By Eugene Robinson
What can you say about a public official who ridicules those who would take the “quitter’s way out”—as she faces reporters to announce that she’s quitting? A governor who claims that “the worthless, easy path” would be to serve out the remaining 18 months of her term? An ambitious politician who says that “life is too short” to worry about, you know, boring things such as responsibility or duty?
You can say that all of us who ever took Sarah Palin seriously—or pretended to take her seriously—should be deeply ashamed. And you can say that John McCain should publicly apologize for putting the nation he loves at risk by choosing Palin as his running mate. Imagining Palin within a heartbeat of the presidency should be enough to make even die-hard Republicans shudder.
The reasons she gave for stepping down are not just contrived or implausible but literally nonsensical. She can most effectively serve the people of Alaska by ceasing to exercise the powers of chief executive? She worries that as a lame duck she would somehow be compelled to waste taxpayer money on useless junkets? In her “Don’t Cry for Me, Alaska” news conference announcing her departure, the folksy non sequiturs—“Only dead fish go with the flow”—were like nuggets of Cartesian logic amid a tub of mush.
But I’m stating the obvious. The thing is, Palin’s unsuitability for high public office has been obvious all along. Tina Fey got it right; the rest of us were far too reluctant to state plainly that the emperor, or empress, had no clothes.
There are basically two reasons why the political class and the commentariat continue to speak and write about Palin as if she were a substantial figure whose presence on the national stage is anything but a cruel, unfunny joke. The first is fear—not of Palin and her know-nothing legions, but of being painted as elitist and sexist.
From the beginning, Palin has been a master at maneuvering her critics into this trap. Like most Americans, she didn’t go to an Ivy League school; like most women, she deals every day with the challenges of juggling work and family. She highlighted these aspects of her biography, then used them to portray herself as a victim whenever anyone had the temerity to criticize anything she said or did. The most recent illustration is what she posted on her Facebook page last weekend on the reaction to her announced resignation:
“How sad that Washington and the media will never understand; it’s about country. And though it’s honorable for countless others to leave their positions for a higher calling and without finishing a term, of course we know by now, for some reason a different standard applies for the decisions I make.”
What is she talking about? Who are these “countless others” who supposedly have made the same decision to abandon governorships for no credible reason? The names don’t come rushing to mind. Why is any criticism of Poor Little Sarah the result of the “different standard” that mean old “Washington and the media” always apply? Because blaming her favorite alleged persecutors allows her to ignore the bewildered reaction from her constituents in Alaska who are stunned and mystified at her decision to skip out.
The other reason why Palin is taken more seriously than she deserves is that she has a constituency. Heaven help us.
Palin has far-right conservative views, and while I disagree with her on almost everything, there’s certainly nothing inappropriate or illegitimate about her philosophy. But I feel sorry for conservatives who look to her as a champion, because she’s going to let them down. Articulating a political vision and inspiring people to believe in it are true accomplishments, and no one can take that away from her. But realizing that vision through legislation or executive action requires discipline, persistence and rigor. To return to stating the obvious, these are attributes that Palin lacks.
Anyone tempted to see her resignation gambit as a masterstroke, positioning her for a presidential run in 2012, is riding for a fall. She will flake out.
Sarah Palin is by nature more of a firebrand opinion-maker than anything else. I know one when I see one. She can deny it all she wants, but really she’s—gulp—one of us.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2009, Washington Post Writers Group