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On the Premature Judgment of Sarah Palin

July 6th, 2009 | 3 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

There are few decisions or events in our media saturated era that happen without the requisite context to pass a reasonable judgment.  And judgement–in a non-pejorative sense–is precisely what political punditry offers the political process.  The ability to assess information, to compare competing theories, and to offer a plausible explanation in a persuasive way is an important part of the political order.  

Sarah Palin’s resignation was interesting precisely because it was so unexpected and because the details and motivations were allegedly hazy–‘allegedly’ because those who take her explanation at her news conference at face value (as I do) could argue that her explanations were quite clear.  Her time in the spotlight had begun to be a drag on her ability to govern Alaska well, and she thought her state would be best served if she stepped aside (an account that has been verified by at least one member of her state).*

Armed with conjecture and speculation, most political pundits ventured into this void and did what they do–passed judgement on her reasons, on their merits, and above all, on her political future.  On both the Left and the Right, it was widely acknowledged that this would harm her chances (if she had any) for a Presidential run in 2012, and rightly so.  Yet a number of conservative commenters went even further and suggested that her political prospects had been irrevocably destroyed, that she would never win the White House.

All this, of course, is certainly possible.  Yet what strikes me is how premature such judgements are.  Consider:  what if it turns out that (as the Anchoress mused) her marriage is on the rocks?  Is it such a terrible decision then?  Conservatives, after all, are about family first–or at least so we claim.** 

And what if it turns out that the Alaskan government, no longer hampered by the enormous distraction of having Sarah Palinwho because of her time as a Vice Presidential candidate has been rendered incapable of being simply the governer of her state–is able to complete her agenda (led as it will be by the quite capable hands of her Liutenant Governor)?  Democratic legislators almost have the obligation not to work with Sarah Palin because she is Sarah Palin, and a successful end of her term would strengthen her prospects on the national scene.   What if Sarah Palin takes the Hillary Clinton route?  Should Republicans win the nomination in 2012 or 2016, wouldn’t Palin make sense as the Secretary of Energy?  And wouldn’t such experience give her the bona fides to mount an at least respectable, if not successful presidential campaign?

All this, of course, is to repeat the argument that Shane Vanderhart has so capably made.  

But the Republican insistence to claim her career is finished is grounded in a deeper problem, the self-deception that we would place experience above personality, qualifications above charisma.  Palin’s treatment by the press and her (admittedly) unfortunate interview with Katie Couric have turned her into a polarizing figure, but she has more natural charm than any other Republican leader.  Republican voters, I would submit, are just as mesmerized by trumped up political personas as our Democratic brethren, which bodes very well for Palin’s political future (if, of course, she wants it).  If we seriously think Mitt Romney will defeat Barack Obama in 2012 on the basis of Obama’s disastrous handling of the US economy, I suspect we will be disappointed again.

Of course, Palin’s critics may well be right.  Her reasons for her decision may never satisfy her critics, but they may never understand the difficulties that she, her family, and her state have faced.  In the face of such overwhelming ignorance, patience seems the most fitting course for punditry, but that doesn’t make for very good political theater.

*As someone who has recently left a profession because mounting distractions did not allow me to pour my whole heart into it, I have some empathy for Governer Palin.  The scale and nature of the challenges are so different as to make any comparison laughable, but the reader should know that I take her announcement at her word.  Sometimes, everyone is best served if you just move along and not wait to finish out your ‘term.’ 

**The Anchoress’s revised judgement on this matter is a must read.