As Governor Palin weighs a potential presidential bid, one issue she may have to factor in is how her resignation from the Alaska governorship after serving just two-thirds of her elected term might be exploited by opponents determined to undermine her message and candidacy. Indeed, we have already seen politicians and disgruntled voters attack Palin as an unprincipled “quitter” – which, incidentally, is the worst insult you can hurl at someone you helped force out of office.
In the real world, i.e. the world outside politics, attempting to mitigate the damages from a protracted and costly legal fight is considered smart, even good business. But this is not the real world. This is politics.
So, let's explore this lingering Palin quitter outrage, shall we? It might be appropriate to begin by asking if there are any other political quitters besides Sarah Palin in the natural world. Frankly, we can’t think of a single other politician, living or dead, who has ever been called a quitter, can you? One might logically expect that if quitting is so heinous, we would see more not less of it. We're talking about politicians, after all, individuals who are abundantly blessed with serious character flaws. Instead, we all too often see these surprisingly principled folks valiantly clinging to power and perks like Spandex on cellulite. Even voting them out of office is no guarantee they will leave. (Oh yes, Lisa, we mean you.)
Is it possible we're just not looking hard enough? Maybe the quitters are all in hiding. When exactly should a politician be properly classified as a quitter? Pretend tax-dodging Charlie Rangel or influence-peddling Maxine Waters announced their much overdue resignations from Congress tomorrow. Should they be called quitters? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. Same with disgraced South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford had he chosen to “quit” after being caught with his Argentinean mistress. Would he forever be known as the Republican governor who “quit” on South Carolinians so he could permanently hike the Appalachian Trail? Not likely.
No, on the extremely rare occasion when government officials feel shamed enough to resign due to genuine and serious ethics violations, nobody has the heart to call them “quitters.” Because the wrongdoing of their scandals naturally eclipses the lesser crime of their resignations, and this tends to make voters feel more charitable about forgiving the politician for not serving out their full term. As case in point, the Quaker Nixon was never a Quitter, despite failing to fulfill the entire four years to which the vast majority of American voters elected him to in 1972. “Quitting” was the least of his problems, of course.
When it comes to Palin, however, it’s a much different national nightmare. She quit not due to any high crimes and misdemeanors, but so she could become a fish-gutting reality-show diva. Now, someone might astutely point out that one of Palin’s principal GOP rivals for the presidency, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also stepped down prematurely from a position of power. He resigned his job as a congressman in 1998 shortly after Republicans lost five seats in the House of Representatives. (Please note that this was five seats compared to sixty-three seats the Democrats lost this year. Nancy Pelosi, your Lake Lucille moment awaits, God willing.) To our knowledge, nobody has ever tagged Gingrich as a quitter, even though he went on to pen many successful books and make bank as a Fox news analyst. Same with MSNBC's Morning Joe Scarborough who earned the right to criticize Palin by virtue of his resigning from Congress shortly after a female aide passed away in his office, coincidentally about the time Joe wanted to spend more "time with family." The rule here seems to be that you can’t be labeled a quitter if no one notices -- or cares -- that you’re gone.
Likewise, GOP Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott resigned in 2007, five years after he was involved in a verbal gaffe at a nonagenarians-gone-wild birthday party. To this day, we’ve never heard anyone belittle Trent Lott as a quitter, even though he is now a full-time D.C. lobbyist, presumably making beaucoup money. In this case, it just helps to be a man, perhaps. We’re not sure.
Indeed, the female Palin’s sudden resignation after completing the vast majority of her policy initiatives as governor seems to have struck a nerve that is unique and difficult to explain rationally. But I’ll give it a crack.
Palin is a quitter because she refuses to quit.
If this sounds impossible, it’s only because you’re not steeped (or pickled) in political logic.
Had Palin resigned her governor’s job and simply retired to Wasilla, content to wear an apron and bunny slippers forevermore, free at last from abusive lawsuits, her daily life no longer jeopardizing the fluid operation of her state, she would not be labeled a quitter today. Palin would be safely Ferraro’d …exiled from the national stage, just another token former female VP candidate unable to hang with the big boys.
But because she promised on her Independence Day Eve resignation to “advance in another direction,” to “reload” as it were, she is a quitter. Indeed, since giving up the salary and perks of the governorship in August 2009, she has jumped full throttle into nearly every national policy debate out there. She has weighed in on energy policy, healthcare reform, quantatative easing, media "ethics" and national security. She endorsed more than 70 candidates this election cycle, and more than 70% of her endorsees had the audacity to win. In a little more than one year, she's been everywhere. Working 20 hours a day, seemingly seven days a week, Palin has penned two best-selling books, executed two wildly successful book tours, filmed a well-received TV documentary about the majesty of her state, and delivered more than 100 political speeches – including one in Hong Kong -- all focused on bringing to light and halting the destructive and irresponsible policies of the Obama administration.
Some of you might be saying to yourselves, gee, maybe the liberal world as we know it would have been more safely liberal had she just remained governor. (We might even have had cap and tax!) And why didn’t she stay? After all, President Obama made millions with a best-selling book and tour as a sitting senator. Surely Palin could have done the same in the governor's chair. She could even have run for president on taxpayer lifesupport, as Obama did for two years before formally resigning from the Senate in December 2008, after completing exactly two-thirds of a term – the same percentage Palin actually fulfilled of her governorship.
Obama is not considered a quitter and that is only right because he won the presidency, a job that pays him 130% more than what he earned as a senator ($400,000 vs. $174,000), and features even more amazing perks ($150,000 expense account, $100,000 nontaxable travel allowance, and $19,000 for entertainment alone.) But resigning to assume a better government position is not the same as quitting. Of that we can be certain. Otherwise, we’d have to label as quitters all the leaders who resign to assume posts such as ambassadorships or cabinet positions. The quitting label applies only to Palin, and only because her new gig is a private sector job, even if she has become what one lefty blogger rightly described as the “president-in-exile.” These days Palin supports herself and her large family with private speaking engagements, private media analysis, and private publishing projects while she metaphorically kicks Obama in the groin every chance she gets.
How, one might ask, is Palin’s role any less important in the grand scheme of things, than the one she left behind? And how do we justify public sector ambition while demonizing private sector success?
It’s easy. Those poor Alaskan voters elected Palin to serve an entire term. She was not indicted, she didn’t have an affair, and she didn’t get elected vice president … therefore, by gawd, she should have remained in office another 17 monthes, come hell or fifteen dozen frivolous ethics complaints.
In the end, it’s fairly simple. By resigning, Palin did the unthinkable. She unexpectedly turned the executive branch of government back to the Alaskan people so they could once again possess a fully functioning governorship. And in the political world, surrendering power and perks like that is pretty much unforgivable.
After all, it's not like the electorate are weary of bitter title clingers. Right?