Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin. I’m pretty amazed at the amount of sheer vitriol that’s come out about this woman in the last week.

Seriously, John McCain announced her as his running mate barely a week ago, and already the scandals and skeletons in the closet have been piling up like there’s no tomorrow. A surprising number of these scandals have emerged from Alaskan sources, among Palin’s own constituents and particularly the residents of the town of Wasilla, of which she was mayor for six years. Despite her 80% approval rating among Alaskans, there appear to be some there who are definitely in a torch-and-pitchfork mood.

It’s not just angry people on the internet, either—Time Magazine, ABC, the Washington Post, and the New York Times have all written her off as a disaster.

Let’s call it as it is— she’s the governor of a state with fewer people than most large cities (670,000 people, about as many as the city of Baltimore, Maryland). She was mayor of Wasilla, a town with a population (2000 census) of fewer than 5,500 people from 1996 until 2002. [By contrast, my hometown had 14,000 in the same census year, and is still considered a Podunk by Massachusetts standards.] These really do not add up to the sort of qualifications I look for in a presidential or vice-presidential candidate. She has no foreign policy experience and no legislative experience.

On top of that, we have the following:

Her claim to be a small government reformer and corruption fighter is blatant hogwash. She publicly and vocally supported (in her official capacity as governor) the infamous ‘Bridge to Nowhere,’ a $329 million dollar lump of particularly shameless pork (a bridge between two islands, paid for my the federal government) snared by Senator Ted Stevens, who is currently indicted for corruption. Palin has since contradicted herself by claiming to have opposed the bridge project all along. When public outcry killed the bridge project, Palin diverted the money to other pet projects, and then claimed the credit for stopping the boondoggle she had helped push.

The Republican culture of corruption extends even here, no surprise; Senator Ted Stevens is one of the world champs in bringing home the pig products; for all the image of the hardy frontier, Alaska receives far more in federal subsidies than any other state in the country. The entire Republican apparatus is reeling under the brunt of investigations, indictments, and revelations of gross corruption. Given the size of the Alaskan political community and Palin’s involvement in it, it is virtually impossible that she wasn’t involved in this personally, and indeed she accepted $4,500 in campaign contributions in the same VECO fundraising affair that led to Stevens’ indictments.

She’s a glutton for pork; Wasilla collected over $27 million in federal subsidies and public works funding during her second term as mayor, and had its own lobbying firm on retainer.

While mayor of Wasilla, she blew $15,000,000 in public funds (more than twice the town’s entire annual operating budget) on a multi-use sports arena and convention center that still hasn’t broken even, and receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in state subsidies. She raised the sales tax on groceries 2% to pay for it all. Why in the world does a town of a few thousand people need something like this?

While mayor, she investigated the possibility of removing books she deemed to be offensive from the public library, going so far as to attempt to fire the librarian when the librarian objected.

She was nearly recalled as mayor after sacking most of the town government and replacing them with cronies. After a public outcry over abuse of power, the mayor’s office was subsequently stripped of most of it’s power, which was turned over to a town manager (yet another Palin crony). Sound familiar?

She’s the nexus of ‘Troopergate,’ in which she sacked the public safety commissioner who refused to fire her sister’s ex-husband, in a glaring example of her abuse of power.

She’s already under investigation by the Alaska state legislature over Troopergate, among other things, including her involvement in a business that was shut down by state order for failure to obey the law.

She sacked the entire state Board of Agriculture and Conservation in a feud with the state Creamery Board over a failing state-run business that she wanted to keep open, then replaced them with cronies.

Her husband works in the oil and gas industry—an employee of British Petroleum, specifically-- which accounts for nearly half of the Alaskan state economy. Pretty much anything she did as governor or would do in the White House as far as energy policy would fail any reasonable conflict-of-interest test.

She’s a fan (and longtime supporter) of Pat Buchanan, whose statements such as 1990’s “Capitol Hill is Israeli-occupied territory” earned him his own page on the Anti-Defamation League’s website, as well as a supporter of Jews for Jesus, a controversial group that attempts to convert Jews to evangelical Christianity.

She has repeatedly made public statements about how US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are 'are on a mission from God.’ Fine words from Jake Blues, but not for this.

She turned the town’s healthy budget surplus into a crippling deficit in just a few years (sound familiar?).

She campaigned for both mayor and governor as an outspoken Christian, a fiscal conservative, and an advocate of small government; public records are silent on the former, but government size and spending bloated enormously (Wasilla’s expenditures jumped 49%) whenever and wherever she was in charge (sound familiar?).

A governor, she eviscerated social services, including programs that supported single mothers and pregnant teenagers.

She has over the past twelve years earned a reputation for fighting dirty, vindictiveness (see Troopergate and the dairy board matter) and cronyism. After eight years of George Bush and Dick Cheney, we need a break.

She has hired an attorney on a $95,000 retainer (payable out of government funds, as he represents her both as a private individual and as governor) to defend her against accusations of abuse of power.

She has requested that her church fellows pray in favor of a $30 billion natural gas pipeline project (yet more federal money) that she has been trying to push through as governor. (Really, this is just crass to the point of being laughable).

I’ll skip all the stuff about how she has a Down’s Syndrome baby (having hid the pregnancy from the public and most of her family for seven months), is supposedly a rabid hunter, her atrocious people skills, and her lack of anything like public dignity (e.g. she giggled when a right-wing talk radio host on whose show she was appearing referred to an opponent of hers as a cancer, knowing that said opponent actually had cancer). That’s beside the point. George Bush has already lowered the dignity bar quite a ways.

The 500-pound troll in the room, however, is this. The vice-president of the United States is literally a heartbeat away from being president. Serious business. They can also wield significant power and influence on their own, depending on the climate and personalities in the administration; case in point, Dick Cheney.

McCain apparently picked her after meeting her just once, for fifteen minutes, the day before she was announced as the pick, and with little or no preliminary vetting. McCain’s staff even wrote her acceptance speech for her.

The fact that McCain would pick someone who is not only grossly underqualified to be president, but who has so many skeletons in their personal and official closets that they can humiliate the Republican party’s ticket this badly in the space of just a week, raises serious questions about McCain’s own judgment on the matter.

It’s also rather laughable that McCain shot himself in the foot in this fashion—he juxtaposes age and experience, but picked someone who has neither, and who by his own alleged standards wouldn’t be suited to take over in the event that McCain’s age catches up with him.

On a more personal level, there are also a few more strikes against her.

She is a creationist, and advocated the teaching of creationism in Alaskan public schools. For me, this is a big disqualifier. You can be a devout Christian without being a creationist, but you can’t be a creationist (particularly a biblical literalist) without essentially writing off most of the scientific knowledge gathered over the last century and a half, at least. In my opinion, people who embrace these ideas are not sufficiently grounded in empiricism and reality to be good leaders.

She is an evangelical Pentecostal who can’t seem to keep her public duties and private beliefs separate. With all respect, I think we have had quite enough right-wing holy rollers in the White House lately, and that we do not need any more.

She cannot correctly pronounce ‘nuclear.’ This is just a failing grade right from the start.

Her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. Palin cut funding for sex education (like Bush, she advocates teaching abstinence only) and social services for teenage and unwed mothers. This is nothing short of elemental irony.

No comments: