Yesterday started out much as could be expected. Tiger Woods grabbed the lead in the second round of a PGA tour event. And his good friend Roger Federer won yet another semifinal match at Wimbledon. Ho hum.
But then came the freak show. Sarah Palin, Red-America’s Sweetheart, announced that she was quitting her post as the Governor of Alaska. Depending upon your perspective, she did so either by offering many explanations for her decision (that’s the way she would characterize her speech) or none at all. Personally, I would opt for the latter characterization.
My older daughter was inclined to believe that Palin quit her job so that she could spend more time with her family. My first reaction was quite different; I figured she did it so she could cash in on her celebrity as soon as possible. Some are speculating that the job has simply been getting too difficult for her and she wants out before her standing in Alaska plummets even further. Still others figure that she’s about to be the subject of a huge political scandal, and she’s doesn’t want to be the Governor when that happens. And then there’s the rumor that she’s pregnant again.
Let’s face it. Since Palin didn’t bother to sell any particular explanation for her decision, she’s left us to our own cynicism. Palin’s speech was incoherent (not to mention grammatically atrocious), and it contained little more than an assortment of kvetches about her current plight. If she were trying to convince us that her life isn’t perfect, she did a decent job. If she were trying to explain to us why she was leaving her job, she failed miserably.
Truth be told, despite her complaints, Palin didn’t come across as a whiner. She had that same spunky, prideful delivery that we’ve come to expect from her ever since the Republican National Convention. Perhaps the highpoint of her delivery – and her speech – was when she compared herself to a point guard, dribbling the ball through a full-court press until finally seizing the perfect opportunity to pass it, and thereby allow her team to score. Ironically, though, it isn’t Magic Johnson that she seems to be emulating, but Roberto Duran. And I’m speaking of the “No Mas” Duran, the one who waved his glove in the direction of Sugar Ray Leonard and said, in essence, “Since I can’t win, I quit!” Duran’s reputation never survived that fight. The question is, will Palin’s survive yesterday’s speech? I can’t answer that question any more than I can explain her decision to quit.
Whenever I think about Sarah Palin, I always get back to the adage that “no one’s ever gone broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” At one point, it sounded like hyperbole. But after we re-elected George W. Bush for the world’s most powerful job, you’d have to say the adage has been confirmed. If, indeed, American voters aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, I would argue that Sarah Palin is an EXTREMELY dangerous figure. She’s highly attractive. Self-confident. Energetic. Ambitious as hell. And she’s the quintessential demagogue, whose arguments invariably lack sophistication and who is willing to say anything to get ahead. That was drummed home when she mocked community organizers in her convention speech; to me, that’s like mocking school teachers or social workers. It’s something a classy politician would never do. But you don’t need to be classy to be elected President. See, e.g., George W. Bush.
Until yesterday, Palin was one of, if not THE, most popular politician in the nation among conservative Republicans. She was seen as someone who had the guts to take on the Washington establishment and tell-it-like-it-is, kind of like Ronald Reagan. The thing is, though, Reagan finished out two terms as Governor of the State of California, whereas Palin has now quit midway through her first term as Governor of Alaska. She might be as conservative as Reagan and have the Gipper’s sense of the dramatic. She might even remind us of Reagan’s willingness to buck conventional wisdom. But that’s where the parallels end. Reagan was a fighter, not a quitter. And when he ran for President, he did so as an experienced politician who could run on his record, not from it. If and when Palin seeks the Presidency, and my bet is she will, she’ll have to explain why, when her popularity was at an all-time-low in her state, she decided to call it a day. That doesn’t sound to me like Reagan.
It is tempting to see Palin’s “No Mas” as her own version of Chappaquiddick – not such a big deal that it prevents a politician from winning a Senate seat, but enough to serve as a disqualification for the White House. Intellectually, that’s probably how I see the situation at the moment. But emotionally, I remain quite scared of what this woman can do to my country if she ever matures as a politician. I haven’t forgotten that for a week or two, she single-handedly catapulted an old fossil ahead of the most gifted politician I have seen in my lifetime. And I also haven’t forgotten how much the American political pendulum tends to swing every decade or two. Palin is still young, and my guess is that in eight years, she’ll still be attractive. If she’s shrewd, she’ll also be much better prepared to answer policy questions. Remember, Americans don’t demand perfection in that area; it’s strictly a pass-fail test, and as Bush demonstrated, a Gentleman’s C is a passing grade.
In short, for those of us who think that the combination of Sarah Palin and the American electorate is a potentially toxic mix, we received a boost yesterday. From the moment her bid for the Presidency is announced, millions of Americans will be asking the same question: if Palin quit on her state, isn’t it reasonable to assume that she’d quit on her country? But before anyone writes her political obituary, think about the millions of OTHER Americans who fell in love with Palin last summer and have been giving her the benefit of the doubt ever since. In 2016, she will have surely perfected her excuse for yesterday’s speech. She will also be older and wiser than the Palin that took this country by storm last August. And most importantly, she will surely be every bit as much of a demagogue. Personally, I plan on continuing to take this woman as a very serious threat for the Republican nomination. Given what has now been proven about the intelligence of the American public, more than a little vigilance is in order.