Most of a hundred years ago, novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald said “There are no second acts in American life.” Fitzgerald’s quip has been quoted repeatedly, but those echoing him have failed to notice the obvious.
F. Scott Fitzgerald is wrong.
There are second acts all the time in Hollywood, on Wall Street, in sports, in the general world of celebrity. Even aging writers have second acts: After a career in print, I moved to television.
Chef and entrepreneur Martha Stewart went to prison in 2004 for lying to government authorities during an investigation of insider trading. After her release in March 2005, she quickly climbed back to near the top of the celebrity A-list.
In politics, Richard Nixon provides a sterling example of the second act. Nixon was the Republican nominee for president in 1960, but lost a close election to Democrat John F. Kennedy. But in 1968, Richard Nixon was elected president.
Is Alaska’s Sarah Palin on course for a second act as a member of Congress? Maybe, but it is impossible to know as the campaign season gets rolling.
Before we get too excited about a second act, what exactly was her first act? She has been mayor of Wasilla, governor of Alaska, candidate for vice president, conservative screech, cable TV performer — not to mention playing the everyday roles of wife, mom, grandma and divorcee. This is a lot to cram into 58 years.
She has so many formers — let’s not forget former beauty queen — that she seems to have made former the prefix to her name.
Now she wants to become the gentlewoman from Alaska sitting in the back row of the House of Representatives in Washington.
Trust me: If she becomes a member of Congress, she will be the most gawked-at newcomer in the House. She may be a fading celebrity more than a decade after she became a national figure as John McCain’s vice presidential running mate, but she still can draw reporters and camera crews simply by issuing a press release with her name at the top.
Playwright Tennessee Williams said “The human heart is a stubborn organ.” The human heart is also frequently an impenetrable organ. What does Sarah Palin want? People have wants that only they understand — or don’t understand at all — as they try to find a role, or roles, for themselves in a messy world.
The House Natural Resources Committee has close to 50 members. Don Young was on this committee for years. Much of the work is tedious and repetitive, in no way path-breaking. It is hard to imagine Sarah Palin sitting down with senior colleagues, Democrat and Republican, to listen to bureaucrats drone on about the National Park Service budget.
Let’s face it, there’s more kick in calling a press conference to denounce “Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s radical-leftist, anti-Alaska agenda.” And Palin can be biting with derision, mockery and expressions of victimhood. An effective modern politician is often a master of grievances, and as Palin proved in her recent defamation suit against The New York Times, she keeps her grievances at the ready.
Sarah Palin’s critics and enemies like to call her a has-been. They are wrong. She is not a has-been. Not yet, anyway.
Michael Carey is an occasional columnist and the former editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News.
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