Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Thinking about Sarah Palin (Again)

Sarah Palin's cover story for her resignation simply makes no sense. I don't know why she or anyone thought it would. A person who serves only one term is a "lame duck" unless they intend to or can run again? So every termed-out politician is a lame duck? Really? It is revealing if she thinks so, or thinks that it makes sense to say so. The purpose of serving is to be able to run again... fascinating. Why exactly is she resigning at this random point in time? Nothing she has said is plausible. The reason must be something else.

Is it that she intends to run for President? I hear this, but I can't believe it. How could it hurt her to finish her term of Governor of Alaska in 2010- to complete her only political job besides Mayor of Wasilla - if she intends to run for president two full years later? Even in Iowa, presidential politics won't really start until after the 2010 midterms. And it's not like running Alaska is that a hard a job, really. It's got fewer inhabitants than San Francisco and no real budgetary problems. Don't buy it that she's doing it to run for President. Makes no sense.

Run for Senator in 2010? Well, that could be true. There's no love lost between her and Lisa Murkowski. The Alaska primary appears to be in August 2010. Perhaps Sarah Palin is waiting for Lisa Murkowski to put her foot in it (she has leaned to the center during her career) and use that as an excuse to challenge her. Then she could run for President in 2016 from the Senate seat - or rather, she could resign her "lame duck" senate seat in 2014 and run... Still, it seems odd not to run for the Senate post from a better seat, say, from the Governor's mansion? Why let another ambitious Alaskan get that seat (Parnell- see below).

Is the idea to put Parnell in the Governor's seat? Parnell tried to take on Don Young in an intra-primary challenge. Don Young is Alaska's only representative in the H of R. He almost lost in the 2008 election to a Democrat, so he is vulnerable. Why tie down Parnell? So he can't run for Senate or Rep? But if he wanted to, why not as incumbent Governor? I don't see it.

I don't see, in other words, any damned decent political reason for Sarah Palin to resign. The only thing that makes sense is scandal. I just wonder if, when Todd Palin asked his wife whether she was going to abort or carry the down's syndrome child, she didn't respond, "What do you care- it's not yours..."


Raised By Republicans said...

If it's a scandal along the lines you speculate about, the story will be broken by some sordid tabloid.

Raised By Republicans said...

I have to admit to a certain amount of schadenfreude/voyeurism here. I can't wait for the rest of the story to break.

If nothing else comes then the final analysis must be that she is simply nuts and not very smart.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Sarah Palin's resignation story makes sense to me, LTG. It took her a few months after the VP race was over to figure it out, but for whatever reason she finally decided not to run for re-election in 2010. (I believe her ambitions are Presidential, but that need not be the case.) At any rate, as soon as Sarah Palin announces that she will not run again, she knows the final eighteen months of her term become a lame duck term. Every termed-out executive is a lame duck in the last year or so of their term, as they will not be around long enough to carry through on threats or promises and therefore they can no longer effectively cajole the legislature into doing their will. Is that not standard "lame duck" theory?

I think the underlying motivation for Palin is simple: Now that Palin is a national figure, perhaps with national aspirations, I suspect Palin is just fed up with dealing with a petty little legislature in a petty little state. She most certainly did not want to have to deal with the complaints, headaches, and endless investigations after weakening herself further--after announcing she would not run again. (Not to mention she already has a fairly full plate at home.) The key is this: by this point there is virtually no chance she could do anything in the next eighteen months that would help her politically anyhow, especially during a nasty recession. The only thing she would get out of completing her job was the right to say she had completed her job. And she decided that was just not worth it. As far as she was concerned, by resigning the governorship she was just burning a bridge to nowhere.

Furthermore, the scandal narrative is not nearly so clear to me. While it is possible Palin decided to resign pre-emptively to avoid impeachment stemming from a corruption scandal, resigning would do nothing to prevent a personal scandal from harming her reputation. Other than avoiding the ignominy of impeachment, it would do nothing to prevent a corruption-type scandal from harming her reputation either, nor would it avoid indictments.

Raised By Republicans said...

Dr. S. The lame duck motive is nonsense. Schwarzenegger is a lame duck governor right now because of term limits yet, he have enormous influence over policy (he just vetoed a budget for example). A lame duck governor can also do all the things strictly within the authority of the executive. This would include, incidentally, shepherding through to its conclusion the ongoing deal Palin is championing for new pipeline construction for Alaskan natural gas.

But also it makes no sense logically. Assume for the moment that the lame duck is powerless on her last day of office. She may as well resign. Well, then why not resign the two days before, or 18 months before? Fine. If we follow this logic, it makes no sense for a governor to run for reelection unless there are no term limits. Because, after all, if you win reelection in a state with a two term limit for governors (quite common), then you are lame duck the second you win reelection - by Palin's logic. Since that's the case, why bother running for reelection? If you needn't bother running for reelection, that means you are imposing a 1 term limit on yourself making you a lame duck the second you are initially sworn in.

If we follow Palin's logic (which Dr. S, appears to have done), then there is no rational motive for any politician to take office at all in the presence of term limits. This is obviously nonsense. Such logic does not pass the smell test.

Dr. Strangelove said...

RbR: You might have overlooked my caveat that the termed-out executive is a lame duck, "in the last year or so of their [last] term." You might also have missed that I claimed only that Palin would be "weakened" for the remainder of her term, not "powerless." Your reductio ad absurdum arguments do not really apply here because my claims were more limited and more reasonable. The idea that an executive is weakened in the last year or so of their term is sensible. Most politicians are still willing to serve out that last year anyway, because they can still do some good.

But I would understand why Palin might be unwilling to do so, especially since she is already hopelessly besieged by the state legislature and probably feels the job has become a backwater distraction from her national ambitions.

Raised By Republicans said...

I don't think you can toss out the backwards induction approach so easily simply by adding caveats and hedges.

Let's say that an incumbent is a lame duck only on the last day of holding office. Let's say further that the lame duck has "reduced power" but is not powerless. All that does is change the presumed incentive from overwhelming to significant. But the conclusion remains that all incumbents are facing an identifiable time in the foreseeable future when their power will be reduced. Why?

The mechanism is the critical element of this backwards induction approach. Lame ducks are said to be less powerful because the fact that they will not be in office in the future makes other politicians less willing to make concessions or negotiate with them. If that realization hits the politicians the day before the incumbent leaves office, it should mean no negotiations two days before. If there are none two days before, then there will be none three days before and so on.

So I would ask you what the difference logically is between your hedge (a year or so) and what I said. The logic is absolutely applicable.

"probably feels the job has become a backwater distraction from her national ambitions." In the absence of a big looming scandal to be revealed in the next week or so, I think this is probably what she thinks. She is deluding herself, however, if she believes that resigning her job as governor will make her look more electable to anyone.

My point is that the argument that she is quitting because it doesn't matter because she's a lame duck anyway is absolute nonsense. There is simply no logically coherent way to argue that term limits or unwillingness to run for reelection logically leads to a reasonable motive for resignation.

Ultimately, any claim by Palin that she needs to resign for the good of Alaska or even the Alaskan Republican Party because she is a lame duck, depends entirely on her own unique situation (something Dr. S. raises but Palin has not admitted publically) not on any inherent qualities of lame duck status.

Dr. Strangelove said...

First, an apology: "backwards induction" is the right term, not reductio ad absurdum. You are right that backwards induction is a solid approach and--now that I have read your descriptions again--I agree it is applicable.

You asked for the logical difference between my hedge and what you wrote. Let me first follow your logic to affirm that we are on the same page here. Suppose on the last day the termed-out incumbent has no effective power to negotiate since their threats/promises are toothless, since they are very soon to be out of power. Then, as you indicate, we can work backward and conclude that on the second-to-last day their threats/promises are equally toothless, since they are effectively out of power on the last day as described above. And so on back to the start of their last term. This is what you said, I think.

The logical difference is that the caveat really matters here. Suppose that the day before an incumbent is out of office she is weaker but not powerless. Working backward, on the second-to-last day they would also be weakened, but less so. And even less so the day before that. Basically the sudden drop-off is smoothed out into an exponential decay. So for most of their final term, they are at (very nearly) full power, and it only starts to fall off near the end, plunging precipitously in the final few days or weeks of the term. By setting the amount of weakening and the time scale, you can shape the curve as you like, but most reasonable parameters will lead to something that looks pretty much as I just described. Which is rather reasonable.

The claim that Sarah Palin resigned for anyone's good but her own is laughable--as it would be for any politician, really. Palin was already having trouble working with the Alaska legislature and knew it would only get worse once she announced she wasn't running for re-election, and the prospect of eighteen more months of unproductive, petty bickering in a dead-end job was totally unappealing to her. On the other hand, Palin figured she could take some time off, make a heap of money from her adoring fans on the national book and lecture circuit, and maybe even lay the groundwork for a Presidential run in a few years. Sounds a lot more appealing, no?

Raised By Republicans said...

Yes we are on the same page with regard to basic logical structure.

"Suppose that the day before an incumbent is out of office she is weaker but not powerless. Working backward, on the second-to-last day they would also be weakened, but less so. And even less so the day before that. Basically the sudden drop-off is smoothed out into an exponential decay. So for most of their final term, they are at (very nearly) full power, and it only starts to fall off near the end, plunging precipitously in the final few days or weeks of the term. "

Interesting. But now aren't we saying that a lame duck would be expected to have the greatest incentive to "keep fighting" by resigning close to not far from their final day in office. By resigning a year and a half before her first term is up, Palin is either EXTREMELY sensitive to the drop off in power (if true, her resignation for these reasons is unprecedented in American politics) or responding to some other, as yet unmentioned, incentive.

Earlier, you said that the lame duck motive makes sense to you. I really wonder if you still believe that after working through it.

I have never heard of a chief executive - even one with a hostile legislature and ambitions for higher office - resigning because of the kind of lame-duck logic Palin claims motivated her. If it really was as reasonable as you suggest, don't you think that at some point it would have happened before? Indeed, the way Palin seemed to think it so obvious what she was doing and why, you'd expect it to be quite common.

Raised By Republicans said...

You know, another possibility that we haven't considered here was raised on Andrew Sullivan's blog (see link to the right). She's just a quitter. Think about it. She attended 5 colleges in 5 years before finally getting a degree. She also quit her job at the Oil and Gas Board for Alaska. Maybe this is just what she does. She quits.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Well, she's still married to her first husband and has five kids. That shows some stick-to-it-iveness.

My lame duck comments still remain. It's pretty clear that it would be absurd for every executive to resign a year before their term was up to avoid becoming a lame duck.

Besides which, politicians love the power and prestige of being the Big Cheese. That doesn't go away.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I feel that a governor who is already facing a hostile state legislature might reasonably expect to have an even more difficult time of it after announcing she will not seek re-election. That's all I am saying. Is that so unreasonable?

I think your observation that she is a "quitter" makes a lot of sense here. It did not take much to push her into that column. It is worth noting that her previous quitting did not hurt her. You ask why other governors do not quit under these circumstances. Good question. I think it is just a rare combination of circumstances. Governors in trouble rarely have the opportunity to seek higher office, but Sarah Palin was elevated by McCain to a national standing in the midst of all that. That's the big oddball here. 99% of governors in trouble would believe that the only way they could ever get to the national stage would be to persevere and somehow triumph against the odds in their final year.

btw, regarding that exponential fall-off business: it all depends on the time scale you use. We used "days" as our time unit, but the molasses of state politics probably calls for months or years. (Clearly hours, minutes, or seconds would also be inappropriate...)

Raised By Republicans said...

"I feel that a governor who is already facing a hostile state legislature might reasonably expect to have an even more difficult time of it after announcing she will not seek re-election. That's all I am saying. Is that so unreasonable? "

Yes, actually I do think it is unreasonable in that I don't think it reflects any kind of systematic or general phenomenon. If it were the case that lame ducks with hostile legislatures who have higher office ambitions would be better off resigning it would have happened dozens of times in American political history and we'd have no trouble at all finding parallels for what Palin claims to be doing. The fact that there no previous incidents of this behavior despite the frequent occurrence of the circumstances I take as pretty strong evidence that Palin's lame duck logic is not logical at all and that it is mostly likely nothing more than a half baked cover story dreamed up perhaps on her own or with minimal input from ineffective advisors (like her husband Todd).

Dr. Strangelove said...

Well, this is a unique set of circumstances, not a frequent occurrence, as I explained. I suppose we will just have to see how it pans out.

Raised By Republicans said...

What about her situation is unique? Are you arguing that she is the first governor with ambitions to run for a higher office who has faced a hostile legislature? Or is there something else that makes it unique? If there is something else, is it related to her lame duck status or is it something independent of that?

Pombat said...

I think it's probably a combination of her whole lame duck thing (as outlined by Dr.S), her preference for book tours etc rather than dealing with petty squabbles & hostile legislature, her quitting nature, and a fair bit of arrogance due to the whole VP thang - would anyone be surprised if she said that she considered herself too good for the role of Governor now, and above it all?

LTG: "Well, she's still married to her first husband and has five kids. That shows some stick-to-it-iveness. "

Maybe she's started divorce proceedings a few times, but they've gotten too difficult, so she's quit them? ;-p

Dr. Strangelove said...

In addition to what Pombat wrote...

"Governors in trouble rarely have the opportunity to seek higher office, but Sarah Palin was elevated by McCain to a national standing in the midst of all that. That's the big oddball here. 99% of governors in trouble would believe that the only way they could ever get to the national stage would be to persevere and somehow triumph against the odds in their final year."

Raised By Republicans said...

I guess my question is then what you define as "in trouble." If it is just that she's a lame duck with a hostile legislature then I don't believe it's accurate to say that the lame duck excuse/motive that Palin claims makes sense. BUT, if you mean that she's beset with ethics charges and a series of minor to moderately embarrassing family scandals then I do believe that. But the second definition of "in trouble" is NOT what Palin said was her motive. She claimed her reasons were dominated by her self imposed lame duck status.

I do not think that she is the first lame duck governor with a hostile legislature who had ambitions of higher office.

Raised By Republicans said...

By the way, I just saw an interview with Palin on CNN where she insisted that she is "not a quitter." She's either insane or incredibly stupid or thinks we are all incredibly stupid or some combination of the three.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Nobody on this blog suggested Sarah Palin was speaking truthfully regarding her motives. I certainly have not said that. Perhaps I misunderstood the question?

LTG said he could not see, "any damned decent political reason for Sarah Palin to resign." Therefore he asserted there must be some looming hidden scandal we do not yet know of. But I think that is not necessary. Given the ethics charges and family scandals we already know of, given the hostile legislature (and its likelihood of becoming even more difficult to work with in the next year), and most important given Sarah Palin's sudden and perhaps unprecedented elevation to national status in the middle of all that... Well, I think her resignation is straightforward to understand. As I have tried to explain. Obviously it not what I would have done in her place, but then you could say that about most of what Palin has done.

Raised By Republicans said...

LTG said of the lame duck motive "I don't see, in other words, any damned decent political reason for Sarah Palin to resign. The only thing that makes sense is scandal."

To which you responded, "Sarah Palin's resignation story makes sense to me, LTG." You then argued with me in defense of the logic of the lame duck motive for resignation.

What I would like to know is if you still think that the lame duck explanation makes sense or if I misunderstood you when I thought you were saying that you did think it made sense.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I think maybe you did take an overly narrow view of LTG's original post and my answer to it.

If you will read LTG's post again, I am sure you will see that LTG went through several possible reasons for Palin's resignation (one per paragraph) and he discounted each one. The conclusion LTG drew from this--that he could see no political reason for her to resign--was clearly meant to be a general conclusion, not limited to lameduckery.

In my comments I also delved deeper than her cover story. For example, bulk of the text in the first comment is devoted to describing what I called the "underlying motivation" for her resignation... In other words, I never took her story at face value. I do not know why you would ever think I would do such a stupid thing. Instead, I tried to look beneath it. My point all along has been that Sarah Palin's resignation can be understood with the facts at hand. It does not require the revelation of any new scandals to make sense.

Several times I have tried to lay out why I think she resigned. Along the way, I did take issue with the specific claim that the "lame duck" concept was nonsense. I think there is an important kernel of truth there. I agree that the claim that Palin would suddenly become a lame duck is an overstatement. Initially I wrote that the "final eighteen months" of Palin's term would have become a lame duck term--and that was wrong--but in the very next sentence (and ever since) I backtracked a bit and claimed only that a termed-out executive would become a lame duck, "in the last year or so of their term." And I still believe the basic idea is sensible: a governor's ability to get things done should wane as their term winds down. Palin would only have found it more difficult to work with the legislature after she announced she would not run for re-election.

The funny thing is, I think you and I are pretty close to agreement on Sarah Palin's likely motives for resigning. A combination of family problems, an inability to accomplish anything as governor, and the wide range of lucrative opportunities outside Alaska that await her. I just don't know why you continued to assume I was defending Sarah Palin's story, after I went to such lengths to explain what I thought were the underlying reasons behind it. (I kept smelling "straw man" but didn't want to say it.)

Raised By Republicans said...

You know, you say you didn't want to say it then you did.

It is the "kernel of truth" argument that I am arguing against. I suggest that if you looked at all the cases of governors who had hostile legislatures and tried to see if being a lame duck was a significant predictor of them resigning, I bet you would not find statistical significance. Indeed, you'd have serious trouble finding a large enough sample of resignations to really get any purchase on it. If there were even a kernel of truth to the lame duck*hostile legislature interaction, we'd expect to see not only more resignations than we do but a significant relationship with hostile legislatures and the lameness of ducks - er chief executives.

I don't think you are Palinista or that you take her story at face value. I do think you are arguing that parts of her story are at least in part logical. It's that bit I'm trying to convince you is mistaken.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I really thought it was just plain old conventional wisdom that an executive in the waning months of their term had diminished political capital to work with... But you appear to be arguing that there is never any significant waning of political power and that the whole concept of lame-duckness does not even make sense. So we seem to be totally at odds here and I am at a loss. If you agree with any part of the idea concept of lame-duckness it would help if you could acknowledge that at some point.

But anyway, the question of whether lame-duckness exists is different from the question of whether resignation is a sensible response to it. In 99% of the cases, I think resignation would not make sense. A governor in poor standing with her state is almost always toast, politically speaking. A governor runs for higher office on the strength of what they accomplished as governor, and there's almost no way to build a national campaign based on a failed or ineffective governorship. So most politicians would just slug it out to the end. (Besides, they like the perks.)

But Palin's situation is unique! This is another point of contention between us I think: you do not think her position is particularly unusual and so you keep trying to fit her into a statistical sample. But I think she is unique for the simple reason that she has some remarkable alternatives. Sarah Palin was magically elevated to national standing and became an instant hit with the party base... And this happened even while all the scandals and investigations and hostile legislature stuff was out there for all to see.

My god, Palin enjoyed a huge, avid national following before she was even halfway through her first term of office! And most important, it was based on her persona, not on her record. Who but Palin could possibly resign under such a cloud and yet still expect to command a large, loyal national following? She figured she was not going to get much accomplished anyhow (and her record was never her strong point) and so she decided to rid herself of some headaches and free herself to pursue more lucrative opportunities, with a future Presidential run possibly in the mix too.

Raised By Republicans said...

Geez, talk about straw man arguments! I never said that lame ducks have no diminution of power at all (indeed, if you go back and look again, you'll see that I agreed with you on that basic aspect of this discussion). Of course lame duck executives have somewhat diminished influence - but they still have the veto which is BY FAR the most important part of their legislative influence and they still have control over.

What I am trying to get at is the specific argument that being a lame duck with a hostile legislature is sufficient incentive to induce resignation. If it were, we would expect to see other cases of early resignation but we do not.

As for all the stuff you mention about whether Palin is unique or not, of course her situation is at least unusual (although I could mention off the top of my head several governors with national followings: Huey Long, both Roosevelts, Reagan not to mention any number of governors - like Carter, Clinton, Jeb Bush or Romney who had Presidential ambitions without really having the following to start with), I'll just point out (again) that none of it has to do with her lame duck status. It has to do with other things.

I'm not saying that her popularity with a certain constituency is irrelevant, I'm saying it is independent of her lame duck status and that the lame duck status likely had no significant effect. In other words, she lied. She resigned because she wants to cash in at Fox not because she is a lame duck.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I would dispute some of what you wrote, but I guess we should just leave it here. We agree that Palin was not honest about her motives, but they are understandable motives. So we agree enough!

The Law Talking Guy said...

After some discussion with RBR offblog, I have come to a new conclusion - that there is a non-scandal explanation.

Palin wanted fame and fortune, and it seems that being Governor is now just a hindrance to that "larger" goal. She was first a beauty pageant contestant (winning 3rd in Miss Alaska in 1984), then a sportscaster. That didn't work at first, so she tried her hand at local politics. Big success there, very big. But where do you go from being a failed VP candidate? How do you just do your job again? So now, to serve that goal better, I gather she needs to be working with a publicist promoting herself nationwide. Guarantee you she'll "write" a book. You know, Lessons from a Hockey Mom or Faith of Our Mothers or something. Some pop-conservative rallying thing. So enough with that nuisance job in Juneau that is 8 time zones away from New York City.

Raised By Republicans said...

LTG, her book is already under contract.

The Law Talking Guy said...