Note to soon-to-be-former Gov. Sarah Palin: Big girls don't quit.
Just ask Hillary Clinton. Crying — or at least misting up a little — you can get away with these days. But quitting? Not until you absolutely have to, and even then you might hold on for a few extra weeks.
Just ask Serena Williams, or, more to the point, her older sister Venus. Their first set in the Wimbledon women's final Saturday went to a tiebreaker, which Serena won. But even when she was down 5-2 in the second set, Venus battled back against three match points only to lose on the fourth.
Just ask Jenny Sanford, who's doing her best not to quit her marriage even though her husband has declared that he has found another soul mate. (And, by the way, if there's a governor who ought to be quitting, it's the one from South Carolina, not Alaska.)
But Palin didn't just quit. She quit — and proceeded to praise herself for doing so. This took a quintessentially Palinesque form, combining an unjustified air of selflessness with an unjustified sense of self-pity. "I thought about how much fun some governors have as lame ducks: travel around the state, to the Lower 48, maybe, overseas on international trade — as so many politicians do," Palin mused. "And then I thought: That's what's wrong. Many just accept that lame-duck status, hit the road, draw the paycheck and 'milk it.' I'm not putting Alaska through that."
Right. So when she was campaigning around the Lower 48 in pursuit of the vice presidency, or, later, setting up SarahPAC to pay for her political travel and turning up everywhere from Washington's exclusive Alfalfa Club to the Vanderburgh County Right-to-Life dinner, that was fine — not putting Alaska through anything. But it's not fair to the state for her to be a lame-duck governor? What, someone's going to hold a moose gun to her head and force her to go on a trade mission?
If you didn't understand that, Palin had a basketball analogy for you: Palin as point guard with "the national full-court press picking away right now." A good point guard, she said, "drives through a full-court press … and she knows exactly when to pass the ball so that the team can win." I'm no basketball junkie, but after the point guard passes, is it customary for her to walk off the court?
Palin followed up with a Facebook posting complaining that she was being held to a higher standard than others who left their jobs for a "higher calling." The media fail to understand "it's about country," Palin wrote — and then suggested, a sentence later, that it was about family. "Every American understands what it takes to make a decision because it's right for all, including your family." I'm confused: Is she planning to stay in the spotlight or get out of it?
It's fair to say that I've been no fan of Palin's since John McCain picked her as his running-mate, and my estimation of her has only gone downhill from there. I think my hostility has to do with our shared gender: I'm anxious to see women succeed in the political arena, as elsewhere, and I think McCain's cynical choice of Palin and her faltering performance since has served to set back that cause.
On the day she was announced as the vice presidential nominee, Palin gave a shout-out to Hillary Clinton's campaign and added, "It turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all." Yes we can, but Palin hasn't helped.
This latest twist in the Perils of Palin soap opera only makes matters worse. The unconvincing explanation combined with refrigerator-magnet wisdom — "Don't explain: Your friends don't need it and your enemies won't believe you anyway" — underscores the image of women unable to withstand the heat of political pressure. The notion that this is some kind of "brilliant" (Mary Matalin) or "crazy like a fox" (Bill Kristol) move strikes me as ludicrous.
If her fellow governor, Mark Sanford, proved anything, it's that a male politician can be as flaky and overemotional as any woman. So is it unfair that Palin's performance would reflect poorly on other female politicians? Of course. But Palin's move — not retreating, she said, but "advancing in another direction" — is no advance, for her or any other woman.
Ruth Marcus' e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. © 2009, Washington Post Writers Group