Sarah Palin is the Bermuda Triangle of political commentary. No matter the number of writers who have bravely gone where others have gone before, column space and magazine covers continue to find themselves sucked into the increasingly black hole of “commentary” on the ongoing saga of the life and television-documented times of the former governor of Alaska.
Thought piece after thought piece have tried to explain and analyze every aspect of Palin’s thinking and rationale for action—most, without the benefit of direct access or answers from Palin herself—and the limits of the both laudatory and lewd coverage have been exhausted. The well of interesting and insightful analysis dried sometime after November’s “The Palin Network” from the NY Times Magazine—still the most insightful and fair looks into the psyche of Madame Palin.
There just isn’t that much left to say about Palin. Her own actions seem to have closed the door on any legitimate chance of running and/or beating President Obama in 2012. Palin’s poll numbers and “unfavorables” continue to drop. The “Blood Libel” fiasco still stands as the final stop on her descent from GOP frontrunner to hanger-on.
Despite what the prevailing narrative might be these days, there are those of us who remember when Palin’s political identity was found in solid governance rather than the latest “tweak” via Facebook and Twitter. Joshua Green of The Atlantic revisits the record and actions of Palin in the lead up and term serving as Governor of Alaska, and has written one of the most intelligent and sympathetic looks into “The Tragedy of Sarah Palin”.
Green explores why Alaskans are largely disenchanted with the figure that is Sarah Palin—and it doesn’t just have to do with her resigning her governorship. The journey of Sarah Palin from mayor of Wasilla to governor of Alaska is a fascinating exploration of an individual who seems to have had policy intelligence, a sense of morality (“But the five-letter word that people in Alaska associated with her name was clean”), and a willingness to work with all parties to accomplish true and meaningful change.
While Alaskans might not be incredibly fond of Palin, as a state, they are still benefiting from her decisions and savvy as governor, particularly in her dealings with the oil and gas companies.
Palin’s major achievement has probably meant the difference between a $12 billion surplus and a deficit.
And she was willing to do this even when pressure came from within her own party.
Palin came under serious political pressure. Although she doesn’t mention it in Going Rogue, the Associated Press discovered that Vice President Dick Cheney called her at least twice that month. According to her aides, Cheney urged her to make concessions, but she didn’t.
What sticks out when you read the rest of the piece is how Palin seems to have faced a defining moment in her political career, the moment when John McCain pulled her onto the ticket and she had to decide “what will Sarah Palin be known by?”
She had always had certain character flaws and demons that she battled throughout her life. Vindictiveness when slighted and an unwillingness to rise above responding to dirty personal attacks (no matter how small) characterized Palin’s career. But what made her a good governor was not her willingness to swing back when punched, but her willingness to work with her “enemies.”
The spirit of bipartisan cooperation to achieve reform worked in Alaska and Palin knew how to negotiate and affect real change with both parties. But playing nice is a hard road to package and sell to a national audience, people were festering with a bit of anger —and so this Mama Grizzly went on the attack, and never looked back.
The story of Sarah Palin is a cautionary tale. Little sins and moral shortcomings, if not corrected, rarely stay in the neatly cordoned off areas of our lives. Drawing ones identity not from a higher power, but from the impressions of friends and enemies may start with writing fake letters of self-praise to newspapers but ends being enslaved to the response and driven to the point of frustration by the latest scurrilous accusations on talk radio or on the blogosphere.
Sarah Palin had a choice of how she would lead. Three years after her unveiling, it’s clear she chose the wrong path.
True leaders are not just willing to buck the mainstream and follow their own paths; rather they must be characterized by a strength that still values humility. A self-obsessed person doesn’t need to take time to be quiet and learn from others and a self-obsessed person doesn’t need people around them to speak truth when they may act foolishly. And on a political level, there is little room for the views and opinions of others when you value your own opinion so highly.
These flaws are not unique to Sarah Palin—each of us struggle with these issues daily. We cultivate our image in our communities, we pretend to be better read than we really are, and we take offense at the smallest of perceived slights. But few of us have three million Facebook “friends” waiting for our latest pronouncement and the world’s media analyzing our life, tweet by tweet. When we sin, when we fall, we do it off-screen, but no less ingloriously.
The real tragedy of Sarah Palin is that she was no maverick—she was just a little too much like the rest of us.