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.