Sarah Palin the Quitter

When Senator John McCain asked Sarah Palin to be his running mate in the 2008 presidential campaign, I begged people not to judge her too quickly. Many people told me I was nuts, but I'm still glad I did it. But her recent resignation as Alaska's governor changed my views of her. Her contorted logic and political maneuvering represents the worst of politics as usual. You probably recall when McCain picked Palin. She revved up America's conservative political base and even drew bigger crowds at campaign rallies than McCain. Sometimes the campaign had her flown in for his rallies to gin up crowds. Now, some Republican operatives, like Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and conservative columnists, such William Kristol, tout her as genuine 2012 presidential timber. Maybe so.

My goal isn't to make political hay over Palin. Rather, my chief concern is her resignation and its meaning. Here is a first term governor who left the state to run for the vice presidency, only to lose, then to return home, only to say she was committed to Alaska, only now to resign. Her reason: She says she didn't want to become a "lame duck" governor. But she had some 16 months left, or roughly 35% of her term.

So Lt. Governor Sean Parnell was sworn in this past weekend as Alaska's new governor. I kept wondering whether he is lame duck, too, or is he somehow intrinsically different from Palin? Based on her reasoning, we should now be calling on all sitting governors whose terms end in the next year or so to resign. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been facing record state deficits, would fall into this category. According to Palin's logic, he should walk away from his state's historic fiscal crisis because he's also a lame-duck governor. But Schwarzenegger has been busy negotiating day-and-night a way out of his state's fiscal mess.

Meanwhile, some people in New York State are praying that Governor David Patterson will resign, arguing that he's been an utter disaster since becoming governor after Eliot Spitzer was forced from office amid a sex scandal (remember that?). Spitzer now has higher approval ratings than Patterson! But Patterson soldiers on.

A handful of years ago I wrote a piece on “Devotion” in public life, which remains one of my all-time favorites. In it, I wrote that:

"…genuine devotion is rooted in a sense of love for public life so deep that it calls us to search for what is good and right, especially when the path is the hardest to walk...Blind acceptance, resignation, falling into lockstep -- these are the enemies of devotion. Indeed, it is too easy for each of us to hear the whispers in our ears that tell us to turn our backs and walk away."

When asked, Schwarzenegger had this to say about Palin's resignation: "I would never give up." No, if nothing else, Schwarzenegger has been a model of devotion to his state since becoming governor. You may disagree with his positions, but it's clear he will stay in the game.

Another example of devotion came this past week when South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, John McCain's most ardent advocate, said he would vote to confirm Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. While he does not support many of her past decisions, he said that "elections matter," and President Obama has the right to nominate people who represent his views so long as they are within the mainstream of American jurisprudence. Graham could have taken the easy way out and opposed her; he didn't.

All this is to say that unlike Schwarzenegger, Graham and others, Palin has turned away from her responsibilities. She bailed. She searched for what she could get for herself, and then she cut and run. We can debate her positions and even her qualifications for national office. I won't, at least not here. But what I will assert is that making the argument that she should leave office early simply because she may be a "lame duck" represents a self-serving lack of devotion. This is no time for quitters.