Saturday, July 04, 2009

Sarah Palin: Not Politics as Usual

I'd like to suggest that if you have not actually listened to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's resignation speech, you owe it to yourself do so here.

I have listened to it twice, clear through, and I'm having trouble reconciling what my eyes saw and my ears heard with national press reports of an "often rambling" speech. I had no trouble following it. She stumbled over one word and, yes, she did attribute the "we're advancing in another direction" quote incorrectly to Gen. Douglas MacArthur. But otherwise, her 18 minute speech (admirably short for a politician) seemed to flow from thought to thought just fine. I'm mystified that the speech could provoke responses like this from NY Times columnist Gail Collins.

Lest you think I'm just a bitter conservative Republican and Sarah supporter still licking my wounds after the loss last November, let me make clear that I am currently (but provisionally) a supporter of President Obama's economic and foreign policies. I think Mr. Obama is doing about as well as one could, given the hands he was dealt, economically and politically. I do not want him to fail. I don't believe, as Ms. Palin suggested in her speech, that a "Big Government takeover" is afoot.

Further, I voted for Mr. Obama. I do not believe that Mr. McCain's selection of Governor Palin as a running mate was a wise choice. Ms. Palin's subsequent appearances on public affairs programs made it pretty clear that she was not prepared to deal with U.S. foreign policy challenges. In fact, I determined to vote for Mr. Obama, in largeg part, because I believe that Mr. McCain's hasty choice of Ms. Palin was in character for a fighter pilot, maybe, but decidedly not the best trait in an aspiring leader of the Free World. The choice deserved greater deliberation. It was not in his own or our country's best interests to make such a choice rashly. Nor was it in Ms. Palin's best interests, as subsequent events demonstrated.

But that said, I certainly don't blame her for Mr. McCain's poor choice. I do think, however, that she would have been wise to quietly refuse the offer and wait for a better time when she was more seasoned and better prepared to take on the responsibility. Her resignation speech, therefore, indicates to me that she has, in fact, become wiser. She seems to me to be eminently in possession of her senses — especially the sense most often lost when one goes into politics: common sense. Her desire not to play the "lame duck" seems in character to me. Her acceptance of the fact that her unwelcome notoriety has made it difficult to govern effectively seems pretty clear-headed. She sees no point in "beating her head against the wall." I'd say that's quite a sane contrast to, say, Rod Blagojevich, for example?

The reaction in the press, nationally, to Ms. Palin's resignation speech says something quite uncomplimentary about the Fourth Estate, those who claim to uphold "the people's right to know." The reports of Ms. Palin's speech today from the self-proclaimed guardians of truth are hardly in line with that commitment.

And let me be very clear: I have no desire to deliver, here, a diatribe about the "liberal press." Journalists of all stripes — liberal and conservative — are abandoning even the pretense to objectivity. There's plenty of blame to share around. As a managing editor of two trade publications (a job on which most "legitimate" news hounds would look down their noses), I find this desertion of reporting in favor of propagandizing both objectionable on ethical grounds and dangerous to our country's future. It is precisely the sort of "news" that the government-run outlets in Iran are currently dispensing. If someone on my writing staff similarly misrepresented the facts in a story submitted to me, they'd be looking for another job.

Her comment about the devastation that the "politics of personal destruction" has caused both for the Alaskan government and for her family was poignant: The David Letterman incident should have been enough to convince anyone that she's been the target of it. One need only imagine how long Mr. Letterman would have retained his job had he made an offensive comment about Malia, Mr. Obama's daughter.

I remember thinking, "Be smart, don't react to it. Don't give Letterman's obscenely cruel and disgusting joke more publicity by responding to it. It'll just egg him on. Just let it pass." But that was the man in me talking. That was the politician in me talking. Against my advice, Ms. Palin faced the jerk down. She didn't give up. She demanded, and got, an apology. That's what you'd expect a mom would do. That's what a real person, not a cardboard cutout, would do.

My reaction to the incident says something quite uncomplimentary about me, not her.

So far, Ms. Palin's personal life stands in sharp contrast to that of other Republican governors and aspiring presidential candidates Sanford and Ensign, whose recently exposed adulterous affairs flatly contradict their public "family values" personae. (The latter's fall is particularly disheartening to conservatives, because in a savage irony, he was a leading figure in Promise Keepers, an evangelical Christian organization that encourages men to be faithful husbands and fathers.)

Against the backdrop of Gov. Sanford's refusal to hear the calls for his resignation, the pundits are wondering why Ms. Palin would voluntarily resign and take such as risk with her political future. One commentator speculated, in fact, that her resignation could be attempt to pre-empt an impending "revelation of wrongdoing." But Ms. Palin is not, and never claimed to be, merely a politician. She said in her speech that faith and family are foremost. It's entirely possible that the answer is as simple as this: Unlike Gov. Ensign, Gov. Palin is determined to keep her promises.

Ms. Palin should not be confused with the hypocritical Ensigns and Sanfords, the noisy, narcissistic Limbaughs and the rest of the rudderless Republican party leadership. She, not they, best represents that working-class neighborhood, just off Main Street, where ordinary moms and dads work hard for increasingly little pay, but pay their taxes anyway; go to church and then actually try (though they sometimes fail) to live up to what they hear there; vote proudly (not cynically or not at all) and willingly send a disproportionate share of their sons and now their daughters off to fight this country's battles. She speaks the language of a demographic group for which the elite, the rich, the connected, the Wall Street players of both political parties have little respect and have been profoundly unwise to pay lip service to and then ignore.

Whatever you think about Ms. Palin's stance on the sanctity of human life, that stand is credible and admirable in its consistency: Her acceptance and love for Trig, her son recently born with Down's Syndrome, and her continuing public support and love for her daughter — despite the obvious difficulty her unwed pregnancy presented for a woman who was running on a conservative agenda — are worthy of respect, not derision.

"I never believed that a person needs a title to make a difference." With those words, Sarah Palin steps down as Alaska's governor and becomes a private citizen again. I suspect that time will show that she's right about titles. It's very unlikely that she'll disappear from the public eye.

Apathetic, she's not. And she's advancing in a different direction. Whether that direction is the right one, for her, for the G.O.P. or for the country she says she loves, is not easy to discern. Whether Main Streeters will follow her, history will decide. Who knows? I wouldn't count out Ms. Palin as a third-party candidate. It's not unprecedented in U.S. history. And times like these are very fertile ground for that kind of political upheaval.

At the politically youthful age of 45, time is definitely on her side. And next time, if there is a title to which she aspires, I bet she'll be prepared. If she succeeds in making a difference, we might even see an end to what she so rightly derides as "politics as usual."