06 October 2011
Yesterday, former governor Palin renounced, with perceived finality, any presidential ambitions for 2012. Realistically, she had waited too long to have any chance of winning the Republican nomination, given the rules designed to discourage a latecomer from sweeping the field. It was also a realistic decision given how her popularity had fallen while the announced candidates hold the spotlight. But there's a consistency to Palin's demurral that seems to transcend momentary calculations of her chances. As she did when she resigned her governorship, Palin stated that she felt she could do more good outside public office. While this certainly can be seen as the excuse of a quitter, let's note that it also conforms to Republican values in the 21st century. Don't they disparage public service and the public sector? Don't they believe that all real good, apart from national defense, is done in the private sector? Isn't it true that, while the small-r republicans of the Founding era considered public service such a high calling that they readily sacrificed their private interests, despite ritual protests, during the term they were called to service, the big-R Republicans of our time generally suspect the motives of anyone who aspires to join the "political class," -- except when they run for the Republican presidential nomination? If anything, Palin is behaving as we might expect a modern Republican to behave by putting her private agenda before public service, while the apparent assumption of the remaining candidates that they can only serve the public good as President should raise questions among primary voters. In the distant past, it was considered unseemly for any politician to hanker as obviously after office as Romney, Perry et al are. The pretense was maintained, at the least, that the ultimate candidate was actually summoned from private life by the spontaneous desires of the rank-and-file. The candidate sustained the pretense by stressing his reluctance before affirming his patriotic duty to answer the people's call. Today, we seem to assume that a candidate has answered the call by entering the primaries. By that standard, Palin has refused the call, even as her critics assume that she'd never been called. But in refusing the call, or refusing to be called, she affirmed her Republican identity, which should throw the essential Republicanism of the remaining candidates into question.