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Out of Alaska

Sarah Palin on why she resigned and what it means for her future.

Jul 20, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 41 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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Before the announcement, Palin gave no public sign that she was thinking of resigning. When I visited Alaska in May, I heard widespread speculation that the governor would not run for reelection, but no one mentioned the possibility that she would resign. That announcement, Palin's sometime pollster David Dittman told me last week, was "out of the blue." Alaska's next governor, Sean Parnell, reportedly found out that he was getting a promotion only a few days prior to Palin's announcement. The Alaska GOP chairman, Randy Ruedrich, who has clashed with Palin in the past, also expressed surprise. When I asked another plugged-in Alaska Republican for comment on Palin's decision, the response was, "Where do I begin?"

Palin's unconventionality and authenticity is the key to her appeal. She may move contrariwise to elite opinion in Washington and New York, but doing so strengthens her bond with conservative Republicans across the country. The things that make liberals flip-out at the first mention of Palin are exactly the ones that rally conservatives to her side. Liberals view Palin's resignation as a sign of weakness. Conservatives view it as attractive nonconformity. "To her credit," Dittman said, "she just didn't tip off a few people and go through the motions for a year and a half."

Why is Palin leaving? At this writing, there is no reason to doubt her stated position: Her enemies' concerted efforts to tear her down have caused her family financial stress and distracted her from her duties as governor. Since she returned to Alaska in November 2008, she has been hemmed in. Ethics complaints, insults, invective, undue attention, and legal bills have been all-consuming. "I can't fight for what's right when I'm shackled to the governor's seat," Palin said. For the last seven months the governor's office has been a ward. A trap. She is breaking free.

Palin likes to say "everything changed" for her on August 29, 2008, the day she was introduced as John McCain's running mate. That may be an understatement. Before then, Palin was an extremely popular governor known to Alaskans as a bipartisan reformer and a champion of clean government. Outside Alaska, she was almost completely unknown. When she strode onstage with McCain that August day in Dayton, Ohio, the only thing the global media knew for sure about Palin was that she opposed abortion and recently had given birth to a child with Down's syndrome. Since then, Democrats and the press have done everything in their power to transform this populist hero into a gun-toting, idiotic, apocalyptic harpy.

Last year, in the space of eight weeks, the media said Palin was a Buchananite (she wasn't), a member of the Alaska Independence Party (nope), a book-banner (wrong again), and a biblical literalist who believed dinosaurs roamed the Earth several thousand years ago (an utter fabrication). When it wasn't mangling facts, the press did its best to undermine Palin's accomplishments, from selling Governor Murkowski's jet to finally pulling the plug on the Bridge to Nowhere to pushing through a natural gas pipeline with bipartisan support. The denizens of leftwing fever swamps accused Palin of infidelity and questioned her most recent pregnancy. Feminist activists denied Palin her womanhood because she did not share their politics. Comedians made fun of her accent, clothes, smarts, and good looks. And in a craven attempt to preserve their ties to the media, the campaign operatives who had promoted Palin to John McCain later turned on her, telling reporters (on background, of course) that Palin was an incompetent "rogue" "diva" who may have been suffering from postpartum depression.

Palin-hatred is visceral and unrelenting. "Our state was inundated with opposition researchers trying to dig up dirt, the Democratic blogosphere up here making stuff up," Palin told me. The file on my desktop labeled "Insult List" is an attempt to track every foul thing that's been said about Sarah Palin since she rose to national prominence. At the moment, the list is seven single-spaced pages long. Palin's been called, among other things, a "bimbo," a "cancer," a "farce," a "jack in the box," a "provincial," a "maniac," an "airhead," "Lady Gaga," and "political slime." And that's just a small taste of the G-rated stuff. The blue material is far worse.