Friday, July 3, 2009

Sarah Palin’s Irresponsible Decision to Resign as Governor

Sarah Palin announced today that she would not only not seek re-election as Governor of Alaska but that she intended to resign at the end of this month. Unfortunately, I suspect many of her supporters will somehow find her decision and explanation quite reasonable or better. Within the space of about 15 minutes following her announcement, Pat Buchanan managed to stumble from first fully understanding her decision to not seek re-election but feeling puzzled about her decision to immediately quit to, when next quizzed on MsNBC minutes later, finding both decisions sensible. William Kristol, Weekly Standard editor and a Palin supporter, commented that “Everybody I’ve talked to thinks it’s a little crazy,” but then stated “maybe not,” asking rhetorically “what is she going to accomplish in the next year as governor.” But I found Palin’s decision to resign her post shocking and her explanation pure Sarah Palin, rambling and lacking in any clarity.

Palin claimed that resigning now would be in the best interests of her state. She didn’t argue, as many of her critics would, that resigning now would help Alaska because she simply has been a poor governor. No, she claimed that lame duck governors often waste their states’ resources by hitting the road, going on political junkets and the like while drawing paychecks and that she would be saving Alaska those expenses. Huh? What logic is that? How about simply pledging not to go on political junkets or otherwise waste state resources and remaining in the governor’s office to provide leadership to her state through the end of her term? Surely it didn’t take resigning to best conserve state resources. And some “lame duck” leaders actually develop spine during that period in office, being willing to make tough decisions without fear of offending various sectors of the electorate.

And then Palin turned to a sports metaphor in a further attempt to explain or justify her decision, comparing herself to a point guard on a basketball team under attack by a full court press who drives through a full court press but knows when to give up the ball so the team can win. Palin’s decision to abandon office is not even remotely analogous to the basketball player she described. The guard who gives up the ball to another teammate who may be open for an easier shot at the basket isn’t quitting the team! Quite the opposite. She is typically leading the team and remains doing so. A more fitting description of Palin’s actions may be found in former President Harry Truman’s statement about political leadership? “If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.” That appears to me to be a far more apt description of what Sarah Palin did today.

Some speculate that Palin has decided to exit politics and return to life as a private citizen. She noted today that her family approved of her decision and that her son Trig needed her and that she needed him even more. Some speculate that she may want to escape the political criticism she has increasingly experienced as Alaska governor. She has been under increasing political pressure, including a considerable decline in her support at home although still over 50% and an apparently highly critical piece in this month’s Vanity Fair, which I have not yet read. If her decision was based on a desire to abandon public life and return to private life, then quitting as governor without further delay might make some sense, at least on a purely personal level, although leaving such a major political post long before the expiration of her term, after having vigorously sought it and even run as the vice presidential candidate of the Republican Party, seems bizarre and certainly an abdication of the responsibilities she agreed to discharge.

But her other comments today strongly suggested that she has no intention of leaving the political stage. Rather, she spoke of working from the outside and that her decision was a sign of “no more politics as usual.” Most believe, myself included, admittedly without knowing, that Palin will seek higher office and will likely pursue the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2012. If that is her plan, resigning the governorship at this point is irresponsible and hopefully even those who lean in her direction will recognize it as such. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has announced that when his term as governor expires in 2010 he will not seek re-election. That appears linked to his presidential ambition. And that makes sense. Were Palin to have served out her current position until 2010 and not sought re-election, that too would have made good sense and would have been responsible. Few of us appreciate politicians who run or re-run for an office, pledging to remain for the full term, only to jump ship early to pursue a presidential nomination and essentially abdicate their responsibilities after re-election by turning their attention to seeking the nomination.

But, if it is part of a strategy to seek, or to consider seeking, higher elective office, for Palin to resign her gubernatorial position at this juncture and to abandon the leadership role she promised to provide her state, particularly for the reasons she gave, is irresponsible. It shows poor judgment and the absence of leadership qualities. I sincerely hope that voters in and out of Alaska of all political persuasions take note of this decision and remember it in the next year or two if Sarah Palin turns her sights toward the presidency. However, it is likely that Palin’s supporters will find this to be a shrewd, wise and courageous decision. That is too bad.