On Friday, Alaskan Governor and former VP hopeful, Sarah Palin announced her decision to reign as Governor and seek reform from outside government. Among the key points of her convoluted goodbye speech, were:
- the crafting of herself as a real independent
- increased reference to herself as a Washington outsider (replacing that language with sports metaphors)
- once again crafting herself as a victim of people more interested in politics than “the people”
- and an overall message of “the people” vs. “the government” and political parties
While many are marveling at her decision as an as yet undetermined skeleton dodger, I wonder if they were really listening to the Governor. While her speech was full of non-sequiturs and mixed metaphors we’ve come to know as Palinisms, it was also very clear about what she wants and why. Put simply: Palin believes that her best shot at the White House is by continuing the “maverick” thread of the failed 2008 campaign and appealing to her base supporters who see themselves as victims of government and political parties, forgotten outsiders whose voices are reflected by no one, and who believe in her Hockey Mom defender of differently-abled and girl children rhetoric. It is, as some say in the SW, Palin’s attempt to permanently craft herself as an “us’n.” And as an us’n she has popular appeal in Alaska and in middle America.
She also made it clear that existing complaints about the Palins at both the state and national level had already left the Palin family with $500,000 of legal bills to clear up. Her announcement also comes on the back of leaks of personal emails the day before that show ethical concerns in her handling of her husband’s political affiliations AND amidst the Gov Sanford fiasco which has ruined his presidential aspirations. There are also concerns about Palin’s consistent absences from Alaska that many feel are not in the best interest of the state, echoing questions about Sanford’s absence and similar questions that nearly cost Gov. Richards re-election in NM. Looking at Palin’s career through the lens of these events provides some context for her decision. Some believe Palin also had an affair and having that rumor revisited during the Sanford debacle and while she is riding high on her crusade against “big media” using her children to get at her, would be a disaster. Gov Sanford’s problems are actually a very good test case from which Palin is likely measuring her own ability to be successful in the Governership as she has been absent a considerable part of this session touring for the Republican party, going to non-political but very public events with her family, and otherwise engaging the “lower 48” on Alaska’s time. If someone were to ask the same questions that are being asked of Sanford in S.C., ie was tax payers’ money spent on non-government related expenses, were vacations taken on tax payer time, etc. coupled with questions of how effective a governor she is when she is often not in Alaska, similar questions raised about Gov Richards, Palin’s record might not stand up. With national members of the Republican party closing ranks publicly against her and the media raking over every foible, she would likely not survive the scandals these other Governors have; as a woman in leadership with her eyes on the White House, her chances are even more slim. Since her emails are starting to be leaked to the press, she may also be trying to avoid the leaking of additional emails with secrets we may not yet know, but there is more than enough already out there to justify her decision if you look at it through the dual lens presented here and her previous decision-making skills.
So I say, stop speculating, chalk up Palin’s so-called “crazy behavior” to a basic understanding of what her campaign can and cannot withstand and the ways her constituents see themselves and Washington. While I don’t think most of us would vote for someone whose only major appointment ended with them voluntarily leaving office 1.5 years before the appointment was over while condemning the government, I don’t think any of us are thinking like the people who showed up in droves at her rallies. For them, this move is probably exactly the kind of “maverick” behavior they applaud.