Like few other things, Sarah Palin's vice presidential campaign last
year was based on her ability to do it all, and struggle in the face of
adversity. Yes, she could serve as governor with five kids, including
one with special needs. Yes, she could persevere in the face of intense
scrutiny from the media and from political opponents. "We must not
blink, Charlie!" she stated over and over again in her infamous
interview with Charles Gibson last fall.
Last week, Palin threw that all away, and blinked. The Alaska governor,
bizarrely, announced her resignation last Friday, after only two and a
half years in office. Palin announced the move in a rambling, 20-minute
speech that touched on numerous subjects but did not state a specific,
singular reason for the decision, apart from a desire to avoid lame-duck
status. The speech, delivered late on the Friday afternoon of a holiday
weekend, most likely brought one of America's strangest political
careers to a premature close.
What's the true story? Why would the conservative base's most popular
political figure suddenly chuck her career, with little warning, and
with even less compelling explanation? No one knows. There could be a
coming scandal, or perhaps some other type of personal crisis. The
details will almost certainly trickle out eventually.
Palin, it's strange to think, has been a national political figure for
only 10 months. She was plucked from obscurity, with less than two years
of experience as governor, and named John McCain's running mate. She got
off to a strong start and showed at the Republican convention that she
was not only more skilled at exciting and revving up the conservative
base than McCain himself, but also much more so than any of the many
candidates who ran in the GOP primaries.
But Palin later blew it, most notably with a pair of disastrous TV
interviews (with Gibson, and later with Katie Couric) and a performance
that made clear she had only rudimentary grasp of the issues and was
woefully unprepared to even run for vice president, much less
assume the office.
Palin's weak performance also allowed Barack Obama to neutralize his
biggest weakness as a candidate – that he had very little experience in
national politics. Not only were Obama's four years in the Senate twice
the length of Palin's service as governor, but even more importantly, it
was obvious to anyone paying attention to the race that despite his lack
of experience, Obama actually had a grasp of the issues and knew what he
was talking about, while Palin did not.
Things eventually got even worse, with Palin feuding with McCain
campaign operatives, a battle memorably chronicled in Todd Purdum's
Vanity Fair piece, published just days before Palin's announcement.
The sides sniped over everything from campaign strategy to clothes, with
the battles continuing to rage long after the election's end.
But even worse than the incompetence and the infighting was this:
Palin's 2008 run was littered with the type of bitter, divisive culture
war politics that the electorate was pointedly not in the mood for. Her
cheap shot-filled convention address and subsequent speeches were geared
toward stirring up populist outrage about the awfulness of "elites,"
built around the idea that she was "folksy" and "one of you." It was a
carbon copy of the 2000-era Bush strategy, and America, knowing where
that led, didn't fall for it.
Palin's vice presidential candidacy failed on just about every possible
level, unless you're of the belief, as many conservatives seem to be,
that "pissing off liberals" is the sole criteria for success in
This led into a counter-narrative, in which any and all criticism of
Palin – even the large amount that has come from the Republican side and
the McCain campaign itself – can be explained away by liberal media
bias. All the media did to Palin was accurately report that she fell on
her face as a candidate and afterward.
The only thing related to this for which I blame the media is its
obsession, even years in advance, with horserace presidential politics.
In the past week – even with all the Michael Jackson hysteria
cannibalizing news time – I've seen three different discussions on cable
news shows about what Republicans might run for president in 2012, who
had a "good week" in that regard and how the race is affected by recent
developments with Mark Sanford and now Palin. The '12 vote, you may
remember, is three years and five months away.
Sarah Palin, we now know after last week, will never be president of the
United States. This is hopefully the best thing for herself and her
family, but it's an even better thing for us as a nation.