Friday, July 03, 2009

Four Paths for Sarah Palin

So what exactly is the big deal about Sarah Palin's resignation as Governor of Alaska?

That's actually pretty difficult to define.

But I'm going to take a shot at defining Palin first, then defining the significance of her resignation.

Sarah Palin is the first major national political personality to emerge from the religious right since the emergence of the anti-abortion movement in the 70's. Where Ronald Reagan and George W. merely "appealed" to the religious right, Sarah Palin fully embodies the combination of brassy NRA aggression, evangelical sentimentality, and supreme disdain for urban, liberal, and minority culture that defines rural conservatism.

In other words, Sarah Palin is the Barack Obama of rural whiteness.

The significance of Palin's resignation is that it gets her back to the business of defining herself.

As Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin hasn't been in any kind of position to either defend herself from criticism or promote her world view. Not having her own media platform, Palin has been on the sidelines for debates over Obama's stimulus package, stem cell research, and the Sotomayor nomination. She hasn't been able to either represent or promote "her" values, keep her name in front of her constituencies, or promote the "Sarah" brand that started to develop during the McCain campaign

Palin has also been a sitting duck for her enemies in the Alaska GOP establishment, former McCain staffers, and the liberal wing of the mainstream media. People were filing the ethics complaints, Steve Schmidt was talking to any journalist who would listen, and magazines like Vanity Fair were making money running hit pieces.

Even Levi Johnston was taking shots at her.

In other words, the only people benefitting from the "Sarah" brand were her enemies. Being Governor of Alaska wasn't helping Sarah Palin seize the opportunities created for her by the 2008 presidential campaign. So she wants out.

With her resignation speech, there are four paths that Sarah Palin is likely to follow:

1. Run for President. If Sarah Palin runs for president, she'll be a top tier candidate for the Republican nomination along with Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Given that Palin is more popular among evangelicals than Huckabee, it would have to be said that she would start out in a stronger position than Huckabee and could conceivably knock Huckabee out after the South Carolina primary. It's easy to imagine a scenario in which Palin knocked out Huckabee herself and counted on second tier candidates like Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich to hold down the Mitt Romney vote and give her a real shot at winning the nomination.

2. Become a Conservative Media Presence. There are a couple of media paths Palin could take. First, she could become a big bucks conservative motivational speaker, Republican Party fund-raiser, and evangelical/NRA personality. That would put a lot of money in Palin's pocket, place her in front of the friendly audiences that make her comfortable, and promote the "Sarah" brand with her core constituencies. It's also easy to imagine this as an extremely lucrative path leading to a presidential campaign. I can see the bumper stickers with "Run, Sarah, Run" on them now.

There's also the possibility of seeking a permanent position as a talk radio host or television personality, or commentator. There's big bucks in conservative commentary these days. These options seek less likely to me though because most of these kinds of permanent gigs require the detailed kind of policy knowledge that Palin avoids. People like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly all have a gift for formulating their conservative values, right-wing policy positions, and disdain for the opposition into a seemless package. It's tough to do and there are no comparable media figures on the left. Palin has a gift for expressing her values but isn't very good with either policy or engaging the opposition. So, it's hard for me to view her as the female version of Rush Limbaugh.

3. The Permanent Meltdown. There's also a chance that Sarah Palin could go into a more or less permanent state of meltdown. Depending on how one interprets "melting down," it could be said that Michael Jackson went through a 15 or 25 year state of permanent crisis. How long has Courtney Love been melting down? What about Amy Winehouse? Given the possibility of gigolo eruptions for her, bimbo eruptions for Tod Palin, and all kinds of other eruptions from her children, in-laws, and friends, it's easy to see the Sarah Palin soap opera as going on for a long time and not really ending while she's alive. It seems that popular culture in the United States needs a certain number of celebrities in a state of permanent meltdown. Maybe Sarah Palin could satisfy that need.

Finally, there's one more path Sarah Palin could follow.

4. The No Resignation Resignation. Given that Palin's not resigning until the end of July, there's a decent chance that the whole resignation gambit is a charade, that Palin is not going to resign as governor at all and is counting on an "outpouring of popular support" to persuade her to stay in office.

If I were Palin, I would start down the "conservative speaker" path and then make a run for the presidency.

But that sounds too reasonable for Sarah Palin's universe.

So, I would be surprised if Palin resigned at all.

However, the prospect of a permanent meltdown looms on Palin's horizon whichever path she starts on. My suspicion is that Palin is just not plastic enough for the constant re-invention that goes into being a national level politician or mega-celebrity.

Ultimately, it's easy to see being nominated as John McCain's vice-presidential candidate as the beginning of a long and ugly process of personal destruction for Sarah Palin.

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