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Kearneysville, WV. One of the stars in the Republican galaxy (notable today mostly for its lack of stars) pulled a surprise move last week that has plenty of people scratching their heads. Her resignation with 18 months still left in her first term as governor of Alaska seemed a curious move for one of the presumptive forerunners for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Her rambling 20 minute speech was, apparently, intended to provide her rationale for stepping down, but it was disjointed and left many unsure about her reasons. Her speech included several parts (interspersed with ducks quacking as they paddled around the lake in the background).

Perhaps not surprisingly, she spent time describing the successes of her administration. OK. Fine. She’s been in office for two-and-a-half years and she seemed eager to roll out her litany of accomplishments.

She spent some time castigating the media and others who have, she claimed, spent an inordinate amount of effort attempting to dig up dirt on her and her administration. Of course, the scandals associated with Senator Ted Stevens have not helped to clear the taint of corruption from the pristine Alaskan air. But Palin chose to focus on the money wasted in conducting these, thus far fruitless, investigations against her. One reason for her resignation seemed to be that she wanted to spare her state the financial burden of defending her against frivolous lawsuits.

She also expressed concern about the problems of lame-duckery in general. When she decided to forgo seeking a second term, she also began to think of her political situation as a lame duck governor. She argued the obvious: that a lame duck is in a weak position and less able to motivate an agenda. But such is the trial faced by all lame duck executives. If her reasoning were turned into a political principle, all lame duck executives would resign midway into the final term.

But she wasn’t suggesting that others follow her lead. She insisted several times that she’s not into playing politics as usual. She is, in so many words, a maverick, like that older maverick who pulled her from relative obscurity less than a year ago and thrust her (not unwillingly) onto the national stage. The maverick label cuts two ways, of course, and unpredictable is one of the connotations. Some less than enthused by maverickism might snarkily suggest that unpredictable and unreliable are not really very different. For me, I’ve always been a little suspect of anyone who feels the need to inform me that he or she is a maverick. Would a true maverick need to remind us?

Palin also insisted repeatedly that she might be leaving her official office but she would continue to “fight” for the things she holds most dear. This fighting language has become the norm for political discourse and I don’t really like it. “Fight” implies a fearsome struggle between incommensurable foes where one side or the other must go down in flames. It implies a view of politics that is ultimate. That is life or death. Much better is some word like “work,” as in “I promise to continue to work for the ideals that I have always held.” The language of work suggests a world that requires ongoing efforts to make improvements where possible. To suffer defeats with dignity. To continue faithfully in service to ends that may never be achieved and if achieved are not likely to last long.

Near the end of her speech she turned to matters of family. When she asked her children whether or not she should step aside, the response was a unanimous and enthusiastic “yes.” This is telling. In these words I heard a mother asking her kids if they would like to spend more time together and they responded in the affirmative. This, I thought, was the most convincing part of her speech. The other reasons for her action seemed contrived. This one I could believe.

Which raises a question. If her family is the reason for stepping down, then isn’t it a good thing she and McCain didn’t win? Surely having a Vice President step aside would be a major blow to a political party. And if she stuck to the job, that would, presumably, have been a major hardship to her family.

I wonder, then, if Sarah Palin tried to do what seems virtually impossible: to have a demanding career and at the same time raise a young family. That her youngest has special needs only raises the ante. Are we doing a disservice to our girls to create the impression that such a life is realistic? Is it curious that many of the conservatives who tout family values were, and are, so enthusiastic about Palin?

Yet, perhaps spending more time with her kids is not the whole story. According to one Alaska lawmaker, Palin has been less than engaged with her job since the presidential campaign. “She had a surprising amount of disinterest in state government after November,” said state Rep. Les Gara, a Democrat from Anchorage. “This state has a lot of problems, and she showed a complete lack of interest in solving them.”

On Sunday, Palin hinted on her Facebook page that she is not planning on receding into obscurity. “I’ve never thought I needed a title before one’s name to forge progress in America. I am now looking ahead and how we can advance this country together with our values of less government intervention, greater energy independence, stronger national security, and much-needed fiscal restraint. I hope you will join me. Now is the time to rebuild and help our nation achieve greatness!”

With her unorthodox decision, conventional wisdom would suggest that Sarah Palin’s political future is less than promising. Her star may be waning, but the national spotlight is, it seems, a powerful attraction. Even for mavericks who don’t like nosy reporters from the mainstream media. Even for mothers with small children.

Look for a talk show on Fox News by fall.

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Mark T. Mitchell
Mark T. Mitchell teaches political theory at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA. He is the author Michael Polanyi: The Art of Knowing and The Politics of Gratitude: Scale, Place, and Community in a Global Age (Potomac Books, 2012). He is co-editor of another book titled, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry. Currently he is writing a book on private property. In 2008-9, while on sabbatical at Princeton University, he and Jeremy Beer hatched a plan to start a website dedicated to political decentralism, economic localism, and cultural regionalism. A group of like-minded people quickly formed around these ideas, and in March 2009, FPR was launched. Although he was raised in Montana and still occasionally longs for the west, he lives in Virginia with his wife, three sons and one daughter where they are in the process of turning a few acres into a small farm. See books written by Mark Mitchell.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Alaska, being a frontier is the vanguard home to the frontier politician , a venue of the back room deal and sharp elbows in a boosters mold. Our politics continues to function in a frontier fashion long after this mode was prudent. While the Governor appears to say all the right things…”small government, fiscal responsibility”…etc etc….they seem to be simply the slogans of the frontier booster and her quixotic behavior wears thin quickly.

    Your last sentence sums it up. Rupert Murdoch knows a cash cow when he sees one and she could be the perfect Ressentiment Oprah for the Ressentiment Project of Fox. Perhaps we’ll have nice “Reality Campaign ” to cap off the prevailing unreality.

  2. OK, I confess, I like Sarah Palin! Why do I like Sarah Palin:
    1. She’s right of center and appears trainable!
    2. She’s mad as hell and she’s not going to take anymore…well, I’m not so sure if she’s still mad as hell!
    3. She’s not a philosopher or political scientist; she’s not a pseudo-intellectual who hides her birth certificate, college papers and grades. She’s also not an east coast elitist, and NOT educated in an elite college/university.
    4. Her name drives the moronic Left into drool-cup fits!
    5. She don’t do no stinkin’ abortion! (That drives the idiot Left wacko too!)
    5. She’s smarter than He-Who-Will-Make-America-A-Bananna-Republic!

  3. Cheeks,
    Be very careful what you wish for. The GOP has for so long considered its base as exactly that …a base conclave of knuckle-dragging paranoiacs that it seems to think government is only politics and that reciting whatever hot-button social issue of the day will excite the base into the kind of libidinous devotion enjoyed by Fredericks of Hollywood during their “Wanda” sex doll promotions. Not, mind you, that I would know anything whatsoever about this and know even less since they closed that corner shop down in Seymour…the one with the fetching nurse costumes before Halloween…… Golly but there’s is something about a syringe tucked into a red garter over white stockings……. But, as to distractions, the GOP trots these titillating diversions out in order to continue their ongoing competition with the Democrats in producing the most spectacularly ridiculous government in history, including Caligula’s Horse. This is a big budget production and while Ms. Palin may be suited to the National Touring Cast, the GOP needs a more effective lead if they are to take back Washington….like say Count Mesmer in Mae West Drag and a gospel choir, packing heat.

    Perhaps you are right though, this earnest if somewhat quixotic Ms. Palin would be the perfect match with THIS GOP.

    There has not been an East Coast Elite since Yale actually won the National Collegiate Football Championship sometime around 1919. The meritocracy has done its job superbly.

    America already is a Banana Republic…pardon my skepticism.

  4. D.W. we’re arguing degree here. My fondness for Ms. Palin, I’ll admit is primarily visceral, though as I said, I do enjoy the liberal reaction to her.
    If the gov’t media despise her that’s good enough for me.
    BTW, speaking of extinct elitists, I see Bob McNamara passed on to his reward. That dude damn near nailed me, but I ducked, or was it dodged, that one.
    I don’t think we’re quite at Banana time but shortly. “Hey, mann.”
    Also, my condolences on the passing of the gloved one. It’s been a bad week!

  5. Cheeks,
    Yea, when the Khmer Rouge snatched the SS Mayaguez, I thought the bullet my number had dodged under Tricky Dick was going to be repacked and shot back at me by Ford. All that ROTC went to waste.

    You wouldn’t be trying to bait me with gloved references now would you? What with California issuing IOU scrip and the Los Angeles Police Department shoveling all kinds of money down this tribute hole ( the Chief of Police proudly asserting “nobody can do anything without us seeing it”), I shall refrain from commenting here beyond the general observation that pop star adulation in this besotted country….and hence the world…. is breathtaking.

    Who needs private when EVERYTHING is public? Sorry, but one would need more degrees than a circle has to define my distance from any support of Ms. Palin. I wish her well as a media star though, her rightful place, a little Bride of Frankenstein for Rush donchyaknow.

  6. D.W.
    Have a safe flight out to Los Angeles today, and give my condolences to the family!

  7. Mark,

    I read your article and please correct me if I am wrong but are you suggesting that politicians that want to work are better than those who want to fight? How could we have political parties if they were working? How could we have have we win and they (and everyone else as well) lose? Were would the self interest be? Surely you are not suggesting that politicians actually try to do something constructive?

    I am no fan of Sarah Palin’s or for that matter hardly any other politicians (since the world implies to me “how to tell others to work and support me in my non work”). Even those who start out with good intent are ussually driven under by their own political party machine or are shredded when the next election comes up and they do not get the support of their local party. The day of the politician working starting leaving us before our first President left office and political parties formed.

    As for family interupting S. Palins Governorship if true would be commendable. Here is a politician putting her family first and not doing it by getting them grants or jobs that they are not qualified for (I will not mention Ted Steven’s daughter by name). I commend her for putting her family first and if she gets a job at Fox at least she will be working versus living on the public dole like most politicians.

    Seperately, we live in an age when government is run by people who have agendas that are not in the best interest of the people they serve just as corporations are run by managers and boards that do not serve their shareholders. In todays world it is all about what can I get and how can I get it without working for it (at least as far as politicians are concerned). I believe I once heard W.C. Fields mention that work is a four lettered word.

    So my final question is how do I get a political job so I do not have to work?

  8. Brett,
    My point with the fight/work distinction is that the language of “fight” seems to veer toward taking politics too seriously, as if politics were of ultimate importance. Maybe work isn’t the right word, but I think something that takes a bit of urgency out of the process and seeks to eliminate the kill or be killed attitude would be good.

    As for politics in general, I’m not sure things are any better or worse than any other time. Or at least there have always been self-seeking scoundrels in office. Human beings naturally live together in society and that being the case, require political forms and processes to organize their society. Politics will always be a messy business and an attraction to both noble folks as well as the base. So, I guess I am not as discouraged about politics as you are.

    As for Sarah Palin, if she resigned because she and her family concluded she couldn’t do justice to both career and family, I applaud her. If she uses that argument but then turns to seeking higher office, well, I’m not as impressed.

  9. Mark,

    It may seem as if I am discouraged towards politics but I am not. I am discouraged by most politicians but not all. I have been helped by a couple of politicians where I am at in the past when I was overseas and I will vote for those politicians again. Some offered no help and thankfully they are no longer in office. I am discouraged by political parties as I see that they are ussually concerned with winning and beating the other party and not so concerned about what is best for everyone as a whole.

  10. Unlike most of my left-of-center comrades, I don’t have a visceral dislike for Palin (at least in the form she was ushered onto the main stage). I think she is (perhaps was) an instinctual politician and that is so very rare in this day and age when most poll whether or not they should ask for paper or plastic at the grocery store.

    If she remains (or perhaps returns to being) authentic, she will make a mark if not in elected office, then as part of the chattering class. I believe she suffered from “over-prep” by the McCain team and part of that stems from McCain not really knowing himself at a base level.

    One may or may not like or agree with former Governor Palin, but she “is who she is.” She does not appear to be manufactured like many who share similar views.

  11. As an edit, I wanted to add to my last sentence and make it clear that manufactured candidates populate both the left and right. My sentence structure may have made it appear I was contending this wasn’t a problem on the left.

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