Well, well. Fireworks on the 3rd of July.
As much as this is a (self-described) gift to the people of Alaska, I’m not sure it ends up being a gift to the conservative movement, the Republican party, or the lower 49. As usual, more was left unexplained than was illuminated, and if the historical pattern of surprise-announcements-by-Republican-Governors is followed, many things in Palin’s statement will be revealed to be half-truths, deceptions, or outright falsehoods.
So the huge question is “Why?” and I can really see only three probable answers:
1) Household finances.
Palin has repeatedly cited the legal costs of defending the ethics claims against her (and erroneously cited the cost to the Alaska taxpayer oil industry) and has failed to raise the funds to pay her lawyers. Pesky ethics rules prevent her from generating outside income while Governor, though her popularity is still strong enough that she could make up the nut in a book advance and a month of personal appearances. It’s possible that this is just a kitchen-table choice: this job is costing her more than it’s paying her, and she could get out of debt fast and actually start being able to afford that Saks Fifth Avenue wardrobe if she quit.
I consider this the strongest theory because a) it fits the facts in evidence and b) she claimed her real purpose was otherwise. (For most people, I take their stated reason as the most likely, but for her, that never works.)
2) Another shoe is about to drop.
There’s been little mention that her hand-picked, barely-qualified Attorney General also resigned, suddenly and without explanation, in February. He was replaced by the head of the Criminal Division, and Palin’s attempt to nominate a heavily-armed good ol’ boy was soundly defeated in the Legislature. She finally got a nominee confirmed last month, but meanwhile the investigation into whether she inflated the cost of an already-controversial sports complex to tag on construction and materials for a personal vacation home has continued. The speculation is that subpoenas were issued last week and the Palins were notified that they were targets of at least a state criminal investigation, if not federal.
If true, it still doesn’t provide a full explanation. Resignation in advance of indictment isn’t a great idea; it sort of telegraphs guilt. There’s certainly an element of wishful thinking, too. Palin has dodged every single ethics complaint; the one set of charges that was well-founded came from a toothless Legislature.
3) She’s running for President.
The only evidence for this is her cryptic (and misattributed) quote of Douglas MacArthur about “advancing in a different direction.” If she is making a conscious attempt to run for President, the resignation shows almost zero deliberate planning for it; if somebody else is backing her, it is the most incompetently-staged campaign kickoff in history. Her only credibility in 2008 was her experience in being the executive of a (geographically) large state; by not completing her first term, she will have ceded her only talking point, which was her lead on Obama in executive experience.
As for the other nutty theories—pregnancy, an adultery scandal, truly being sick of the toll politics is taking on her family, cashing in on her fame while she has it, etc.—they’re all pretty speculative and poorly formed. If she truly doesn’t have the hide for the rough-and-tumble of American politics, her resignation speech was too defiant; if she’s really expecting further personal revelations, the speech was too political.
So, as real journalists say, “it’s too early to tell.” But this is far from Palin’s swan song. It may be her rambling, incoherent take on a Checkers speech.