Saturday, July 4, 2009

Palin's resignation

Sarah Palin's recent announcement that she will retire as Alaska's governor points to both her own delusions about politics and the weakness of the Republican party nationally.

Without her selection, in despiration, by John McCain as her running-mate in 2008, she would have continued relatively unrecognized as a parochial governor who owed her election to factors totally unrelated to issues of long-term importance to either Alaska or the country. Her election as mayor of Wasilla was due to her raising of social and partisan issues in an election that had traditionally been what most mayoral elections are about: the running of city government and constituent services. At the time of this election, and her later election as governor, Alaskans were living in the never-never land of fortuitous oil revenue. To her credit, she was able to make oil companies pay out large chunks of money for the privilege of making huger sums from Alaskan oil. Of course, they got back their investment in spades both from these oil revenues and from her and her party's enthusiastic advocacy of "drill baby drill."

As governor, Palin continued, until the recent Republican recession, to live off the belief that she was responsible for Alaska's prosperity. A variation of Texan Jim Hightower's famous quote certainly applies here: (She) was born on third base and (everyone) thinks (s)he hit a triple. (Sometimes attributed to Ann Richards of Texas.)

Now that times are tough, even in Alaska, and call for someone with knowledge, imagination, and real political astuteness, Mrs. Palin's deficiences are all too apparent. Even to Alaskans it is becoming clear that she and her husband have treated Alaska as a personal fiefdom and political base, and have actually little to offer programatically. This alone provides proximate cause for her resignation.

So, does Sarah Palin have a national political future? Almost certainly a very limited one. The Republican party has a very loud, unified, and stubborn group which clings to backwards-looking social policies, and failed economic ones. Given control of both houses of congress and the presidency, and a slinking, cowardly opposition party, they have produced an economic disaster unequalled since the Great Depression. The demographics are against them -- even earlier than pundits had anticipated. Yet, like the Bourbons of the 18th century, they have learned nothing and forget nothing. This is Palin's natural constituency. If she intends to continue in national politics, she may very well count on them for support. But that's it.

As we have seen during and after the 2008 election, Palin can be a tremendous embarrassment outside this cohesive but small group. Americans are not big advocates these days about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; dealing with Russia from Alaska's waterfront is discredited; gay marriage is rapidly becoming a non-issue except to the hardcore religious right (with hetero marriage sinking of it's own weight among legislators); "Abstinence Only" sex ed is laughable when uttered on the same breath as "Palin."

Rush Limbaugh is a paper-tiger drug-addict bully to those outside his ditto-head followers; Newt Gingrich is a serially adulterous failed political insider. Palin could join them in a dream triumvirate on talk radio. Maybe Pat Robertson, who blamed the 9/11 attacks on American immorality, could make it an even foursome. Might that be Palin's secret desire?

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