party would quickly become extinct.

Actually, the Democrats’ frivolous ethics charges represent an opportunity. Alaska is a Republican-leaning state. If Palin were to push back against the Democrats–locally, not nationally–she could make them pay a price for their indefensible tactic, and likely cause them to back off. As for the $500,000, that is a minimal amount for a politician of Palin’s stature to raise by setting up a defense committee. Donors would quickly furnish a war chest. On a worst-case scenario, Todd Palin could sign a book contract tomorrow for a $500,000 advance. The facts just don’t support the idea that quitting as governor is a reasonable response to the Democrats’ vicious but entirely unsuccessful ethics-complaint strategy.

Here is why I think Palin quit: she wants to be the Republican Presidential nominee in 2012. No surprise there, she currently has more support than any other contender in the polls. But she has a serious problem. Her rivals for the nomination are beginning to make the circuit of Republican and conservative grass-roots groups. They are able to criss-cross the country, building up support, establishing campaign committees, speaking to Republican groups on an informal basis, supporting other Republican candidates, laying the foundation for a 2012 run.

Palin, on the other hand, is isolated in Anchorage. It takes longer to get to and from Alaska than most people realize. Palin can’t zip into Chicago, deliver a speech to a Republican conference and be back in her office in time to sign a bill. If she starts spending 75 percent of her time in the lower 48, she might in fact be able to carry out her gubernatorial duties via Blackberry, but she would be crucified for abandoning the state of Alaska in favor of her national ambitions. So she resigned, in order to free up her time to campaign for the 2012 Republican nomination.

That is, I think, the only explanation that fits the facts. I still think Palin’s resignation was a mistake; it will make the logistics of campaigning much easier, but her failure to complete the only major government job to which she has been elected will haunt her.

What is most sad about this, in my opinion, is that Palin herself seems willing to play the role of the symbol she has become, no matter how at odds it may be with her actual record. I doubt that the old, pre-August 2008 Sarah Palin–the real Sarah Palin, in my book–would have quit.

UPDATE: Feel free to comment, but remember that your comment must include your first and last name in order to be posted.

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