In Defense of Sarah Palin
I don’t know what Sara Palin’s plans are, nor do I know precisely why she resigned. If I had to guess, there’s a scandal waiting to erupt. Perhaps not – she isn’t leaving her job for several more weeks, and if a scandal is about to erupt, she might not be out of the limelight in time.
But be that as it may, whatever her reasons, I think Palin is doing the right thing. She’s become something of a laughingstock to much of the country. More importantly, to her constituents, she’s gotten herself embroiled in a number of scandals and her approval rating has started to drop (though she’s still above 50% from what I can tell) and her effectiveness is starting to drop. At some point, the naif who came to the capital city and got some stuff that obviously needed getting done but that only an outsider would do mantle fades away to be replaced by “holy $#%^, we’re governed by a nincompoop.” Leaving now, she gets out the door before that transition is accomplished in the minds of many Alaskans and she may be remembered fondly going forward.
That rarely happens in public life. More common is the model followed by our illustrious recently retired President. He accomplished his main goal early – cutting taxes. It didn’t accomplish what he had in mind, of course:
The President’s plan will accelerate this trend to record rates by retiring an historic $2 trillion in debt over the next 10 years. Under the President’s budget, the national debt will be only seven percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011, its lowest share in more than 80 years. (See Chart 1–1.)
Indeed, the President’s Budget pays down the debt so aggressively that it runs into an unusual problem—its annual surpluses begin to outstrip the amount of maturing debt starting in 2007. This means that the United States will be effectively unable to retire any more debt than what is assumed in the Administration’s Budget over the next 10 years—the President achieves ‘‘maximum possible debt retirement’’ in his budget.
And the longer he stuck around, the more failures he accumulated… nobody said anything about turning over Iraq to kleptocrats or Afghanistan to fanatics, the jobs we were promised never came about, the ownership society turned out to be a joke, and the so-called comprehensive energy policy we were going to have turned out to be pretty good for Exxon, but not so much for the rest of us.
But there was a sweet spot – somewhere around 2003 or at most 2004 when his popularity was still high, when his accomplishments still hadn’t fallen apart – had he resigned at that point, he’d be remembered fondly. And it would have been the patriotic thing to do; if he had managed to noodle out that he was way over his head (despite the fact that the more oblivious believers would still be talking Mount Rushmore for a few years to come) and put someone else in charge, the country would probably have been better off. But he stayed on past the point where even some of the folks not bright enough to avoid soiling themselves through the National Review had realized he was a disaster. By doing so, GW dishonored the Office of the President. Had he quit before that, things would be very different. He would have left a message to posterity that it is better to walk away than continue to inflict his incompetence upon the nation.
That would have been an act of greatness.
But its not just morons who have such a historic opportunity. Carter was generally regarded as a smart guy, and he accomplished some positive things while in office, but after a few years, it was fairly clear he simply wasn’t up to the job. He should have been smart enough and patriotic enough to step aside. Nixon was another smart guy, and he too had some early accomplishments, but he was also out of his league; had he resigned for that reason, rather than as a result of Watergate, we’d remember him well today, despite the economic disaster he spawned.
Unfortunately, we haven’t had enough Presidents who are humble enough to admit they are out of their league and patriotic enough to walk away on their terms. LBJ came close; he achieved a lot in 5 years – the fastest annualized growth in real GDP per capita of any President since FDR, the Great Society, cutting poverty significantly, moving Civil Rights forward, etc., but he simply could not solve Vietnam, and the economy was starting to strain. LBJ could have run once more, and perhaps he could have won, but he was done.
Of course, it isn’t just Presidents who can’t come out and admit their incompetence; we have no shortage of imbeciles running everything from big corporations to school boards. So here’s to Sarah Palin, who had the strength, for whatever reason, to tell her constituents they’d be better off if she gave up the top spot to someone else.