Sunday, August 31, 2008
Sarah Palin, from an Alaskan's POV
The biggest news around here this week, of course, is John McCain's somewhat surprising (and excellently timed) selection of our governor, Sarah Palin, as his Vice Presidential running mate. Wow! I have been a big fan of Sarah Palin for a long time. She is as genuine as they come. No "handlers" needed. She says what she means and she means what she says. Agree with her or not, you'll find her honesty and forthrightness to be refreshing. Watch out Washington D.C. Do you really want to see "change"? Well, here she comes! I'm pretty sure she wrote her own speech she delivered Friday in Dayton - only an Alaskan would use the term "snowmachine"; lower 48ers say "snowmobile".
She first came to my attention when she took on the "system" as city council-person and later as Mayor of Wasilla. Normally, small-town politics are not very interesting, but in a "small" state like ours, anything out of the ordinary becomes news. And she was definitely out of the ordinary. She quickly made a lot of enemies within the establishment, but for every entrenched politician or bureaucrat that she angered, she gained a lot more respect and admiration among the voters.
Then along came Frank Murkowski. Bear with me, because this tale has some interesting twists and turns that might help explain Sarah Palin's sudden rise to prominence:
When I moved to Alaska in 1975, one of our senators was Mike Gravel - yes, that Mike Gravel. What a buffoon! His illustrious career as a senator ended not long after he championed a domed city near Mt. McKinley. More ridiculous, though, was his insertion (and subsequent secretive removal) of a rider in some bill calling for a study to determine what happened to all the penguins in Alaska!!! Apparently he'd watched too many episodes of "Tennessee Tuxedo". Fortunately, we got the chance to dump him in 1980 and Frank Murkowski was an easy shoo-in to replace him.
Murkowski was a staunch Republican, and a strong defender of Alaskan issues such as oil, fishing, etc. I had the chance to meet with him in Washington D.C. in the early 1990s on behalf of a company project I was involved in, and I found him to be personable, and seemingly attentive to what I was there to talk about. I have to say I think he did a reasonably good job at the time. Six years ago, though, he decided to run for Governor and easily won the position. Sadly, he didn't measure up. His first action as governor was to appoint his daughter to complete his term as US Senator. Key positions in his administration were mostly filled from the ranks of the oil industry. He seemed more interested in the perks of the job than in the people who'd elected him. The most ridiculous example was when - against unanimous opposition - he used state funds to buy a corporate jet for travel around the state. But worst of all, was the close connection between his office and Alaska's oil industry. After ramming a new tax structure favoring the oil companies through the legislature and then championing a sweetheart deal with Alaska's big 3 oil companies for a new gas pipeline, people finally began to get vocal and demand accountability.
The loudest questions came from none other than Sarah Palin. From within his own party, no less. She'd recently resigned as chairperson of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission after uncovering several instances of ethical misconduct by other (Republican) members - allegations that were largely ignored but later proved to be true. Later she called out Murkowski's Attorney General after he publicly championed a company that it turned out he was deeply invested in. This too brought down the wrath of the establishment on her - how dare she take on her own party in a public way? But after Murkowski's tax legislation passed she announced she would run for governor to try to put a stop to his rampant abuse of power and cleanup the mess. Coming from relatively nowhere, with no party support whatsoever, she won the primary by an overwhelming margin - Murkowski came in 3rd. Then, this unknown maverick had to face off against Tony Knowles, another entrenched (Democratic) politician - a popular former mayor of Anchorage and also a former governor.
She handily won the general election and immediately went to work cleaning up the mess her predecessors had left behind.
First she put up Murkowski's jet plane for sale. Then she reopened Murkowski's tax give-away, and this time she persuaded the legislature to pass a fair tax plan that encouraged reinvestment, while not giving away the farm. She threw out Murkowski's cozy pipeline deal and proposed an alternative approach that the legislature approved and she signed off on just this week. It remains to be seen whether this will be as good a deal as she intended, but no one can say that the process was not clean and transparent. I remain optimistic.
Meanwhile, the establishment that she took on two years ago when running for governor has collapsed in a wave of investigations, indictments, plea bargains, and the like. At the center it all was Alaska's largest oil field service company, Veco, which has also served as the oil industry's political arm in Juneau and apparently in Washington. Veco's owner pleaded guilty to various bribes and illegalities involving a number of legislators in order to pass Murkowski's generous tax and pipeline deals. Most of the implicated legislators have since been convicted. Alaska's other senator, Ted Stevens, faces trial this fall on charges related to work done by Veco on his home in Alaska. Alaska's only representative, Don Young, is currently under investigation as well.
Palin's outspoken opposition to this "good-ol'-boy" system has clearly made a lot enemies within the state. I'd be surprised if either of our US Senators will do much more than give lip-service support to her candidacy this fall. Not surprisingly, though, is her approval rating among the general population of 80% (some of her opponents claim it is only 65%). Here's where Alaska politics get bizarre, though - Ted Stevens, even under indictment, handily won his reelection primary this past week. Don Young may have been finally been knocked out (we're waiting for absentee ballots and a probable recount) - it's close. [Don Young was originally appointed to this seat in Congress in 1970(?) after losing an election to a dead man, Nick Begich, who with Hale Boggs from Louisiana, disappeared with their plane en-route to Anchorage from Juneau.]
Sarah Palin has gotten where she is by her own determination and guts to take on the system. Her background and values reflect most long-time Alaskans I've known in my 33 years here. Family first, followed by schools and kids' activities, and religion - supported by a strong sense of self-determination and self-reliance. Many of these people cleared their own land and built their own homes. Electricity and telephones came much later. Hunting and fishing was for food, not sport. Much later, after civilization arrived with high-speed internet, satellite TV, and cellphones; that pioneering spirit remains - that sense that we can only count on ourselves and our local community, that we can't trust government to step in and solve our problems. A mistrust of bureaucrats and big government and the bottom-feeding politicians that run it, is a defining trait for most long-time Alaskans.
Her squeaky-clean reputation for honesty and integrity has been ruffled a bit in recent weeks after she fired the commissioner of public safety. He claims he was pressured to fire a state trooper who used to be married to Palin's sister. That trooper apparently had made threats against Palin and her parents in the past, and he apparently once used a taser on his 10-year old stepson (Palin's nephew) in order to teach him some respect, and so on. Earlier internal investigations by the state police good-ol'-boy system (run by this commissioner) saw no reason to dismiss this trooper... hmmm... I think I would have tried to find a way to fire them both.
I believe she'll stand up to the national good-ol'-boy networks, especially if they try to make her compromise her own principals. I believe she will always be controversial and will make a lot of enemies on the right and on the left as she gains more and more admirers like me. I doubt if most lobbyists (expecially insurance, pharmaceuticals, trial lawyers, and the like) really perceive that much difference between Ted Kennedy and Trent Lott - for example - when it comes down to voting for their special interests. I'm pretty sure they'll see a difference if Sarah Palin gets involved!
I'm looking forward to the Vice Presidential debate. I've always respected Joe Biden - mostly whenever he spoke his own mind instead of parroting the daily party-line talking points. I like his bluntness and directness, but I don't like his tendency to get personal. I doubt he'll intimidate Sarah Palin, however. She's more than ready for this kind of challenge - that seems to be where she excels. If I were asked to advise Sarah Palin on how to prepare for this debate, I'd tell her to continue to speak her mind as she sees it; to set aside all the position papers and talking points; to give all the party handlers assigned to brief her a fair hearing, but don't let them tell her what and what not to say; to continue to be honest about what she knows and what she believes. No one can expect her to be an expert on things she clearly is not. So say that; but then feel free to state her own opinions - as long as she acknowleges these are simply her own opinions. Most voters aren't experts on any of this either, but we all sure have our opinions, and would respect her for giving us hers. If she goes out there as simply who she is, Sarah Palin, not as some packaged, handled, media personality, molded to appeal to whatever focus group, then she'll knock the socks off of Joe Biden.
Already we're starting to see an interesting reaction by the far left bloggers. Some are threatening to move to Canada. Some are sniggering over her choices of names for her kids (apparently because none were named Ethan or Madison, or whatever). Some have even had the gall to snidely suggest her newborn daughter is actually her daughter's baby. A few sneered because the baby was dressed in Carhart coveralls. (My kids wore them until they entered school; I wear mine every time I am out cutting wood or shoveling snow.) Others appear to need to feel somehow superior by commenting that she was a beauty queen after High School... (I'm guessing there might be just a little sour grapes, here.) The strangest criticism is that she was simply a mayor of a small town, and now is only the governor of a small(!) state.
People need to be very careful, here. Many voters in this country (who don't just talk about elections, but actually get out and vote every time) live in small towns. They are apparently forgetting about the political origins of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and to some degree, even George Bush-II. They were all governors and had to deal with their state bureaucracies and legislatures. Sarah Palin has been remarkably successful in that so far. What has Barack Obama done that compares?
The obvious question, amplified by John McCain's age, is whether she is ready to be president. Sarah Palin is a quick study. She's smart enough to attract smart people. She's smart enough to listen to them and learn from them. She's savvy enough to cut through the BS and smug self-importance that seems so prevalent in Washington. The democratic talking points are currently targeting her lack of foreign policy experience - but once again: what experience does Barack Obama have? Like him, she's been to Iraq twice to visit Alaska troops stationed there.
I'm not so sure foreign policy experience is that critical for a vice president. I'd rather vote for a president (and vice president) that I believe will do the right thing for this country, not for one who claims to be more popular overseas, or has wined and dined with prime ministers and heads of state. Foreign policy decisions are always taken after great deliberations and discussions in and out of Washington. They are seldom made off the cuff. Few such decisions ever turn out as expected, so the ability to look at the big picture, to look beyond whatever situation is at hand, is a critical factor, in my opinion.
The Bush-II fiasco in not seeing beyond the initial overthrow of Saddam Hussein and consequently failing to prepare for the chaos that followed is the most recent example of how this went wrong. Clinton's overly eager deal with North Korea is another example. For that matter, how about Carter failing to deal with Cambodia and later Iran? How about Reagan arming the Taliban in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan? Or his failure to take on the nascent terrorism in Lebanon? (although he did put an immediate stop to Qaddafi.) Or Bush-I and Clinton failing to adequately deal with a new Russia trying (and recently failing) to emerge from the chaos that had been the Soviet Union? Or Clinton failing to deal with the massacres in Rwanda, or the ethnic wars in Croatia and Bosnia? [Finally he stepped in to stop a repeat in Kosovo]. And so on. I don't see how having any foreign policy experience has really done that much good in any of these situations. Too many of these were simply events occurring beyond our control in spite of our belief that we can and should be "doing something".
A lot of this debate about foreign policy experience has to do with that sense of being "inside the beltway". These Washington insiders are convinced that they alone are capable of dealing with the rest of the world on behalf of the US. Trouble is they have failed to deliver, time and time again.
So, back to Sarah Palin. Based on what I've seen so far, I think she has the necessary capabilities to make decisions if needed that are in the best interests of this country. She's wise enough to seek out advice and counsel from all sides before blundering into any adverse situation. As VP, she'll have plenty of opportunities to travel abroad and wine and dine with the glitterati, and hopefully to see what's really going on around the world.
All in all, American voters should not make the mistake of underestimating this woman!
McCain's Sarah Palin choice was shocking. I thought it an act of desperation. Your words tell me to keep an open mind, but Palin will still have to pull off some major campaigning feats to restore my faith in McCain.
Check out my blog candy!
As with all prosecutions of politicians, the motivations of both sides are always suspect, but it sure appears that this time, at least, Ted Stevens will survive and probably be reelected.
[Glad to see you're still around, Terry, and that you're still celloing.]
She dodged most of the q's tonight.
And since most of what I read about her comes through liberal blogs and things like the Vanity Fair piece, I'm also curious as to your take on the various ethics charges (most of which have been dismissed, right?) and the reports that many Alaska Republicans don't think she's been an effective governor.
I was interested to see in the midst of the "this is the political death of Sarah Palin" reports that while down from 80%, her positives among Alaskans were still at 54.
Anyway, happy 4th of July!
Links to this post: