Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Palin's Resignation and the Obligation to Serve

On the topic of Sarah Palin's resignation as the governor of Alaska, I have encountered the claim that her election represents a contract with the people of Alaska to serve out her term, and her resignation is a violation of that promise. As such, it is morally illegitimate.

In this case, the argument against Palin itself is illegitimate.

The first duty of a governor is to serve the people of the state in which she was elected (within certain moral limits). In theory, a person running for public office believes that those interests are best served by having him or her in that office.

In practice, many people run for public office because they see an opportunity for personal gain. However, the fact that morally corrupt politicians exist does not damage my argument. We can at least grant that a moral political leader holds that the best interests of the people of a state are served by her remaining in office.

However, the instant that this becomes false, there is no “contract with the voters” holding a politician to that office. That politician not only has a right, she has a duty, to resign her office and hand those powers to somebody better qualified to serve those interests.

For example, let us imagine for a moment that President Bush had selected a politically astute, intelligent, and, most of all, virtuous vice-President; somebody like Colin Powell. Two and a half years into his administration, he realizes that he is in way over his head. He does not have the capacity to comprehend what is happening let alone the disposition or diplomatic talents to resolve the situation without bringing about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

In this case, it would be foolish to imagine that the President's contract with the voters is to complete his term. The President's contract with the voters is to promote the interests of the people of the United States within certain moral limit, such as those bound by the duty defend the Constitution of the United States.

With Cheney as his vice-president, Bush's duty to serve the interests of the people of the United States and to protect and defend the Constitution meant keeping Cheney out of the oval office. Cheney represents the closest America has come, perhaps in its history, to the establishment of a tyranny.

Cheney’s view that the President, when acting in the role of Commander in Chief, is absolutely no limits to his power would provide the foundation for such a tyranny, and only the willingness of the people to stand against the President and those forces that would have gone ahead and enforced his decrees would have stood against such a tyranny.

However, the obligation here is not one in which the office holder is under an implicit contract to serve out his term. The obligation here is that which every person has to resist the establishment of a tyranny in America. It is an obligation that Bush could have better exercised by not having picked Cheney for his Vice-President to start with, once that damage was done, it would have counted against the moral legitimacy of any resignation.

I am not at all suggesting that Palin actually resigned for such noble reasons. It is the case that Palin is intellectually unqualified to hold an executive office. Yet, unfortunately, one of the facts that the intellectually unqualified are habitually unaware of is the fact that they are intellectually unqualified.

Furthermore, I know nothing about her successor as governor, so I cannot judge whether or not she is leaving her office to a more qualified leader, or to a greater evil as Bush would have done.

Yet, the absence of noble motives on Palin's part does not disprove the thesis that political office holder has no obligation to remain in office to the end of her term. We should be more than happy to accept, even to applaud, the resignation of any politician who feels that the rest of the world would b better off with that power in the hands of a competent leader.


Anonymous said...

"Cheney represents the closest America has come, perhaps in its history, to the establishment of a tyranny."

Dude. And just when I was almost ready to start respecting this blog again...

Anonymous said...

My biggest concern with Palin's resignation is that, as with so much about her, her real motives are obscured behind a cloud of lies and platitudes. The media coverage as a whole seems to speculate that she is really resigning in order to free herself up, and reinvent her public image, to run for the presidency in 2012. Many people assume that she is blatantly lying to the public, manipulating the gullible when she can, and no one seems to feel that this propensity for lying and deception disqualify her for the highest public office in our country. Why is considered "just the way politics works"?

When are we going to start demanding, at the very least, honesty from those we are allowing to lead/serve us? When are we going to start saying "Oh, you wanted my vote? Well maybe you shouldn't have concealed your motives and gone on national television and lied to me. I live to know what my public servants are really up to, since I pay their salaries and all. Thanks, bye."?

Thom Blake said...

Meh. It matches her past behavior to think she'd take the finances of the state that seriously. She ran on a platform of reducing the governor's salary, after all.

Doug S. said...

"Cheney represents the closest America has come, perhaps in its history, to the establishment of a tyranny."

Well, second closest, perhaps. The closest the US has come to having a dictator was President Lincoln during the Civil War. In his case, it seems to have worked out reasonably well and the emergency that justified significantly expanded executive power resolved itself in due time, with said executive power being relinquished.

The actual severity of the threat Bush/Cheney used to "justify" their power grab doesn't even come close to the American Civil War.

Mike said...

I suspect that person would agree with you that a noble, but inferior, leader would be right to quit their post and pass it on to a worthy successor.

I think those people just want to beg the question, that by labeling Palin's recent resignation as a breach of contract (her unwillingness and/or inability to see the governorship though a complete term), thay suggest she she is not up to the obligations required of the Presidency.