Compare that cost when she first ran for governor with what it is now. Back then, she was unknown outside of Alaska, and had she not been as successful as she was (attracting the notice of the national GOP, and, ultimately, John McCain), the opportunity cost for serving out her term and running for reelection would be substantially lower. However, history did not play out that way. Instead, she became a national figure, and one for whom the contempt of her political opponents knows no bounds (certainly, the bounds of common decency were no match).
Why the contempt? While it started with the usual political considerations (she was the energy of the ticket that threatened the election of Obama), it went far beyond that. No one has been able, in my mind, to state as succinctly yet clearly the basis for the irrational hatred (or contempt, or whatever word one wants to use to describe this emotion) as Charles Krauthammer, a Harvard-educated medical doctor and trained psychiatrist, who said:
The viciousness with which she was attacked as a contradiction in terms, a conservative woman.
In Palin's case, I think what adds to it is her decision at her age with four other children to have a down syndrome child. This, too, as Joseph Epstein wrote, in feminist circles if abortion is not about this, what's it about?
And they look at her as sort of a back room — a backwater hick, who, for religious reasons, went ahead and had a child that they would never have.
Underneath it, I think, deep underneath it, I think it's a self-loathing on the part of these feminists, knowing that what she did is virtuous and a generous act that they would have never have undertaken. And her having undertaken it is an affront to them, a silent rebuke.
So with that as a backdrop, she would never be able to return to life as she once knew it. And two kinds of ammunition that the haters (as opposed to those who merely didn't want her to stand between Barack Obama and his election to the Presidency) seized after last November's election were the FOIA request and the ethics complaint:
This approach amounted to her being the figurative wounded animal trying to get back to health with a pack of hyenas nipping at her legs. Meanwhile, everyone from the contemptible David Letterman to the braying Andrew Sullivan (not an obstetrician, but he plays one on the intertubes) to a "comedian" on the Huffington Post were happily making her life - and those of her kids - miserable. To stay in office would be to invite ever more FOIA requests that are like sand in the gears of government (of course, she would have been blamed for not accomplishing her agenda had she stayed) and ethics complaints that are little more than leeches on her family finances.
"Attacks inside Alaska and largely invisible to the national media had paralyzed her administration," someone close to the governor told me. "She was fully aware she would be branded a 'quitter.' She did not want to disappoint her constituents, but she was no longer able to do the job she had been elected to do. Essentially, the taxpayers were paying for Sarah to go to work every day and defend herself."
So she surveys the current field of play and realizes that she cannot govern effectively, that to even try is going to cost her and her family dearly in legal fees (half a million dollars in just the eight months since the election), and that the scorn that she engenders will be a constant source of pain for her family (including her infant son with Down syndrome). Honestly, put yourself in her shoes and ask yourself what you would do. She is still interested in being a positive part of the political conversation, and if she can do that while earning money, avoiding legal fees, and allowing the government of Alaska to proceed in a more fruitful way (challenge: who wants to bet me that the FOIA requests and ethics complaints will increase now that she is out of office?), then where's the surprise?
If you insist on using the word "quit" to describe her perfectly rational (yet still emotionally gut-wrenching) decision to resign her office, then I think you need to do some serious thinking - and not through the politicial prism that some would-be prognosticators of the '12 presidential race have done, but through the eyes of the person in the eye of the storm.
UPDATE: I meant to incorporate this into the original post, but submitted it before remembering to do so. Here is Mark Steyn's characteristically insightful closing to a great post:
Most of those who sneer at Sarah Palin have no desire to live her life. But why not try to — what's the word? — "empathize"? If you like Wasilla and hunting and snowmachining and moose stew and politics, is the last worth giving up everything else in the hopes that one day David Letterman and Maureen Dowd might decide Trig and Bristol and the rest are sufficiently non-risible to enable you to prosper in their world? And, putting aside the odds, would you really like to be the person you'd have to turn into under that scenario?
National office will dwindle down to the unhealthily singleminded (Clinton, Obama), the timeserving emirs of Incumbistan (Biden, McCain), and dynastic heirs (Bush). Our loss.