Sunday, July 26, 2009

Governor Palin Steps Down

I've never really been sure how I felt about Sarah Palin.

Granted, I had my doubts about putting a former mayor and a first–term governor a heartbeat away from the presidency (although it wouldn't exactly have been a first for America — that sounds a lot like Calvin Coolidge's political résumé when he ran in 1920).

But I also had my misgivings about making someone who spent much of his adult life working as a community organizer the 44th president of the United States. So when I went to the polls last fall, I voted for Ralph Nader and left the decision (which I had come to regard as a foregone conclusion, anyway) in the hands of others.

And, although I hope for his success, as I have mentioned here before, I feel that Barack Obama is a polarizing president. He evokes strong reactions in both his foes and his supporters.

But he isn't the only one.

The same, it seems to me, is true of Sarah Palin. Last year, everyone I knew had very definite ideas about Sarah Palin — more definite than the ideas I had about her. I thought she made some mistakes. I disagreed with her on some issues. But, when the election was over and members of the McCain–Palin campaign staff seemed intent on blaming her for their defeat, I thought she was being made a scapegoat. I felt the election was irretrievably lost when the economic meltdown occurred — and that was not Palin's fault.

Frankly, it has bothered me this year to see some (not all) Democrats trying to deflect criticism by attacking Palin. I think that kicking someone who is down is unseemly for winners.

That may seem a little inconsistent, since I have written in this blog that I think the Bush administration, which was much maligned in its final months in power, should be investigated. But, that, I think, is a different matter. George W. Bush held the presidency for eight years. Bush's actions and the actions of his subordinates directly contributed to the weak economy we have today and the poor image we have beyond our borders. An investigation is the only way to establish the mistakes that were made and on which levels so they can be prevented from happening again.

Palin, on the other hand, was not elected to federal office. She and John McCain lost by a wide margin. They were put in the unenviable position of having to defend a discredited incumbent from their own party. Guilt by association may not have been the only reason they lost, but it was way up there on the list.

Nevertheless, Palin is, as I said earlier, a polarizing politician, and I cannot think of anything that demonstrates it better than the reaction — from the left and the right — to her decision to resign.

In the last few weeks, as Palin has prepared to step down as governor of Alaska today, there has been much speculation about her plans. Will she write a book? The answer appears to be yes. Will she go on a speaking tour? At the moment, that seems likely but it is less certain. Is she planning to run for president in 2012? That one remains unanswered for now.

And many pundits have said that leaving office in the middle of her term will work against her if she is planning to ask first Republican voters and then voters in general to trust her with the presidency.

But leadership really is a funny thing in a democracy, isn't it? When you look at the men who have been president of the United States, the majority of them have been lawyers — but they've come from all walks of life. The man who today is regarded as the patron saint of the Republican Party spent much of his life prior to the presidency performing in movies. The man who was president before that had been a peanut farmer.

Career soldiers have become president on several occasions, but I think all of them rose above the level of enlisted men. My grandfather's favorite president had been a college professor. Both occupations require leadership skills, but they aren't often thought of as ones that will prepare you for the unique demands of the presidency.

But leadership is an intangible. What it comes down to, I guess, is whether enough people feel they can trust a person to handle whatever may come up in the next four years. And it's almost impossible to guess what the next four years may hold.

Well, normally that is the case. But I find it hard to believe that the candidates in last year's presidential election didn't realize that the economy and unemployment would play major roles in the next four years. So 2008 may have been an exception to the rule.

But to get back to my original point — do you suppose that, nine years ago, either Bush or Al Gore thought for one minute that terrorist attacks would dominate the agenda through nearly all of the four–year term they sought? If they ever entertained that notion for a second, it's a surprise to me. I don't recall either man mentioning terrorism in that campaign.

One thing that Bush and Gore had going for them in the 2000 campaign, though, was the fact that they were both officeholders. Gore had been vice president for nearly eight years. Bush had been governor of Texas for nearly six years.

It certainly seems to help a presidential candidate's prospects if he/she is holding an office when asking the voters for their support, but it isn't unheard of for someone to run for president while not holding office. Reagan had been out of office for several years when he was elected president. So had Richard Nixon. So had Carter. And many other out–of–office politicians have sought their parties' nominations over the years.

But if Palin does so, she will be the first one I am aware of who chose to resign her office rather than finish her term.

Maybe, if one is from Alaska and wishes to be nominated for president, it makes sense to shake the shackles that keep you in Alaska and prevent you from doing the things that can build important connections in the Lower 48.

That doesn't concern me as much, though, as her comments today regarding freedom of the press. She spoke highly of the concept of freedom of the press, then she slapped the media, telling reporters that her successor "has a very nice family, too, so leave his kids alone!"

Now, I am not defending the fact that Palin's family has been dragged into the public discourse. But, to be fair, I think her real argument is with David Letterman.

And it made me uncomfortable the way she allied herself with America's troops at the expense of the press. She scolded reporters in her farewell address: "How about, in honor of the American soldier, you quit making things up?"

Maybe it is my background in journalism that makes me feel this way, but I got a Nixonian impression from Palin's last speech as governor, a sort of a "This is my last press conference ..." sensation.

Well, back in '62, Nixon encouraged the press to "think about what you're going to be missing. You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore."

I don't think today was the end of anything for Palin — except her tenure as governor. I don't think we will be missing anything.

But if Palin wants to be president, she needs to learn — as Nixon never really did and his combative vice president, Spiro Agnew, certainly never did — that a cordial relationship with the press is preferable to an adversarial one.


sweets said...

You take a good step..

Del or Alice Patterson said...

Palin was a vapid and uninformed pseudo leader.
She constantly griped that the press hounded her children after she demanded that they make each one a poster child.
One child forced on us for the abstinence only program another for Down's Syndrome. She used them to push her agenda and then got piss off when the press dug a little deeper.

Truman said it best: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."