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Palin Perplexer

Sunday, July 05, 2009 at 12:39 PM EDT

Sarah Palin’s decision to quit with 18 months left in her first term as Governor of Alaska is perplexing. The move seems to highlight her weakness as a national figure – the fact that she is unqualified for the presidency.

…some of the people closest to the Alaska governor say she wanted to regain control of a political script that slipped out of her hands the moment she burst onto the national stage.

Barack Obama was able to survive his weak resume because, in a TV-controlled political world, he impacted people as being presidential. While Palin is Obama’s equal, at least, on the celebrity measure, and she outmatched him on political experience and leadership when she was selected by John McCain, her botched roll-out by the McCain campaign left her tainted as intellectually lacking.

“I thought about, well, how much fun some governors have as lame ducks,” she said. “They maybe travel around their state, travel to other states, maybe take their overseas international trade missions. So many politicians do that. And then I thought, that’s what is wrong. . . . They hit the road, they draw a paycheck, they kind of milk it, and I’m not going to put Alaskans through that.”

Any concerns about Obama were mitigated by his high-powered and focused educational background, while concerns over Palin were reinforced by her history as a collegiate drifter.

“One of the worst things a politician can do is reinforce the rap against her,” Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, said yesterday in an e-mail message. “Resigning before her first term is up gives ammunition to all her critics.”

My first instinct was that Palin’s resignation must be rooted in a desire to run for the U.S. Senate against Lisa Murkowski with a long-term strategy of gaining her chops on the mainland, putting off her presidential ambitions until she had filled in the gaps.

Beyond energy policy, there is no issue with which she is associated. She has not used the months since the campaign ended to fill out her political profile. Beyond predictable criticism of President Obama as a proponent of big government, she has not been part of the national debate.

The chance to be in Washington would be the only justification for not digging in, ignoring the national stage, and proving herself to be worthy of the Presidency with a spectacular performance in Alaska, and a successful gubernatorial reelection effort. But Palin’s once immense popularity has slid, with Murkowski now the more popular of the state’s leading ladies.

“It hasn’t reached the point yet where she’s in trouble,” pollster Ivan Moore said. “But the decline has showed no signs of slowing.”

With a run against Murkowski next year appearing unlikely, Palin’s decision to quit as governor must reflect a short-term strategy. Rather than seeking to sure up her weaknesses, Palin seems to be doubling down on her strengths, with a plan to escape Alaska and bask in the glory of being a super-charged media magnet.

In her Facebook posting, Mrs Palin said she urged Americans to “join me” in looking how “we can advance this country together with our values of less government intervention, greater energy independence, stronger national security, and much-needed fiscal restraint”.

As cyncial as one can be about the power of celebrity in our culture – even when choosing a president – Sarah Palin’s decision to forgo the opportunity to improve her credibility by leading suggests that she views her celebrity as a more important commodity than the chance to be President.

“How sad that Washington and the media will never understand; it’s about country,” Mrs Palin wrote.

She’ll take the shot at the White House barring any personal mishaps or criminal/ethical issues – and why not? But having had a shot at the biggest job in the world, rather than being ready for the position, will apparently be enough for the girl from Wasilla.