Sarah Palin, Preparing to Run

While it is so easy to slip into double meanings when talking about Sarah Palin (for example, I considered "Waiting For The Other Naughty Monkey Double Dare Red Shoe To Drop" as a title today... ahem), the title I did choose starts out as a literal one. Because I finally got around to reading Palin's most recent interview in Runner's World magazine. And the article is accompanied by seven photos, not (as one may have expected) of Sarah Palin actually running, but instead of Sarah preparing to run. We'll get into double meanings later, but first, let's examine these preparing-to-run photos.

Most of the photos are just of Palin stretching or doing yoga, in running clothes. One prominently features her son Trig. But it's the last one that really gave me pause. It shows Governor Palin (we can still call her that for another few weeks) in what is close to a classic beauty queen pose (one leg slightly bent at the knee, hand on hip), in a bright red shirt and what I assume are black running shorts. But it's everything around Palin that really makes the photo.

Unlike the other photos, which were shot outdoors near the lakeshore (where she reportedly does her actual running), this one is posed in what appears to be her living room. Prominent behind Palin is a small banner with a star on it, in honor of her son's military service overseas. This is attached to a picture window which shows the lake, and a small part of her seaplane and dock. A pair of fuzzy booties really should have been moved a bit to the side by the photographer, as they appear to be growing out of Palin's hip (this is basic portraiture -- pick a neutral background so things aren't growing out of a subject's head or other parts of the anatomy). And Palin is awkwardly clutching what appears to be a Blackberry-type PDA (although, in my admitted ignorance, it may be some sort of fancy running computer). Clutching this object is what spoils the classic model's pose, and makes her stance look forced, but maybe Palin herself wanted it in the shot. And there's one more thing about that photo that leaps out at you.

The power outlet behind her has only one socket child-proofed. Seems like locking half the barn door.

No, I'm kidding, of course. The most prominent thing in the photo (other than Palin herself) is the American flag draped over the desk stool Palin is leaning upon. Much more than the PDA in her hand, this is what causes this photo to scream "Posed!" at me. Because only a cursory look reveals that that flag was just taken out of a box, and has never flown anywhere. You can easily spot the creases in it, and if you looked closely enough you could probably spot a price tag on it somewhere.

Accompanying this photo is the following quote, from the interview with Palin:

It doesn't matter your background, your demographics, your race, your political affiliation, it's such a uniting, healthy, fun, awesome activity. It cracks me up going to some running event and seeing some dude who campaigned so hard against me, or a lady who's been blogging some mean comments about me. But we're all there together and we're smiling and we're having a good time because we're going to do something healthy and active. We need more of that.

To be fair, it's a longish interview, and politics only came up once or twice, when the interviewer asked Palin political questions (this quote is in response to the question: "Is running nonpartisan?").

The whole interview is interesting, mainly because Palin just doesn't give many such long and in-depth interviews. Of course, it is centered around running (consider the audience), but Sarah's "I just gotta be me" spirit peeks out here and there. She gets in a few digs at McCain's handlers (they refused to schedule a half-hour or hour for her to run every day during the campaign), and even one at McCain's expense ("I used to joke around with John McCain during the campaign about coming jogging with me. And once I asked him what his favorite exercise was, and he said, 'I go wading.' Wading. He lives on a creek in Arizona, so he goes wading. That cracked me up.").

But there's also a few read-between-the-lines candid moments in the interview as well. Perhaps Palin was posed for the preparing-to-run photos (rather than actual photos of her running) because she is wearing makeup for the photographer. As she puts it: "When I run, I'm totally incognito because I'm not wearing the trough full of makeup. I can go running through a mob of tourists and they don't recognize me."

But on a larger scale, there are a few other quotes that bear reprinting here.

Well, I appreciated the fact that in running I needed guts more than anything. I could do fine just being really determined. I was thankful that I didn't need a whole lot of skills to run.

. . .

I feel so crappy if I go more than a few days without running. I have to run. No matter how rotten I feel before or during a run, it's always worth it to me afterwards. Sweat is my sanity. A great frustration I had during the campaign was when the McCain staff wouldn't carve out time for me to go for a run. The days never went as well if I couldn't get out there and sweat.

. . .

I'm always running about 10 degrees colder than everyone around me; I'm always cranking up the heat. I think because we do have so many cold days here, it's such a luxury and a pleasure to go somewhere warm. I think you guys who get a lot of warm weather take it for granted and you shouldn't. I thought that was a great part of the campaign -- we'd be out there at events or up there on stage just sweatin' like pigs, and I loved it.

. . .

In Anchorage on the coastal trail there have been many times where I've had to stop right in my tracks and turn around because there's been either a moose standing there staring at me or a moose's butt plopping on over into the trail. I have to turn around and leave, or I'm going to get clobbered.

But the really relevant passages are even more fascinating, now that Palin has announced she is resigning her governorship to answer a "higher calling." The first comes when she is asked what her parents taught her about running:

They taught me self-discipline and goal setting. The self-discipline it took for my dad to train for and qualify for Boston, eating healthy and getting up in those Alaskan morning conditions where it would be 20 below. To see that example of what it takes to accomplish a goal, the determination it took, taught me so much. He used to tell us to call on the rock during a race when we were hurting and we were tired and wanted to quit. He always told us to articulate what it is we've trained for, what it is we're prepared for, and hold onto it when it hurts so bad in a race. We all have a different rock, but Dad inspired us with the knowledge that we could reach down deep and get strength from it. And that's not just a lesson when you're out there dying on the 23rd mile of a marathon but one for getting through daily life. Sometimes you've got to call upon your rock to get through the tough times.

Later, she is asked what running has taught her about politics. She replies:

Same thing it's taught me about life: You have to have determination and set goals, and you don't complain when something's hurting because no one wants to hear it. You get bummed and burned out sometimes in running and in politics, but if you're in for the long haul and you're in it because you know that it is a good thing, then you get out there and you do it anyway.

And, after talking about playing Barack Obama in basketball, Palin is asked if she could beat the president in a run (not a campaign, an actual run). Her answer:

I betcha I'd have more endurance. My one claim to fame in my own little internal running circle is a sub-four marathon. It wasn't necessarily a good running time, but it proves I have the endurance within me to at least gut it out and that is something. If you ever talk to my old coaches, they'd tell you, too. What I lacked in physical strength or skill I made up for in determination and endurance. So if it were a long race that required a lot of endurance, I'd win.

Does anyone really think, after reading that, that Sarah Palin is going to disappear off the political stage any time soon? Of course, it's easy to denigrate Palin from those quotes about "in it for the long haul" now that she's announced her impending resignation. But, if seen through the lens of her preparing for her 2012 presidential run, they make a whole lot more sense. A presidential campaign (as opposed to the "sprint" nature of her vice-presidential campaign) is indeed a long race that requires a lot of endurance.

And I have to caution those who are laughing off any future for Sarah Palin in politics right now. This includes most of the inside-the-Beltway chattering class (except, of course, for Palin's biggest cheerleader, Bill Kristol). But these same folks (or folks of their identical ilk) also laughed at George W. Bush, before he got elected. And they really laughed at Ronald Reagan when he lost the Republican nomination in 1976. An actor?!? Running for president?!? Pre-POS-ter-ous!

Even earlier, Richard Nixon himself famously gave a speech "retiring" from politics, and uttered the immortal line: "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more." This was in 1962. Within six years, he was in the Oval Office.

Now, I'm not saying that Palin is going to follow in Ronnie's footsteps (or Tricky Dick's, for that matter). But I am saying that it is way too early to write this woman off as a has-been in the world of politics. Unless, of course, a scandal breaks to explain why Palin is now stepping down from being governor. They even have a name for this not-yet-revealed and non-specific scandal in Alaska: "the iceberg." As in, the one that finally sinks S.S. Palin. But barring an iceberg-sized scandal breaking, I think Palin has set a record for the earliest presidential campaign launch in American history. Over three years before the 2012 election, Palin has thrown her hat in the ring. She will shed Alaska and soon begin making appearances for Republican candidates in the 2010 midterm congressional elections. She will quietly build up favors, and give speeches to adoring crowds. She will make a bunch of money, and she will (more importantly) be working behind the scenes to line up deep-pocket Republican donors as well. And soon after the dust settles from the midterms, she will launch her formal campaign.

Democrats will read these speculations with some glee. Lining up Sarah Palin against Barack Obama in 2012 would seem to be a fairly easy ride to Obama's re-election. But three years is a long time, and a lot can happen. The real question at this point is whether Palin could win Republican primaries, and the Republican nomination. Which is not so farfetched a scenario as her winning the general election, one has to admit.

And nobody should doubt that she's going to at least make the attempt. As in the Runner's World photos, I truly think Sarah Palin is not running, but is definitely preparing to run. Palin herself put it best: "You get bummed and burned out sometimes in running and in politics, but if you're in for the long haul and you're in it because you know that it is a good thing, then you get out there and you do it anyway."

I leave you, today, with lyrics from a Grateful Dead song ("Fire On The Mountain") which just seemed somehow appropriate in the frenzy of speculation which has erupted like an Alaskan volcano since Sarah Palin announced she was stepping down as governor.

Long distance runner, what you holdin' out for?

Caught in slow motion in a dash for the door.

The flame from your stage has now spread to the floor.

You gave all you had, why you wanna give more?

The more that you give, the more it will take

To the thin line beyond which you really can't fake.


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