Palin: A Nixon-esque retirement, or is she really done?

Wednesday’s topic: What’s next for Sarah Palin? Does she have a political future? Have the media treated her fairly?

Palin can’t stand the heat, takes refuge in kitchen
Point: Katherine Mangu-Ward

Here’s the thing about running for office: People are going to talk a lot of smack about you. This is how it has always been, especially in America, where even our founding fathers (and their press surrogates) were masters of the insulting putdown. A Thomas Jefferson-friendly newspaper labeled George Washington a “debaucher of the republic” and called John Adams “a ruffian deserving of the curses of mankind.” And modern historians were hardly the first to note Jefferson’s fondness for slave Sally Hemings.

When Sarah Palin complains that people are spreading lies about her -- shocking untruths that cast aspersions on her intelligence, integrity and fecundity -- she is right, but it’s like a stripper complaining about catcalls. There’s a reason lifelong politicians are often self-important blowhards (cf. Joe Biden) -- a Kevlar ego is an asset come election season. This is how we choose our candidates: It’s the folks who remain standing after everyone digs dirt, turns it into mud and slings it.

If Palin is resigning now because she’s trying to get ahead of a scandal, then the system -- as painful as it may be for those inside it -- worked. The useful, brutal mechanism of bitter partisanship ferreted out another corrupt or inept pol, discovering failings that would have remained hidden in a gentler, kinder world.

If, on the other hand, Palin really is resigning to spend time with her family, then I, for one, am profoundly disappointed. In a previous Times Dust-Up, I praised Palin for being a conservative superwoman who sparked some fascinating soul-searching in movement feminism. She breast-feeds during conference calls! She gives news conferences while in labor! She finds time to jog! So when Palin offers boilerplate explanations about family time in her resignation speech, it means something altogether different than when it comes from a person with a Y chromosome. When Palin says it, it means, “Gee, being a mother of five, governor of a large state, author and candidate for national office is more than I can handle. Especially when everybody is being so mean to me.”

Palin’s right that her kids probably would have been better off never having heard, as she put it, “their baby brother Trig mocked by some pretty mean-spirited adults.” But her constant complaints about unfair attacks made her look, at best, like a whiny girl. At worst, she seemed to believe a bizarro version of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “vast right-wing conspiracy.” She probably was the victim of a double standard; her clothes and kids got more scrutiny than did her opponents’. But that’s the way the teething cookie crumbles, lady.

If Palin tried and failed to “have it all” and then chose family over politics, she may have made the right choice for herself. But Palin also made it harder to take the next female presidential contender seriously. Doubly so if she’s a family-values Republican, from whom the words “resigning to spend more time with my family” have the ghastly ring of potential sincerity.

Almost makes you hope for a kickback scandal, doesn’t it, Glenn?

Katherine Mangu-Ward is an associate editor at Reason magazine.

She’s damaged goods, and Republicans didn’t help much
Counterpoint: Glenn Reynolds

To me, the least interesting part of the Sarah Palin story has been Sarah Palin. She gave a great speech at the Republican National Convention, and she possesses considerable raw talent as a politician. But the key is “raw.” By throwing her hat into the race in 2008, the Republicans ate some of their leadership seed corn. If she were still just the well-thought-of governor of Alaska, she’d be well set up for future races. Instead, she’s been a target -- a “designated hate object” for many on the left -- and is now, if not damaged goods, at least no longer fresh.

But it’s the hate that I find hard to understand. Even some leftist feminists have been troubled by the way she’s been treated by the “supposedly liberal doods” of the left, and are noting that it’s hard to call her dumb when Joe Biden is around. There’s been a lot of indecent behavior from folks who are all to quick to play the “have you no decency” card when it suits them.

But Democrats are, as you note, Katherine, likely to talk smack about Republicans, and if feminists note that the smack talk in question is often sexist, well, that’s not really a surprise to anyone who’s read comments on DailyKos. What’s more interesting to me is the way in which the Republican establishment has been anti-Palin in large measure too. Joel Kotkin talks about “gentry liberalism,” which is certainly an apt description of the Obama crowd. But the GOP, for all its occasional populist posturing, doesn’t seem that much different.

Yet it’s not as if the GOP has a surplus of talent. Palin managed to dominate the airwaves and political chatter even amid all the Michael Jackson bathos. What other Republican figure could have made such a splash? Camille Paglia says that Palin doesn’t have the necessary coterie of expert advisors to deal successfully with “the mainstream media, with its preening bullies, cackling witches, twisted cynics and pompous windbags.” Perhaps those GOP potentates might have offered a bit more help.

As for the preening bullies, pompous windbags and so on, there are certainly plenty of those out there. They’ll probably treat the next fresh face in American politics -- at least the next fresh Republican face -- the same way, in between writing columns on ... the shortage of fresh faces in American politics.

Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, is creator of