It's been more than a week since Sarah Palin announced that she was resigning from the governorship of Alaska, and we still don't really know why. Despite intimations that a major scandal might be on the horizon, none has emerged. Nor has any clear reason come from Palin or her supporters. Several prominent journalistic attempts to explain her decision have fallen short: Timegave us a vapid contrarian reading of her resignation (Palin as "renegade");The Weekly Standardsang flackish hosannas to her free-spirited political persona (she is "breaking free" from a governor's office that's been a "trap"). Although it's still possible that some crucial facts are missing, we have to accept the possibility that Palin's decision to resign will remain somewhat inscrutable. That said, I think her brief history on the national stage has given us a handful of useful clues into her personality:
Incoherence: As Slate's Dahlia Lithwick points out, Palin has never been coherent except when scripted or interpreted by someone else. Even when given time to prepare remarks, as with her borderline nonsensical resignation speech, she seems unable to express herself in any clear, cogent manner. The consistency of her incoherence in combination with the unexpectedness of her decision to resign suggest both a lack of impulse control and poor reasoning skills. So it may simply be that it's tough to discern why Palin quit because there simply is no reason — other than that Palin isn't very good at thinking things through or acting rationally.
Ambition: Palin seems to have a genuine connection with the weird, frontier-like culture of Alaska, but she's also renowned for her ambition, and governing the state has limited her opportunities to both to live in the public eye and to make money off of doing so. Levi Johnston, the former fiance of Palin's daughter Bristol and father of Bristol's child, has said that, during the brief period in which he lived with the Palin family, he heard a fair bit of talk around the house about a very lucrative potential book deal, as well as the possibility of a Palin-hosted talk show. For someone who seems to view herself as a particularly important and deserving figure on the national stage, the fame and fortune dangling in front of her must have been extremely tempting.
Paranoia: Perhaps there isn't actually a serious scandal brewing, but instead, Palin quit out of an undue, hypersensitive fear of negative coverage combined with an extreme victim mentality. She's exhibited such paranoia before: A few weeks ago, CBS News published emails from the campaign trail depicting a fight between Palin and the McCain's chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, over whether or not to respond to stories about her husband Todd's membership in a fringe Alaska secessionist group, the Alaska Independence Party.
After hearing someone from a crowd shout a derisive remark about his membership, Palin sent an email to Schmidt grossly exaggerating what had happened, saying that she'd seen protester signs and received questions about her husband's AIP membership from multiple reporters. She wanted a statement released addressing the issue. But the statement she wanted released — that secession isn't part of the group's platform and that Todd's membership was an "error" — was untrue.
Schmidt called her bluff and refused to send out any statement about Todd's membership, arguing that doing so would only draw attention to what was really a non-issue. The incident seems revealing: Palin, faced with a single comment in a rope line, built up substantial threat in her mind where none previously existed and then attempted to readjust the facts of the case to make her and her family seem more victimized.
One wonders if that's exactly what she's done here, particularly given that Palin's lawyer recently sent a four-page letter to a number of media organizations threatening to sue if any of them published potentially "defamatory" material. Doing so, of course, simply made the story bigger and stranger, and gave news organizations more opportunity to write about the accusations in question.
In other words, there isn't a firm "answer" perfectly explaining why she decided to step down. But there are some telling behavioral patterns, all of which seem to have been at play in her decision to resign. Palin's time on the national stage has been short, but a few common threads have emerged: paranoia, poor reasoning, and an outsize sense of self-importance. I can't help but think that those are the same factors that drove her to quit.
Last week, Cathy Young wrote about Sarah Palin and the future of conservatism.