Sarah Palin Is Not Crazy, She's Calculating (And Still More Dangerous Than People Think)

News & Politics

You might have heard: Alaska governor Sarah Palin has quit her job.

In the sort of eye-rollingly silly spin that we've come to expect from the good governor, she attributed her first-term resignation to her unwavering dedication to the people of Alaska and her inability to accept political convention: "I'm not gonna put Alaskans through [a lame-duck second-term]. I promised efficiencies and effectiveness. That's not how I'm wired. I'm not wired to operate under the same old politics as usual."

She announced she was transferring the governorship to her lieutenant governor so that her administration "with its positive agenda and its accomplishments and its successful road to an incredible future for Alaska" can continue "without interruption and with great administrative and legislative success." And with a final promise to "effect positive change … for Alaskans and for Americans," she was done.

Despite Palin's best attempt to frame her decision as a noble sacrifice to her home state, that this departure is a self-serving move is manifestly obvious. She wants national office – or national influence, at least – and languishing immersed in the day-to-day of running Alaska leaves her too far from the spotlight she came to enjoy as a vice presidential candidate in the 2008 election. (Not to mention far from the political operatives, bankrolling GOP moneymen, and political infrastructure required by any national candidate.) Palin needs to make herself easily available to give crappy speeches to anti-choicers in the heartland, and taking her leave from Alaska is a necessary step to do so.

The conventional wisdom is that this is a terrible idea and she is crazy.

Palin, however, is not crazy. She's calculating. (Which, in politics, is generally not cited as a bad thing, unless the person doing the calculating happens to be a woman.) It's just that her calculations contain a bad factor: That the whole of the U.S. is like Alaska. She said on the campaign trail that "Alaska is like a microcosm of America", which couldn't be less true. It's an understandable misperception, given the GOP's penchant for supporters-only political events, but it is a misperception all the same.

If she were right, her move would be genius. But she's wrong. Which makes her ... wrong. And foolish. And quite possibly doomed. But not crazy.

At some point -- if all goes as planned and Palin finds herself a hot commodity on the rightwing small-time talk circuit, but nowhere else -- she will discover that she is wrong. And, at that time, she will once again be faced with a steep learning curve, like and unlike the one she has diligently avoided, the one referenced last week by conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer on Fox News: "She is not a serious candidate for the presidency. She had to go home and study and spend a lot of time on issues in which she was not adept last year, and she hasn't."

Learning how to navigate the politics of the Lower 48, understanding how they are different from the quirky politics of Alaska, is like the take-home test of policy details she has cast aside in its magnitude, but unlike it in its potential appeal to Palin. She's not a wonk, has no interest in being one, and has quite possibly no talent for it -- but she loves playing politics. Studying textbooks isn't her gig, but studying a new playbook is right up her alley.

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