There are numerous reasons Sarah Palin could be quitting her job. Maybe she just doesn't want to be governor any more. That's fine. If you don't feel you're cut out for a job, or if you're not enjoying it well enough to do the job right, it makes perfect sense to step aside and let someone else more qualified and motivated take over. Maybe she's got a better gig lined up, one that will be more satisfying and pay the bills. That's fine. Just say so and be done with it.
Alas, Sarah Palin can't do that. Instead of a straight-talk explanation of what she's doing and why, we get a rambling press conference and Web teases that leave rational observers, even conceivably friendly Republican observers, utterly confused.
I can identify only one logical thread in Palin's confusing (sphinx-like would be to flattering) public declarations this long weekend: unsatisfied to simply do what she wants, Palin needs to construct her personal choice (quitting, changing jobs, whatever this choice is) as a grand heroic narrative, a story that is all about her even as she tries to convince herself that it isn't. Unfortunately, Palin is a very shaky storyteller, as evidenced by numerous inconsistencies in the text she offered Friday:
- She says serving Alaskans "is the greatest honor I could imagine." Yet she is leaving that honor for something she appears to think is an even greater calling.
- She says Alaska has a destiny, a mission, "to contribute to America," to serve as a strategic "crossroads" and "gatekeeper." Yet her personal destiny is even greater.
- She says she is nobly sacrificing her power to spare Alaska the scrutiny of a mean and biased national media. Yet her own political choices have brought that scrutiny to Alaska.
- She says "Life is about choices!" yet she fails to envision her capacity to choose to defy lame-duck temptations. Instead she constructs a narrative in which all lame-duck governors succumb to sloth, waste, and junketry, then realizes that if she stayed as a lame-duck and fought waste, she'd foul her own plot... so to preserve her hasty generalization and avoid revising this rough draft, she resigns.
- She exalts her own action as taking a stand to effect change for all Americans. Yet the only concrete action she outlines is quitting her current job.
- She constructs her world as a basketball court, on which the height of bravery is to "call an audible and pass the ball when it's time so the team can win!" But what is the ball? Who is the team? How do we win when the coach (the governor is not just a point guard) leaves mid-game?
- Cloaking herself in vague images of General MacArthur, she says she'll always be standing by, ready to assist. Yet why if a person is willing to "always" stand by and help, why would that person step aside now from the position in which she "assist" by mustering the full wealth and power of a state?
Palin's egoism is clearest in her inability to tell the complete story. She could squash every bit of speculation and rumor by saying, "I'm quitting to do X." Write my book, start my 2012 presidential campaign, take over for Rush Limbaugh, whatever. But that would end the buzz. Instead, Palin perpetuates the long tease. There are good things to come! Join me! Help our nation achieve greatness! Join you in what? How? I can't tell you now... but keep following me on Twitter... please!
Other interpretations are certainly possible. But looking at the text Palin herself has offered, we see a poorly written script bearing the mark of an amateur trying to cloak a selfish, ill-conceived plot twist in a hodge-podge of heroic language. A real maverick would tell us her plans and reasons straight up... or would just pull the Crazy Ivan and feel no need to explain, justify, or self-glorify.
Palin's resignation tells a lot about her true character... and none of it speaks to the leadership we look for in our governors or our Presidents.