It’s been nearly a year since Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was escorted onto the national political stage. The curtain fell on Act I Friday with Gov. Palin’s announcement that she will resign as governor, 18 months before her term ends. Like any good drama, as the curtain fell, the audience was abuzz with questions. Why? What’s next? Is there a scandal about to be revealed? Is it a step toward running for president? Does she need to raise money, or spend more time with her family?
A good playwright drops hints about what the next act will bring, a technique called prefiguring. After the November election, it was clear Mrs. Palin did not plan to return permanently to Alaska. But the governor’s speech on Friday, described by many as rambling and contradictory, did not clearly prefigure any course.
Mrs. Palin may move into a lucrative, private-sector job, perhaps on TV or radio. In her resignation announcement, she complained about being the target of ethics charges, and what it cost to defend them. “Todd and I are looking at more than half a million dollars in legal bills in order to set the record straight,” she said. But interest in her hosting a TV or radio show would remain high 18 months from now, so why not wait?
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote this about the Palin bombshell: “Sarah wanted everyone to know that she’s not having fun and people are being mean to her and she doesn’t feel like finishing her first term as governor.” Surely there was more to the momentous decision than petulance. After all, leaving the chief executive post early because she had decided not to seek a second term will come back to haunt her should she run for president. Would she resign that job early as well?
In her resignation speech, Mrs. Palin suggested that bailing out of the governor’s job was somehow more noble than working through the end of the term: “It may be tempting and more comfortable to just keep your head down, plod along … but that’s the worthless, easy path; that’s a quitter’s way out. … Productive, fulfilled people determine where to put their efforts, choosing to wisely utilize precious time.”
Whether she is biting the bullet now to launch a presidential campaign for 2012, trying to reconnect with her children and husband after a grueling year, or looking to make some money, what is most troubling about Mrs. Palin’s announcement is that she has been less than honest. Despite vague references to being more effective on the outside, and asserting her view that governors waste their state’s money as lame ducks (why wouldn’t she simply refuse the junkets?), Mrs. Palin did not give a reason for her resignation. And worse, she cast the resignation in terms that flatter herself.
If she wants anyone to be interested in her second act, Mrs. Palin must pull back the curtain on herself, and explain what makes her tick, beyond the vague cliches she loves to employ.