It's hard to be neutral about Sarah Palin; in fact, I don't know anyone who is. And it's hard to find someone who really understands what led to Friday's shocker in which she announced her resignation as governor of Alaska.
It was not unexpected to hear her say she wouldn't seek re-election in 2010. That made sense, as her numbers had drastically fallen back home since she was selected last summer as John McCain's running mate. Plus, she had been feuding with state lawmakers, the budget is in turmoil, and she has gone through the wringer with assorted investigations into her activities (many of them, to be honest, were politically motivated).
While Govs. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were elected president while still in office, the norm is to be a non-incumbent if you're seeking the White House. Ronald Reagan could have, but decided not to, run for a third term in California in 1974, probably to prepare for a 1976 presidential bid. Mitt Romney opted out of a re-election bid in Massachusetts in 2006 to seek the presidency in 2008. Minnesota's Tim Pawlenty is doing the same in 2010 for presumably similar reasons. (For the record, Govs. Jimmy Carter and Mike Huckabee left office because of term limits.)
But none went so far as to quit in the middle of their term, as Palin is doing (effective July 26). And no one is really sure why.
If she is doing it because she's had enough of the carping, the ridicule, the finger-pointing ... well, that's completely understandable. I don't know how anyone can endure such derision, regardless of how much of it may have been her fault. From the moment she was picked to run for VP, there were ugly innuendoes out there, starting with the reprehensible e-mail whispering campaign that Palin's son Trig was really the child of Sarah's daughter Bristol.
But as the presidential general election campaign developed, Sarah Palin did herself, and her party, few favors. She seemed way out of her element in interviews with network TV anchors, notably CBS' Katie Couric. In her debate with Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, while she may or may not have held her own -- or surpassed expectations -- watching her decide which questions she would answer was unconventional, to say the least.
(See: "Will The Running Mates Matter This Year?" Political Junkie, Sept. 10, 2008; "Palin Moved the Electoral Map, But For How Long?" Political Junkie, Sept. 17, 2008.)
In my view, nothing was going to save the Republican ticket in 2008. Not with the economy in free fall, Iraq looking hopeless and President Bush more unpopular than ever. For all the criticism that Palin was just unprepared for the big stage, let's face it, when McCain announced in September he would suspend his campaign and postpone his debate with Barack Obama because of the nation's economic crisis -- well, that didn't say much for all his years of experience and know-how either.
So we can fault her all we want. But to say she was the reason McCain went down to defeat is laughable.
The post-election finger-pointing in the GOP has gone on far longer than I thought it would. The McCain people blamed Palin; those loyal to the Alaska governor blamed McCain's handlers.
And that wasn't the end of it.
The will she/won't she controversy about her appearance at a Washington GOP fundraiser earlier this year seemed, at least to me, to be much ado about nothing. But it showed a lack of political smarts from someone who was widely seen as preparing for a run for the White House in 2012.
And that takes us to last Friday, where -- unbeknownst to her political allies, including Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell -- she announced she is quitting.
Everyone and his brother has theories about what this portends for Palin's future. The immediate verdict was that it's to prepare for 2012. I'm not in that crowd. Quitting on the people who elected you so you can run for another office is just not the way to do it. But if she's leaving to make money, to pay for lawsuits, and to support her family, that is completely understandable. We just don't have the answers yet.
While everyone has had his say, here are some opinions I thought made the most sense:
Ross Douthat, New York Times:
Last Friday's bizarre, rambling resignation speech should take her off the political map for the duration of the Obama era.
One hopes that was intentional. A Sarah Palin who stepped down for the sake of her family and her media-swarmed state deserves sympathy even from the millions of Americans who despise her. A Sarah Palin who resigned in the delusional belief that it would give her a better shot at the presidency in 2012 warrants no such kindness. ...
Here are lessons of the Sarah Palin experience, for any aspiring politician who shares her background and her sex. Your children will go through the tabloid wringer. Your religion will be mocked and misrepresented. Your political record will be distorted, to better parody your family and your faith. (And no, gentle reader, Palin did not insist on abstinence-only sex education, slash funds for special-needs children or inject creationism into public schools.)
Male commentators will attack you for parading your children. Female commentators will attack you for not staying home with them. You'll be sneered at for how you talk and how many colleges you attended. You'll endure gibes about your "slutty" looks and your "white trash concupiscence," while a prominent female academic declares that your "greatest hypocrisy" is the "pretense" that you're a woman. And eight months after the election, the professionals who pressed you into the service of a gimmicky, dreary, idea-free campaign will still be blaming you for their defeat. ...
Sarah Palin is beloved by millions because her rise suggested, however temporarily, that the old American aphorism about how anyone can grow up to be president might actually be true.
But her unhappy sojourn on the national stage has had a different moral: Don't even think about it.
Sam Tanenhaus, New York Times:
The announcement by the freelancing politician may be the best example yet of the striking transformation in the current Republican Party. Only a few years ago, the party was considered a model of lockstep discipline with around-the-clock message control and seamless coordination of policy and politics. But from all appearances, it has entered a period of inner confusion, verging on the dysfunctional. ...
Still, Ms. Palin was a galvanizing force and continues to outdo all other Republicans in exciting the party's base. On Friday, it was even possible to see how her decision to exit the governorship could actually strengthen her populist, anti-government theme -- and place her in the tradition of previous conservative leaders who have presented themselves not merely as professional politicians but as leaders of a movement. ...
At a time of prolonged anxiety and uncertainty -- which increased last week when dispiriting unemployment figures were released for June -- the G.O.P. has added unexpected spice to American politics. But they seem to have done it by forgetting the lessons they once knew so well.
Steven DeMaio, blogging in Harvard Business Publishing:
Beyond the basic publicity blunders Palin made (e.g., her spokesperson was on vacation in New York while the announcement was delivered in Alaska), the governor's departing speech was rife with errors of judgment. Every quitter, famous or not, can learn from her mistakes, particularly if you're resigning from a position of leadership.
Palin made blaming others a centerpiece of her announcement. Justified as her claims of unfair treatment -- especially by the media -- might be, better to save them for a forthcoming book rather than air them at a moment when classiness would earn a lot more respect. Whining doesn't make for a very mellifluous swan song.
She gave in to the temptation to grandstand. Palin asserted, over and over, the nobleness of her decision to resign right away rather than have Alaskans endure a lame duck governorship. Had there been deference and humility in the assertion, she might have carried it off. Instead, she cast it as the greatest of gifts from a selfless leader to her people. People don't have the stomach for grandeur when you're bailing out on them. ...
She was neither transparent nor coherent. For a public figure, complete transparency about every dimension of a decision to resign is not always possible. But what you do share should be clear. The parts of Palin's speech that focused on her reasons for leaving were so illogically structured and delivered that the central explanation remained elusive. A resignation is about as important a time as any to meticulously prepare your remarks, no matter how high or low your office.
Howard Kurtz, Washington Post:
Is there something more to Palin's stunning decision? A reality show or Fox punditry perch in the offing? It's too early to tell, but it's likely that Palin simply got tired of the ritual media humiliations, along with the mundane reality of governing. It was only three weeks ago that she called David Letterman "pathetic" for telling an insensitive joke about her daughter getting "knocked up" by New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez.
The Palin soap opera became so embedded in the popular culture that it spawned its own set of subplots: her daughter Bristol's pregnancy, Bristol's breakup with boyfriend Levi Johnston, their dueling morning-show appearances, and the governor turning on the young man she once said would marry her daughter, accusing him of "flat-out lies, gross exaggeration and even distortion of their relationship." And there was Palin firing the state public safety commissioner, who had resisted pressure to dismiss a trooper who happened to be embroiled in a bitter divorce and custody battle with the governor's sister.
It is easy to forget what a fresh and charismatic figure she seemed at September's Republican convention. It is more difficult to forget the media overkill as some journalists flirted with sexism, questioning how she could juggle the vice presidency and five kids, including an infant with Down syndrome.
But the McCain brain trust shielded her from the press, and by the time she was refusing to tell Couric a single newspaper or magazine she read, and could not name a single Supreme Court ruling other than Roe v. Wade, Palin became a punch line, even when she showed she could laugh at herself on "Saturday Night Live." ...
Even by the standards of American insta-fame, Palin's roller-coaster ride was breathtaking. Plucked from obscurity by McCain, she practically hijacked the fall campaign, soared so high, plummeted so low, and wound up defending why the GOP had been charged for $150,000 worth of clothing and accessories. "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus," an "aide," unnamed as always, huffed to Newsweek.
Adam Nagourney, New York Times:
If some of her supporters are correct in surmising what she is doing -- turning full time to preparing herself, after a tough year, for a presidential campaign in 2012 -- it represents a huge gamble, even by the standards of a politician whose short career has been shaped by huge gambles....
She is viewed disparagingly by many of the elites in her party, no matter how many conservative Republicans have flocked to her. She has grown increasingly unpopular in her own state and nationally; 43 percent of respondents questioned nationally in a CNN Poll in May viewed her unfavorably, compared with 21 percent shortly after Senator John McCain of Arizona chose her as his running mate last August. ...
If one of Ms. Palin's goals was to erase the perception of her as flighty, a perception encouraged by some McCain lieutenants in the rough aftermath of the failed campaign, it certainly could not have been helped to have staged an out-of-the-blue announcement that shocked even her closest aides and whose theatrics probably tempted Tina Fey and the "Saturday Night Live" production crew to abandon their vacations and head to the studio. ...
And if another of Ms. Palin's goals was, as she suggested, to put an end to the rush of what she described as hectoring investigations from the news media, the sheer frenzy of the reaction to her decision was a reminder of how difficult that might prove to be. Even her lawyer put out a statement late Saturday denying what he called "false and defamatory allegations" that her resignation stemmed from a criminal investigation.
It is unclear precisely what Ms. Palin intends to do. The assumption, given her remarks and record over the past year, is that she sees an opportunity now, with the ranks of potential Republican presidential candidates so depleted. ...
Her move may play well with her strongest supporters, but her political instincts and stability were once again being questioned in other circles of the party, which had already been wary of her after the election last year. That is hardly a development Ms. Palin could welcome as her party looks for a candidate who can endure what could be a very tough race in 2012.
Doug Heye, writing in The Hill:
Complicating Palin's announcement, should she decide to run for president, is that the ads criticizing her decision to resign as governor almost write themselves. She will be accused, as she already has been, of abandoning her state, failing to live up to her oath of office and blinking when the pressure was too much (think of this as the 3 a.m.-phone-call criticism). Her opponents will rightly ask how, if Palin couldn't stand up to Vanity Fair, The New York Times, Katie Couric or the Juneau Empire, she could stand up to Hugo Chavez or Kim Jong-il. Also expect to see repeated use of a quote from last year where Palin said Hillary Clinton should "plow through" and that "any perceived whine ... doesn't do us any good." Should Palin run, she will be asked why she failed to follow her own advice. They're fair questions.