Wednesday, July 8, 2009

In Memoriam: Sarah Palin's Presidential Aspirations 2008-2009

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Done and done. While she may have moved on to one exclusive club, Sarah Palin has taken her name out of consideration for another. I will publicly bet my balls right here and right now (albeit on a blog no one reads) that Sarah Palin will never be President of the United States of America, not 2012, not ever.

Of course, since her national debut a myriad of reasons slowly appeared why she shouldn't be president but her resignation on Friday is definitively why she won't - no way, no how.

When you look back at Palin's political career (namely her election as Governor of Alaska until she quit) and her love of sports metaphors, it's hard not to see her as a a promising minor league baseball player gone bust. As many Republicans have insisted and Democrats have accepted - she connects with people, albeit a small and apparently shrinking segment of the population, but people nonetheless. For all the Republican attacks on Obama for being more style than substance, for being more of a celebrity than a politician, this is exactly Palin's appeal. That's not a knock on Palin, just like it shouldn't have been a knock on Obama; it's what gave her endless potential. People were excited about her.

Like a young minor leaguer batting .400 (or in Palin's case in June 2007, .930) some fans wanted to bring her up. Unfortunately, the GM of the Republican party decided to bring her up to meet an immediate need, despite having several suitable candidates. It wasn't terrible at first. In fact, she hit a homerun in her first at bat. But then she saw her first curveball (although that was really more of a softball); then she started to look over matched; and then she looked out of her league against a crafty but less than stellar veteran. Then, on November 5, 2008 Palin was sent back down to the minors.

One would have hoped that she would have used the time to hone her skills, maybe change her approach (all joking aside, a few courses in national or international politics or even a subscription to The Economist could have gone a long way to making her seem more competent - not presidential competent, but getting warmer). Instead she kept swinging for the fences, looking more and more inept. Then decided to quit Single A and go to the independent league never to return to the majors again. End lame (but apropos?) sports metaphor.

There are several reasons this decision is her political death knell. The few reasons I have noted and will discuss below can basically be grouped together as "brand damaging" or "narrative destroying". Generally speaking, branding in politics is aimed at independents because partisans will either hate you despite you curing cancer or love you despite you slaughtering a nun.

1. She is a Quitter - that's probably not an altogether fair label, but that is how it's generally being reported (you know it's bad when you're a leading Republican and Fox News is reporting you as a quitter). As some on the right have noted, lots of politicians step down to seek higher office. But for reasons that should be clear with my subsequent points, this is slightly different. While this hasn't seemed to effect her support among her base, I can't imagine independents being able to overlook this debacle.

2. Being Governor = Her Experience - that is to say, during the campaign Palin's big plus (aside from her innate ability to connect with the Republican base) was that she had executive experience. This was of course true [although somewhat laughable because a) McCain didn't have executive experience either; b) I couldn't stop imagining how Rudy Giuliani would have chortled at her had she been around for the primaries - NYC has 10x the population of Alaska; and in a similar vein c) the Town of Hempstead on Long Island is bigger in population]. Now, I'm not sure she could use the experience label without having the "quitter" label immediately thrown right back at her. In short, she'll have a hard time touting her executive experience and will probably have to avoid it; avoiding it gives her almost no leg to stand on.

It's also, perhaps paradoxically, suggesting that her experience, as Democrats had suggested (like I did above) wasn't all that impressive to begin with. For me, this was highlighted in the always disingenuous Ann Coulter's explanation of Palin's exit. In her explanation she suggests that the job is now beneath Palin. Which is probably true. But it also contains this little gem "she’s too big to be a lame-duck governor stuck dealing with fishing licenses in Anchorage right now." I don't know if even the worst liberal pundits went that far in degrading the Alaskan governorship - just cold dealing with fishing licenses.

3. It looks terrible on her resume - A lot was made of comparing McCain and Obama's resumes, particularly among Republicans. This was, of course, a good strategy for Republicans because McCain's resume was, on its face, much better than Obama's. Giuliani effectively highlighted this at the RNC. Of course, there's a lot more to getting a job than your resume, namely an interview which can often make or break you. This was one of Obama's major strengths. He handled the interview with poise and steadiness and was able to answer the tough questions.

Fast forward to Palin's future interview. What are the first questions you get asked about your job history? 1) Why did you leave this job?; and 2) what did you between this job and that job? Now, the latter question is unwritten (there's still time to cure cancer!) but the former is set in stone. Her resignation speech, that rambling, incoherent, sports metaphor laden clusterfuck was essentially her answer to that question. She basically told her potential boss she needed time to clear her mind and find herself - at age 45.

I think the really damaging thing about the speech is what she appears to be running with - that she didn't want to be a lame duck. Behold:

"And so as I thought about this announcement that I wouldn't run for re-election and what it means for Alaska, I thought about how much fun some governors have as lame ducks... travel around the state, to the Lower 48 (maybe), overseas on international trade - as so many politicians do. And then I thought - that's what's wrong - many just accept that lame duck status, hit the road, draw the paycheck, and "milk it". I'm not putting Alaska through that - I promised efficiencies and effectiveness! ? That's not how I am wired. I am not wired to operate under the same old "politics as usual." I promised that four years ago - and I meant it."

If I'm her potential boss I ask her point blank - why the fuck didn't you just finish your job? It's not like you had to travel, draw the paycheck and milk it. You could have just... done. your. job. I get that politicians generally do 'milk it' (and it's admirable she doesn't want to do that) but that doesn't mean you have to quit your fuckin' job to not do those things, just don't do them.

4. Palin being Palin - For her supporters this is a great thing - she's a maverick after all. But for her detractors and more importantly to independents, I suspect this decision looks unstable both in her choice to resign and in its clumsy execution.

Palin had promise. She's a vibrant and galvanizing figure. Among her base, she inspires the equivalent of Obamamania. The major difference between her and Obama (aside from just about every major political position) is that she hasn't been able to attract independents and pick off Liberals (the way Obama picked off several notable Republicans). For the reasons I cite above this inability is now irrevocable, permanent and politically fatal.

In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.

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