[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/07/06/sarah.palin.fbi/art.sarah.palin.gi.jpg caption="Alaska's Sarah Palin is stepping down as governor at the end of the month."]
David Gewirtz | BIO
Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Publishing
For those of us who follow politics like rabid sports fans follow their favorite teams, this weekend's announcement by Sarah Palin was like a gift from the gods.
As you undoubtedly know, the former Vice Presidential candidate, who's been in the national eye for all of about ten months or so, has just resigned as governor of Alaska - a full 18 months before her term officially ends.
For those of us in the chattering class, this resignation definitely gets our mouths a-flappin'. Is she nuts? Is she just quitting? Does she want to spend more time with her kids? Is she getting ready for a presidential run? Is scandalous news about to hit? Did someone threaten her with something unless she quits?
Is this political suicide?
The pundits are going crazy. If you're a crazy conservative, then this is a sure sign she's thought it all through and gearing up for the 2012 run. If you're a looney liberal, this is uncontroversial proof that she's a quitter and not suitable for the job of dog-catcher, let alone President.
But if you're a political sports fan, this is just good, clean fun.
The fact is, we don't know. Yet. Clearly more will become apparent. But that doesn't mean we can't speculate, and that's what I'm going to do.
First, let's eliminate the ‘nuts’ question. Despite the brittle cheerfulness shown in her resignation announcement, Sarah Palin still seems to be the same Sarah Palin we met last year. She's probably no more nuts than any other obscure politician would be if forced into the limelight overnight. But, like I said, we can't really know.
Let's also eliminate the question of quitting to avoid bad news. Given her inconsistent record in Alaska, it's certainly possible there's more bad news coming down the pike and she's resigning to avoid it. But, at least for now, we don’t know for sure.
Yet, at only 45 years old and possessing a brand awareness just slightly shy of Barack Obama’s, it seems terribly unlikely she's purposely squandering all that visibility in a sudden plunge to obscurity.
No, what I want to explore is the question of a 2012 run. Not because I'd like to see her as President, but because I wouldn't. I think there are plenty of Republicans far more qualified to lead a troubled country, and our current President seems to be doing reasonably well given some very tough challenges.
But, as a sports fan, I'd sure love to see her run.
And it's here that Sarah Palin is fascinating. She’s a natural talent. I'm not talking about policy wonkishness, or even the ability to run a nation (or a state, or even a town for that matter). No, I'm talking about talent to captivate, hold attention, and work a crowd.
Sarah Palin, for all her possible intellectual flaws, has some serious chops. Somehow she went from mayor of a tiny little town to governor of Alaska. If you've never been to Alaska, you don't understand just how amazing that is. Here's a former Miss Nobody who managed to defeat all the alpha dogs that the Alpha Dog State managed to toss against her and become governor. Talk about winning against all odds!
And then, last August, John McCain gave Sarah Palin the biggest gift imaginable, which is a brand name. The world learned who Sarah Palin was overnight. Learned her hockey mom persona. Learned of her family.
And the world learned that Sarah Palin seemed a lot like many of the moms, church goers, gun owners and ideological conservatives spread across America.
But, like Harry Potter in the early books, she's an untrained talent. And that's probably why she's so erratic. She's never had the opportunity to inculcate herself with traditional political behavior, traditional political manners and traditional political mannerisms.
She's just seen, wanted, and - by sheer force of personality and some amazing luck - transformed herself into an overnight celebrity.
The problem for Sarah Palin isn't just Sarah Palin. And it's not even that some people love her, while others loathe her. No, her problem is she's out of the American mainstream and if her ambitions take her out of Alaska, it's going to be tough to execute on those ambitions while stuck 24/7 in a bad episode of Northern Exposure.
Assuming she's not quitting because she's sick of it all, and assuming she's not quitting to run away from another impending legal shoe drop, let's just assume she's leaving office because she's had a taste of something bigger and it tasted oh, so good.
In that scenario, what does staying Alaska's governor for another 18 months buy her? Or, put another way, what could it cost her?
Well, she could make a governance misstep that could spoil her chances at a higher office. She could open herself up to more corruption charges. And, if she were to hunker down and just do her job, she could be out of the limelight long enough to lose some of the power of her current brand equity.
But what does staying in office buy her? Well, those who hate her wouldn't get to call her "quitter". But they'd call her other things, so that's pretty much a wash. What else? Anyone? Anyone?
Yeah, that's the thing. Staying in office in Alaska doesn't buy her very much at all. Even though Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee both finished their terms as governor, most pro-Palin supporters won't bother to differentiate between one former governor and another by the length of his or her term in office. She'll be former governor Palin alongside former governor Huckabee and former governor Romney.
And what does leaving office early buy her? Oh, so much.
First, it gets her out of the line of fire if some other corruption charge is about to hit the fan in Alaska. But more important, it gets her into the mainstream and the mainland of the United States.
It gives her the opportunity to say she'll miss Alaska, but she's staying in Virginia (or equivalent), for now at least. She could even leave First Dude and the offspring in Alaska, so they're out from underfoot while she's building a following.
That’s Sarah Palin's core strength. She can build a following like only a few people in recent political history. Huckabee's charming (if a little nuts in his own right), but next to Palin, he's barely visible. Even Chuck Norris might be barely visible next to Palin's momma's-got-a-gun homespun naughtiness.
And Romney? Romney's got mad skilz when it comes to finance, but his charisma comes in a can and is sprayed on before events. Romney will never be able to build a following anywhere near as large, enthusiastic, or vocal as Palin can - and she can do it overnight, with a mere wink and a smirk.
Who else do the Republicans have? Ron Paul? Rudy? Newt? Next to the raw star power Palin has, those possible contenders fade into the background.
So, in terms of star-power, if nothing else, she's got a chance.
Leaving the Alaska gig early buys her time. It buys her the opportunity to go on a speaking tour down here in the Lower 48. That'll not only get her some cash to pay off her legal bills, but it'll put her in front of more and more people likely to support her.
It buys her the opportunity to regularly meet with and court political backers and fundraisers, people who can make the rain necessary to give her the cash-money fuel to drive a 2012 campaign.
It buys her the opportunity to travel abroad, meet leaders of other countries, be seen by TV cameras meeting leaders of other countries and - be seen by TV cameras drawing huge crowds in other countries. If she travels around the world, even if they don't think she should be America's leader, she's sure to draw a crowd because she puts on a great show - and because she's a great American curiosity.
Leaving Alaska also buys her the opportunity to learn about America, so that she actually does seem smarter than a 5th grader when it comes time to run for an office in parts of the country that don't consider salmon slaying or helicopter hunting a pre-requisite for service.
By all accounts, Sarah Palin is her own woman. She doesn't appear to take instruction well from others and her only really trusted policy adviser is a snow machine jock. But that unpredictability, that - dare I say it...maverickishness - is what makes her a wild card.
Right now, it's anybody's guess what her real motivations are. But if she's going for the big prize, she's actually better served right now by not being Alaska's governor than being Alaska's governor.
And while it's not clear she knows a lot about American policy issues, it is clear there's one thing she's an undisputed expert at: getting Sarah Palin what Sarah Palin wants.
As a political sports fan, that's fascinating. As an American, well... to be honest, it does make the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
No matter what, we haven't heard the last from Sarah Palin and it's going to be a heck of an interesting story. Whether she's more Jerry Springer, Jerry Brown - or Jerry Maguire (of "show me the money" fame) - only time will tell.
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Editor’s note: David Gewirtz is Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Magazines, including OutlookPower Magazine. He is a leading Presidential scholar specializing in White House email. He is a member of FBI InfraGard, the Cyberterrorism Advisor for the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a columnist for The Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, and has been a guest commentator for the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. He is a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley extension, a recipient of the Sigma Xi Research Award in Engineering and was a candidate for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Letters.