Sunday, July 5, 2009

Palin Kool-Aid

Apparently the cheap pink wine I tried for the first time Thursday night was actually Kool-Aid: Sarah Palin’s resignation speech makes sense to me. Of course, I read the whole thing. A lot of people who have written about it seem to have heard or read only the part that begins:

Some say things changed for me on August 29th last year – the day John McCain tapped me to be his running-mate – I say others changed.

By that point, you’ve already missed over a third of her speech and, more importantly, you’ve missed her primary argument for not running for re-election and for resigning. Here’s how I see it.

Palin’s speech begins with what sounds like a pretty standard political introduction - she’s proud of Alaska, it means the world to her, she’s humbled by the chance to serve. This introduction, however, presages her main point: Alaska is an important state, Alaskans need to understand that fact, Alaska has responsibilities to the United States as a whole.

Then Palin begins the meat of her argument: her Administration is doing well. She expands on that theme with a list of accomplishments. I believe it’s important and telling that most of her list is understandable only to Alaskans. A petroleum integrity office; Point Thomson; AGIA; ACES; the dairy business; her education initiatives; filling public safety positions; the new prison; even the Supreme Court decisions in Alaska’s favor: none of these are comprehensible to a national audience. She does get in the usual suspects - holding the line on government growth; opposing special interests on wildlife management; rejecting some stimulus money; cutting back on office perqs; turning down pay raises; the liberalism of the Ninth Circuit - but the bulk of her accomplishments are Alaska specific.

Then she reaches the linchpin of her speech:

But you don’t hear much of the good stuff in the press anymore, do you?

That’s her whole point right there: she has become a distraction, she stands between what Alaska is accomplishing and the media’s reporting of those accomplishments.

It’s here that she begins the part of the speech most people seem to have read or heard - or at least the part most people are talking and writing about:

Some say things changed for me on August 29th last year – the day John McCain tapped me to be his running-mate – I say others changed.

Let me speak to that for a minute.

She does so by detailing the impact the continuing “digging for dirt” has taken on Alaska’s time and money and on her own finances.

Palin then begins talking about choices and her speech becomes less straight line. Boiled down: she decided running for re-election was unproductive for her and for Alaskans; that she would be wasting her time and energy - and the State’s time and money - by re-upping for another term where she would simply spend herself fighting more of the same.

Palin now goes off on a tangent. The same logic - the desire not to waste her time and energy and the State’s time and money - would lead smoothly into her decision to resign. Instead, she wanders off into lame-duck land. I don’t know where that stupid duck came from. Maybe someone suggested to her that she should not run for re-election, collect her paycheck, and use gubernatorial junkets to raise her political profile and she was so horrified by the idea that she needed to rant about it. Maybe she was thinking about Mark Sanford - a lame-duck with a serious junket problem. Maybe she was just trying to up her cred as a maverick. Wherever that crippled “small aquatic bird of the family anatidae” came from, I wish it had stayed there.

At any rate, she staggers through lame-duck land then gets back on the logic train when she says:

My choice is to take a stand and effect change – not hit our heads against the wall and watch valuable state time and money, millions of your dollars, go down the drain in this new environment.

Her point-guard analogy comes here - I think it’s a good one - and then a little more of the logic train and a segue to the kids with:

Some Alaskans don’t mind wasting public dollars and state time. I do. I cannot stand here as your Governor and allow millions upon millions of our dollars go to waste just so I can hold the title of Governor. And my children won’t allow it either.

Then comes the paragraph that has some pundits claiming - incorrectly - that she’s quitting because “they’re being mean to her children”, especially Trig:

In fact, this decision comes after much consideration, and finally polling the most important people in my life - my children (where the count was unanimous... well, in response to asking: "Want me to make a positive difference and fight for ALL our children's future from outside the Governor's office?" It was four "yes's" and one "hell yeah!" The "hell yeah" sealed it - and someday I'll talk about the details of that... I think much of it had to do with the kids seeing their baby brother Trig mocked by some pretty mean-spirited adults recently.) Um, by the way, sure wish folks could ever, ever understand that we all could learn so much from someone like Trig - I know he needs me, but I need him even more... what a child can offer to set priorities right – that time is precious... the world needs more "Trigs", not fewer.

What she actually said was that she thinks the child who was so emphatic about wanting her out of the Governor’s office was so because all the children were upset by the cracks about Trig. All Palin says about herself and Trig is that she wishes people could see how much Trig has to offer.

Then Palin talks about visiting the troops and how they have chosen to serve a cause greater than themselves and to “build up”. She loads the troops aboard that logic train of not wasting time and resources:

These Troops and their important missions – those are truly the worthy causes in this world and should be the public priority with time and resources and not this local / superficial wasteful political bloodsport.

Wrapping up, Palin provides a summary:

First things first: as Governor, I love my job and I love Alaska. It hurts to make this choice but I am doing what’s best for Alaska. I’ve explained why… though I think of the saying on my parents’ refrigerator that says “Don’t explain: your friends don’t need it and your enemies won’t believe you anyway.”

But I have given my reasons… no more “politics as usual” and I am taking my fight for what’s right – for Alaska – in a new direction.

She then says she hopes her story won’t discourage other Alaskans from entering politics; revisits the point guard metaphor briefly; reiterates her belief in Alaska’s importance; says her successor is capable and she’ll help with the transition; and winds up with a nice quote (apparently, sadly, attributed to the wrong person).

So the speech makes sense. Stripped down to bare bones, she decided not to run for re-election because her notoriety is overshadowing everything her Administration is accomplishing and everything her State has to offer. Once she decided not to run for re-election, there was no point to staying in office where her notoriety would continue to overshadow everything her Administration is accomplishing and everything her State has to offer. She’s leaving office, the jackals will follow her, and her successor and her State can get on with their lives in peace and quiet.

Is there more to it than that? Almost certainly. If nothing else, I’m sure Palin realized that once she announced she wasn’t running for re-election she would be not merely a lame duck but a dead one. The constant ethics complaints and constant media blitz had already compromised her ability to do her job. Combine that with the natural loss of influence experienced by any executive who will be gone on a known date and she would be even less able to get anything done. That would be bad for Alaska and would probably drive Palin crazy.

Do I wish the speech was better organized? You betcha. Palin desperately needs a speech writer. Not to make her say things she wouldn’t but to help her make her points more clearly. I read once that a good speech consists of the following: tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em; tell ‘em; tell ‘em what you told ‘em. I can see the vague outline of those elements in Palin’s speech but with about 15 minutes input from a good wordsmith it could have been tightened up and clarified a lot. Palin gives a speech as if she’s talking to you in her living room and there’s a lot of power and charisma in that approach. But to convince, to lead, to explain not one-on-one over coffee but one-on-millions over miles requires more focus. She needs someone who can leave her voice alone while organizing her presentation of her thoughts. I thought both her Republican convention speech and her feminism speech were excellent, which tells me she probably doesn’t need to find one particular magic speechwriter, just a good solid professional with the sense to let her be herself only clearer.

I have no idea what Palin is going to do now. (Of course, neither does anyone else - possibly even Palin herself. I’m just willing to admit it.) However, I do have some thoughts on what triggered her decisions to not run for re-election and to resign. She says this has been in the works for a while but “a while” is pretty indefinite. My guess is that the pipeline deal and the media’s indifference to it were the triggering events. That deal is apparently a huge accomplishment for Palin and yet what Palin news was the media covering 24/7 when this deal was reached? The Letterman “jokes”. Similarly, the recent Vanity Fair profile of Sarah Palin could not spare any of its 9800 words to so much as mention the pipeline deal.

Maybe up to this point Palin was able to believe that while her notoriety was a drain on the State’s time and money it would at least mean when something great did happen in Alaska the rest of the world would hear about it. However, when even an accomplishment as significant as the pipeline couldn’t get coverage, I imagine Palin had to accept that nothing good in Alaska would get coverage as long as she was the face of the State. To go back to her basketball analogy, Palin must have realized clearly that no matter how many shots she made, none of them would show up on the scoreboard. Bad for Palin, worse for Alaska.

Whatever triggered the decision, I’m sorry it’s worked out this way. I was hoping Palin could settle back into her job as governor, run for re-election, put in some more solid years in Alaska, then see where she stood. After hearing her speech, I realize that was incredibly unrealistic of me: can you imagine the combination of media circus and feeding frenzy if she’d run for governor again? I can and it gives me the cauld grue. Unfortunately, I think Palin has made the only rational decision possible. I wish her well and look forward to seeing what she does next and what she’s doing 10 years from now.


Reading: There are a million posts about Palin’s resignation all over the place. These are just a few that I found interesting.

Allahpundit and Reclusive Leftist are examples of bloggers who consider her reasoning to begin with the “Some say things changed for me” line in her speech.

The Optimistic Conservative: Someone else who thinks Palin’s speech makes sense - even more so than I do. The author also thinks Palin’s “not politics as usual” message will resonate widely.

Blue Lyon: In the “politics make strange bedfellows” department, a liberal agrees with Optimistic Conservative. Palin is articulate, clear, refreshing, and her statement “will appeal to a whole lot of folks tired of the same old political bullshit.”

Matthew Continetti at The Weekly Standard: I disagree with his emphasis here but his last lines are interesting:

But Palin may also be thinking that her retirement from office will cause her critics to stop attacking her. She would be wrong to think so. Neither Palin nor the Palin-haters are going away.

Continetti may be right the Palin-haters aren’t going away but from Yahoo comes the news that the Palin’s attorney is giving fair warning: the Palins are not going to stand by while they’re defamed by “most notably liberal Alaska blogger Shannyn Moore” and “those who re-publish the defamation, such as Huffington Post, MSNBC, the New York Times and The Washington Post.” (From a quick look at her blog archives and her Huffington Post entries, Moore appears to be yet another member of the wildly successful Let’s Put Alaskans Who’ll Trash Sarah Palin To Work Program.)

Runner’s World: The magazine interviewed Palin. It has nothing to do with her resignation but I ran across it somewhere and in it Palin just sounds so incredibly normal. Which ties in with my last link:

Cutting Bait by Mark Steyn: Even though I don’t believe Palin is quitting because “they’re mean to her kids”, I think this is the best Palin resignation article out there.

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