Yesterday, Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner wrote a piece where he opined on the value or lack thereof of leaving office prematurely and what precipitates such an action. He discusses a variety of former politicians but focuses primarily on Senator Jim DeMint, who is resigning for what Carney deems honorable reasons, and Governor Palin, who in Carney’s mind did not.
When considering motivations, Carney noted several names of former political figures who left for less than ideologically pure reasons; but Jim DeMint, Carney notes, had been a "leading opponent of cronyism and corporate welfare" and thus it would have been particularly distasteful had DeMint left office to sell out the principles he had espoused for so long.
He points out that in Senator DeMint’s case, that at least he’s leaving to further the cause he, DeMint, believes so strongly in as opposed to leaving to become a lobbyist or to advise a hedge fund or some other equally banal pursuit.
"Some people, especially liberals, will attack him just for making lots of money. But there’s nothing wrong with making lots of money. What matters is what retired ‘public servants’ do with their knowledge and experience," Carney asserts.
In this, Carney is absolutely correct, but then he veers completely off course:
Failing to serve out a full term is not exactly breach of contract, but it does count as breaking an implicit commitment. If you don’t finish your term, you had better have a very good reason. Is your wife sick? Are you going poor?
For Palin, I can’t imagine a good reason.
This position is at once puzzling as it is distressing for a wide variety of reasons.
First and foremost, Carney is a fairly widely respected columnist so one should be confident in assuming that he would at least research a topic before writing a piece that uses said topic as a key argument in that piece.
Carney seems at a total loss. Why did Palin resign and breach her contract to the voters? Jim DeMint’s reasons are honorable…but Palin? She’s a sellout:
Maybe it’s embarrassing for a former governor to do a reality show and charge so much for speeches, but at the worst, she’s a publicity hound. She’s not putting her public service to work for special interests.
The last sentence is a back-handed compliment. In his view, the positive element behind Governor Palin’s resignation is that at least she isn’t working at some lobby firm or special interest group. The rest of the sentiment is entirely offensive, given this is the narrative of those who purposefully distort what happened and why.
Carney should know better; but since he apparently doesn’t, let’s engage in a little exercise for his benefit and the benefit of those like him who are uneducated and knowingly or unknowingly misuse the power of the pen by continuing false and destructive narratives about why Governor Palin was forced to resign:
Imagine, Mr. Carney, that you had spent your entire career in public life taking on cronyism and corruption, starting from your service on your city council. Imagine serving in that position for three terms, where you keep your commitment to reform and keeping government accountable to the people.
Imagine serving two terms as mayor of that town, where again, you strive to lead by example and continue to live and serve by the principles that drove you to public office in the first place.
Imagine losing a bid for Lt. Governor but ending up on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, where you encounter cronyism and corruption on a grand scale.
Imagine walking away from the security of the paycheck you got from serving on the AOGCC in order to expose that corruption as a whistleblower, ruffling the feathers of key people in your own political party.
Imagine running for Governor in a contested primary against a popular sitting Governor, winning over 50% of that vote before winning in the general election by almost as much.
Imagine being thrust into the national spotlight when you’re chosen to represent your party as its Vice Presidential nominee.
Then imagine, if you will, life back in your home state after the campaign trail. Everything has changed. The left has been drawn to you like flies to honey and, because of your vocal opposition to their chosen one and his agenda, decide to take you down.
Imagine that your own political party with its own grudges against you for keeping their feet to the fire, don’t mind all that much when operatives from the left exploit ethics laws that you, ironically enough, helped put into place to ensure those in public office are fully accountable to the people they serve.
Imagine enduring a sea of frivolous lawsuits for months, each costing you personally and the state and people you love more and more.
Now imagine that you had already accomplished everything you set out to do as Governor and, since you weren’t going to run for re-election, you had nothing to look forward to through the rest of your term but wasting 80% of your time dealing with frivolous lawsuits and a mountain of FOIA requests.
So there you are. You’re not running for re-election. There’s nothing more substantive you can do in what remained of your term since you had already accomplished everything you set out to do.
What would you do, Mr. Carney? Would you stay in office and lie placidly like the proverbial fish in the barrel while political adversaries abused the law to hurt you and your family? To make your remaining days in office miserable?
Do you, as a champion of ethics reform, government accountability and personal and professional responsibility in public service ride it out, continue to take a paycheck while most of your time is spent dealing with things unrelated to the work of the state you love?
Or, do you flip the tables on your adversaries and change the rules of the game by removing yourself from that particular field of battle? With you out of the way, life for the state of Alaska would go pretty much back to normal without your serving as a lightning rod for the left.
Now…going back to Mr. Carney’s original points that I quoted above: "Failing to serve out a full term is not exactly breach of contract, but it does count as breaking an implicit commitment."
But what if serving out your full term actually does harm to those you’ve promised to serve?
The length of the term should not be the full extent of its value, especially when what is accomplished during that service gets little or no notice. Further, I contend that, in Governor Palin’s specific case, given the very unique set of circumstances she was in, the act of resigning her office was in fact her keeping to the terms of her contract with the voters. She put their needs first even though she knew that some people would not or could not understand her motivations. "If I die politically, I die," Palin stated in regard to her resignation.
Carney also seems to miss the irony of these sentences:
Some people, especially liberals, will attack him just for making lots of money. But there’s nothing wrong with making lots of money. What matters is what retired “public servants” do with their knowledge and experience.
Mr. Carney, please consider that liberals are not alone in making such attacks. In truth, they don’t care about the real motivations behind a Republican resigning for office. They will always make the case that the reasons are less than honorable. But opportunistic career GOP politicians and establishment GOP consultants will also gladly stand by and say nothing or actively participate in those attacks when it suits their bottom line.
Such is the case with both Senator Jim DeMint and Governor Sarah Palin.
You seem to see the bigger picture in Senator DeMint’s case; but with regard to Governor Palin, you’ve made the mistake that many of the willfully ignorant and blissfully ill-informed make; you’ve decided what she did after she left office was the motivation for her leaving office in the first place.
Further, and with respect, she did significantly more than have a reality show highlighting what she and her family love about the 49th state.
With her "knowledge and experience", she worked tirelessly to forward the commonsense conservative agenda she had always articulated and campaigned with and for those she believed best represented the values she believes are needed in government.
She’s carried the banner in the reform movement’s fight against cronyism, Obamacare, cap and trade and a variety of other issues. And she continues her work to help put government back on the side of the people.
In short, she has used her time out of office wisely. That she happened to make money from speeches she gave that people wanted to hear, or from a television series people wanted to see, or from books she’s written that people wanted to read only means she’s made the best of circumstances entirely out of her control.
In closing, I ask you again, Mr. Carney, what would you have done in her shoes?
Would you have allowed your family, your office and your state to be pummeled financially or would you have taken a bold step and left the service you loved for a less certain path because it was the right thing to do?
And after leaving office, would you have continued to fight for the principles you’ve believed in since long before you entered public life a decade plus ago or would you have hung up a virtual "gone fishing" sign and quit public life altogether?
May I suggest that you consider the oft repeated Palinism about "not retreating, but reloading" in the context of what she faced and how she’s responded; and perhaps you’ll imagine the "good reason" why Palin left office when she did.
Maybe someday people will recognize that the time spent in public office is not nearly as important as what is accomplished while there; that holding on to a political title has no value if it’s at the expense of the electorate and one’s family.
Maybe someday…people will realize that honoring your commitment to the people you serve sometimes requires taking an unconventional path; that the best way to keep your word to the voters is to do what’s best for them, even if it’s inconvenient for you.
Maybe someday journalists will look beyond a narrative to seek what is the truth rather than simply accept a false premise as the basis of a lazy, fact-deficient argument.