With Act II Unwritten, Palin Can Define Her Role

Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin resigns as Alaska governor. In a farewell speech Sunday in Fairbanks, she warned against big government but gave few clues about her long-term political plans. Video by AP
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 27, 2009

Sarah Palin brought a tumultuous chapter of her life to a close on Sunday, voluntarily relinquishing power as governor of Alaska after a rise and fall almost unprecedented in modern politics.

She exited office in classic Palin style, with folksy picnics at which she bade farewell to her constituents, and with a running series of Twitter reports as she traversed the vast state. In one posted Saturday en route to Fairbanks, she wrote, "We remember all of AK is big/wild/good life; feel freedom here."

It may be that, after 11 difficult months in the spotlight, Palin longs to feel some of that freedom she wrote about Saturday. But does she have a second act in her repertoire?

"Palin Year One was the introduction of a persona, and the construction (and destruction) of legend around it," Tucker Eskew, a senior adviser to the Republican during her 2008 vice presidential bid, wrote in an e-mail Sunday. "I think she believes in an America of limitless possibility, so let's see. Year Two and beyond will be defined by her capacity for reinvention.

"Substantive second acts in American politics are reserved for those who stake a claim and defend it," Eskew added. "By resigning, she limits her chances for public office and expands her chances for personal good fortune. Somewhere in between public office and personal standing lies her apparent -- but elusive -- goal of influence."

Whether her ultimate goal now is to seek the presidency in 2012 or later is not known. Those who have some insight into her frame of mind believe she departs elected office without a real plan to make that happen -- or even a plan for what to do with the next six months of her life.

Palin left office about 18 months before the end of her term. In her farewell speech, she lashed out at the media, which she accused of "making things up," and warned about encroachments from big government in Washington. "Be wary of accepting government largess," she said. "It doesn't come free, and often accepting it takes away everything that is free." But she said nothing about her plans.

Her debut on the national stage in the summer of 2008 was a heady combination of adulation and baptism by fire. She gave Sen. John McCain's flagging presidential campaign a jolt of energy when he needed it, then contributed to the Republican ticket's downfall with a performance that split the McCain team into warring camps over her actions.

Her postelection experience has, if anything, been even less personally satisfying: a string of ethics complaints that have left her with personal debt; battles with the Alaska legislature; bruised feelings among some Republicans in Washington; and national poll numbers that point to a long, hard climb if she aspires to national office.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll completed last week found that 40 percent of the public have a favorable impression of her and 53 percent have an unfavorable opinion. Only 37 percent said they thought she understands complex issues.

Yet after all that, she remains a unique political personality. Palin continues to stoke passions among many conservative Republicans, and she generates fascination even among Americans who disagree with her policies and think she is not qualified to hold the highest office in the nation. Whatever comes next for her will be closely followed.

Palin has offered little insight into her plans. She has scheduled an Aug. 8 speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. She has expressed an interest in campaigning for candidates who want her help in elections this year and next. She has a lucrative contract to write a book. She has the capacity to earn substantial income as a public speaker, and there is speculation that she could become a radio or television advocate and personality.

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