Well, she’s done it again. Sarah Palin has thrown an endorsement into that Congressional race over in New York — and she’s rejected the Republican Party candidate in favor of the Conservative Party one.
And once again, everyone’s poking at tea leaves and molesting goat innards in trying to figure out just what it all means, what Palin’s really up to, what signal is she sending.
I figured out Palin a long time ago. And while understanding her doesn’t always make her predictable, it does work fantastically well in hindsight.
All you have to do is listen to her.
For example, when she resigned as governor last summer, she cited the burden on her family and the unfairness to the state caused by all the bullshit ethics complaints against her. Well, let’s look at how things stood when she stepped down.
At that point, she had run up about half a million dollars in legal bills, and pretty much every single complaint had been tossed. In other words, she had incurred debts equal to twice her family’s net income and 40% of their net worth for absolutely nothing. And with the latest complaint going after her legal defense fund, it was shaping up to get more and more and more expensive, with no relief in sight. The agenda of her opponents was clear: to use Alaska’s flawed ethics laws (the “flaw” being that no one foresaw a cabal filing an endless chain of worthless complaints purely to drive up the target’s legal bills) to bankrupt her and her family.
So she took what she saw as the only solution: she resigned. And once she decided that, she saw no reason to drag matters out.
Now, in the case of New York, let’s look at it in the simplest possible light. The race there is being treated as more and more important every day. There are three candidates — a Democrat, a rather liberal Republican, and a suitably conservative Conservative. So Palin thought about it and decided that the Conservative could use all the help he could get — so she threw him her backing.
So, what are the potential ulterior motives here for Palin?
Well, for one, should the Conservative win, he’ll be viewed as immensely important — and beholden to her. So that’s a plus for her.
The Republican is quite cozy with the national Republican leadership, and she has little use for them. The national party cheerfully threw her to the wolves during her vice-presidential run, and a lot of the people are still kicking her. Giving them a good smacking around by helping beat their candidate with someone they can’t stand could be quite satisfying.
And as noted, this race is getting a lot of attention. By involving herself in it, she’s getting her name out there and keeping people thinking and talking about her.
But all those are incidental. They’re frosting on the cake. The real reason is most likely the one she stated — she thinks that the Conservative is the best candidate for the job.
In some ways, Sarah Palin reminds me of Tom Clancy’s fictional hero, Jack Ryan. He ends up as president in the later books, and has a great deal of trouble getting a handle on how DC operates. There’s one passage in “Executive Orders” where a top White House political operative and a very, very prominent journalist (think Karl Rove and Bob Woodward, kind of) are discussing Ryan’s political failings — and the dialogue sounds like it could be about Sarah Palin. (Well, if you occasionally switch the gender of some pronouns.)
“Every time I think I have him figured out, he swerves on me, and then I have to remind myself that he doesn’t have an agenda.”
“Sometimes I’m not sure what it is with him, you know?”
“A total outsider. “But –“
“Yeah, but. But he’s being analyzed as though he’s an insider with a hidden agenda, and they’re playing the insider games as if they apply to him, but they don’t.”
“So the key to the guy is that there’s nothing to figure out… son of a bitch.”
“Nothing to figure out? Exactly. Like they say in golf, the hardest thing to do is to hit a straight ball, right? Everybody’s looking for curves. There aren’t any.”
“So, what’s the angle if there isn’t an angle?”
That is precisely how you figure out Sarah Palin. She’s precisely what she says she is, believes exactly what she says she believes, and does things for the reasons she says. She has no great craving for power — she walked away from the governorship. She has no desire to remake the nation into some fundamentalist theocracy — she’s never tried to push her private beliefs into public policy. She’s not some greedy kleptocrat or petty tyrant — she took them on in Alaska, from within the GOP’s own ranks, and shut them down.
She’s precisely what she says, and what she appears to be: a 40-something wife and mother of five (and grandmother of one); fiercely devoted to her family, her faith, and her nation; of mediocre educational credentials but potent common sense; an indomitable will coupled with a healthy sense of pragmatism and decided lack of ego; a politician who entered and exited public service for the best reasons and with the best intent; and a force to be reckoned with in our political future.
Will she run for president? Should she? How well would she fare on the campaign trail, and in office?
Who knows? But I do know we could do worse.
Hell, I’d argue that we are already doing worse.