The response to Sarah Palin's surprise resignation last Friday clearly reveals the limitations of the American political class, right, left, or what have you.
There's an old academic joke, probably apocryphal, about Count Metternich, Austria's foreign minister during the Napoleonic era. While attending the Congress of Vienna, Metternich is sleeping off a banquet when one of his aides bursts in at three in the morning. "Your excellency! Count Nesselrode, the Russian ambassador, just died."
Metternich jerks awake. "Died, you say? What a terrible thing! I was speaking to him only tonight... Uhh... send a message to the Tsar -- Austria regrets, and so forth..."
The aide leaves. Metternich gets up and paces the floor. After a moment he stops and rubs his chin. "So... Why did Nesselrode decide to do that now..."
We're seeing the same thing today. Obsessive figures confronted with a simple human contingency and, unable to comprehend what's right in front of their eyes, retreating instead into irrelevant speculation about whatever they know best. Simply put, in resigning her governorship and stepping away from active politics, Sarah Palin is not pulling any tricks, carrying out any maneuvers, or putting in motion any long-range plans. She is doing exactly what any normal, rational, un-driven human being would do under the same circumstances.
What are those circumstances? Consider her situation at the moment. By which we mean, her situation. Not the country's situation, not the GOP's situation, not the political situation in any sense at all.
Her eldest son is serving in the military, in the war zone, at a particularly dangerous and violent moment, when the U.S. is transferring responsibility to the new and still untried Iraqi army.
Her eldest daughter is dealing with the twin burdens of a failed relationship and single motherhood, while also serving as a national joke for the same type of people who insisted that Chelsea Clinton and the Obama girls are off limits. This is a state of affairs that undoubtedly requires much in the way of TLC from Palin.
Her second youngest daughter has recently come under the gun thanks to that epitome of class, David Letterman. All excuses aside, the A-Rod joke was a transparent attempt at seeing if it was now safe to go after Willow, the rest of the Palin family having been run through the mill one after the other. It occurred at an awkward age for a girl, when events such as this can leave a serious mark. Another instance where mom must be available.
And lastly, Palin has a disabled infant child, one who has already been victimized by the left-wing blogosphere and the mass media. Downs children are very high-functioning. It's easily possible for Trig to have a golden life as long as close attention is paid to his upbringing and education. His mother will be the crucial figure here.
So what does a woman do under such circumstances? A real woman, not a pol in a skirt. A wife and a mother, someone with a clear hierarchy of values. Why, she steps out. She removes herself from the firing line. Returns to what matters. She retreats from the public world for the verities of family and community.
There's nothing difficult to understand here. All the comments we've heard from the mass media, from the political experts, and from the operatives, merely reveal the limitations of the commentators.
But what about her greater obligations? To that of conservatism as a movement, for instance? It happens to have been the movement conservatives -- at least those of the Northeast Corridor, who on the basis of tradition consider themselves to be the core of the movement -- who led the charge against Palin on her selection as vice-presidential candidate. Not the left. Not the mass media. But conservatives (I won't add quotes -- not yet, anyway) such as Frum, Parker, and Brooks, who found her to be just the slightest touch déclassé. She did not understand the Modern Dance. Her taste in claret was undependable. Her reading of the Federalist No. 63 was, shall we say, idiosyncratic? These people have no call on her whatsoever.
And the GOP? Doesn't she owe her party anything? Just a few short days after her youngest daughter was humiliated on one of the most widely-watched late-night shows in the country, an obvious hit piece appeared in that balanced journal of the higher intellect, Vanity Fair, in which certain unnamed GOP officials revealed the true Sarah Palin: Sarah as Michael Jackson, Sarah the narcissist, who lived in a dream world and was overwhelmed by "demons". The fact that GOP figures would cooperate with a rag like Vanity Fair in the first place puts a period to any talk of a party connection. The GOP obviously has an agenda. It is not Sarah Palin's agenda. Nor, more than likely, ours either.
And what about Alaska? Palin is one of the outstanding governors of our time, possibly surpassed only by Rick Perry, infinitely superior to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jennifer Granholm, or Mitt Romney, to mention only a few members of a large crowd. She went a long way toward cleaning up the Juneau cesspool, wound up the negotiations for a gas pipeline that had been languishing for decades, and put her state on the national radar screen for the first time since 1958. But her usefulness as governor was probably drawing to an end. If she were to show interest in a 2012 run, she could depend on Obama's crew doing everything possible to drag her down -- and going through her state to do it.
Chicago would put Alaska through the grinder, a very easy thing to accomplish from Washington. In fact, it could be argued that this campaign has already begun, with the slow death-by-cuts action against the National Missile Defense center at Fort Greeley. Even as the ballistic missile threat from North Korea and Iran grows more urgent, Obama is dismantling the sole serious defense against it. (Am I implying that O would jeopardize the country's safety to assure his political career? Well, what do you think?) In a real sense, Palin's resignation at this time can be viewed as yet another service to her state.
So Sarah Palin has left the stage, for perfectly justifiable reasons, and taken her family with her. The mob still waits, unfamiliar with normal behavior from a public figure, eager for more cheap laughs. But there will be no encore. Not right away.
She will be back. Not for 2012. The GOP has its plans already worked out. Very clever ones, too. The Republicans will do what they always do when they're up against it: grab an empty suit and run around shaking it in people's faces while shouting, "Here's the man!" By 2012, after his policies really hit home, as gas and home fuel prices triple and quadruple, as medical rationing begins, as the renewed Axis of Evil runs wild across Eurasia, Obama will be ready to drop. At that point he could be defeated by a ticket consisting of Charley Manson and Jojo the Dogface Boy. But the GOP will blow it all the same. Exactly as the party did in '96, following the same script to the letter. They will, to coin a phrase, Mitt it up.
That moment will mark the start of a new phase for Sarah Palin. The exquisite branch of conservatism will drift away, assuring each other that "It's still possible to live well in a dying civilization." The GOP operatives will, as always, be blaming the "legacy of Reagan" and looking for a RINO who can somehow fool the backwoods rubes. Obama will spend his entire second term racing back and forth trying to put out forest fires using buckets with holes in them. Palin's enemies will have destroyed themselves, and her moment will come at last.
Democracies never stop halfway, no matter what it is: good or bad, intelligent or stupid, harmful or beneficial, they have to go the whole route before at last changing course. The U.S. could not abandon Great Society liberalism in 1976, it had to wait until 1980. The UK could not put aside postwar Labour policies until they were ground down to the last (the Brits went so far as to elect Harold Wilson to two nonconsecutive terms -- something similar to re-electing Jimmy Carter in 1984. Talk about desperation moves!)
While that process unfolded, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan served long apprenticeships, learning all they had to know. Sarah Palin is embarking on the same course now.
Sarah Palin is not ready, they insist. It's just as apt to say that we -- the GOP, the conservative establishment, the country -- are not ready for her. An electorate will always fall for the professional pol, slick, convincing, and empty, before turning in desperation to the truly human candidate. But the time will come.
In a few years her children will be settled, she will no longer have hostages to fortune, and the laughter will have long died away. That is when the lady will start shuffling the cards. We will all have further opportunity to wonder what Sarah Palin is up to. J.R. Dunn is contributing editor of American Thinker.