Anyone who previously doubted Sarah Palin's celebrity status need no longer doubt. The surprise announcement of her decision to resign the Alaska governorship effective July 26 -- fully 18 months before the end of her first term -- generated a reaction nearly powerful enough to bump Michael Jackson's funeral from the headlines.
In addition to the usual sources of political news, People magazine weighed in with a report quoting gubernatorial father-in-law Jim Palin's reaction: "Wow.…We had no idea it was coming." The elder Palin reported that "Sarah and Todd had thought it through," but their planning had been unreported -- and their decision clearly unexpected -- by Palin-haters in both parties, who rushed to interpret Friday's resignation in light of their own prejudices.
Perhaps the most deranged reaction was the rumor -- immediately, officially and emphatically denied -- that Palin was the target of an FBI investigation. Without merit of evidence, logic or any on-the-record source, this rumor quickly escalated into a frenzy of baseless speculation reminiscent of the left-wing blogosphere's mid-2006 fantasies of "Fitzmas," when the indictment of Karl Rove by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was regarded as an accomplished fact.
The political sources and political purposes of the Palin investigation rumor were as obvious as the rumor's lack of any factual basis, as Palin's attorney made clear in his rebuttal.
"This canard was first floated by Democrat operatives in September 2008 during the national campaign and followed up by sympathetic Democratic writers," said Thomas Van Flein, the governor's legal counsel. "It was easily rebutted then as one of many fabrications about Sarah Palin. Just as power abhors a vacuum, modern journalism apparently abhors any type of due diligence and fact checking before scurrilous allegations are repeated as fact."
That Palin's enemies would recycle this discredited falsehood, and that unscrupulous reporters would rush to repeat the rumor, was as predictable as the luridly breathless tabloid headlines that followed news of Michael Jackson's death.
However, unlike the tabloid editors inventing juicy tidbits about Jacko -- eagerly exploiting the legal convenience that dead men don't file libel suits -- reporters who jumped on the bogus Palin rumors were aiming at a live and potentially dangerous target. Liberal Alaska blogger Shannyn Moore was named as a source of these "scurrilous allegations" by Van Flein, who warned that repetition by mainstream news organizations was "actionable."
She's not the target of federal investigators, but Palin has been a favorite target of Democratic enemies and envious Republicans for nearly 10 months, ever since her announcement as the GOP vice-presidential selection injected instant excitement into Sen. John McCain's previously lackluster campaign.
She quickly put the Republican ticket ahead in the polls, but Palin paid the price for her popularity. As she said in her speech Friday, "Political operatives descended on Alaska last August, digging for dirt."
Even after the election, they kept digging, determined to bury her political career. Her gubernatorial office made her a fixed target, with enemies filing frivolous ethics complaints that made Palin's every move a potential legal action that burdened Alaska taxpayers.
This at least partly explains her enemies' rage over her unexpected decision to resign on short notice. She thereby eludes the trap they had laid for her. She returns to the status of private citizen, where malevolent rumormongers can't cloak their slander in bogus expressions of concern about "ethics."
There were, of course, many other important factors behind her decision. She's working on her biography (with my Donkey Cons co-author Lynn Vincent as her collaborator) for a contract reportedly worth $11 million. And the refusal of her enemies to spare her children from attack -- from David Letterman's smutty snark at her teenage daughter, to the Internet vermin who've chosen to target her year-old son Trig -- certainly weighed in her considerations.
Palin's maternal concern about the "pretty mean-spirited adults" who have "mocked" her Down Syndrome infant was dismissed by her enemies -- CNN's Anderson Cooper could scarcely disguise his doubt of her sincerity -- while others rushed to declare that, by resigning as governor, she was in effect abandoning any prospect of a political future.
"Her national political career is done," NBC's David Shuster declared, even before reports of her plans to resign had been confirmed. Other media types joined the rush to write Palin's political obituary, with a Greek chorus of "conservative" commentators transparently eager to agree that her resignation represented proof that Palin is both unelectable to and unfit for higher office.
Of course, she had just exposed as fraudulent the pretended omniscience of the commentariat. None of them had predicted Palin's resignation, and yet their latest oracular pronouncements -- Ed Rollins told CNN she looked "terribly inept" -- were treated as authoritative.
The punditocracy can't predict Palin because she shares neither their perspective nor their assumptions. Her ascent to political stardom has been treated as a fluke by most of the GOP establishment for the simple reason that she doesn't slavishly follow the standard script of Republican politicians.
Of course, in recent years this script usually has ended with "…and then the Democrats won," suggesting the need for a re-write. The next version of the story may yet have a surprise ending -- at least, surprising to the pundits whom Sarah Palin has surprised so often before.