Monday 6 July 2009

So did Palin really deserve the heat she got from the media?

Um, yeah.

Never in the last century, with the exception of James Stockdale, have we had a national candidate who was so obviously unqualified and unfit for the office. Sarah Palin bumbled her way through five colleges in six years, getting a D in her one economics course before giving up, on her way to a journalism major at the University of Idaho. Then a disastrous record in the mostly ceremonial job of small-town mayor, and then, by the sheer luck of not being the hated Murkowski, landing the job as governor of a state with maybe 600,000 people. When selected for the GOP ticket she had only made one trip out of North America in her life and had never met a foreign head of state. Before the McCain campaign buried her in seclusion, she committed one gaffe after another: believing that Africa is all one country, that Freddie and Fannie Mae are taxpayer-funded, that the Founding Fathers wrote the Pledge of Allegiance, flipflopping on war with Russia (which undoubtedly caused jaws to drop all over Moscow), admitting ignorance about Iraq and Iran and the Bush doctrine and the role of the Vice President. Even the Republican president of Alaska ’s state Senate said “she’s not prepared to be governor; how can she be prepared to be vice president or president?” McCain tried to help her by claiming she’s ready to be commander in chief by virtue of her “commanding” the national guard, but the national guard adjutant general shot that down, pointing out that the entire operation is under federal control and the governor isn’t even getting their briefings. The frightening bit is that in spite of all this, she is positive that she’s ready to be commander in chief and take that 3AM call. Palin is not as stupid as she looked in the campaign, but that narrative is hardening into history, and it will be hard for her to overcome the Tina Fey caricature. She's trying really hard to do a makeover, but it will be an uphill battle.

A key issue is that Palin doesn’t actually know how to govern as an executive. The Wasilla mayors before Palin did the mayorial work themselves, but Palin needed to hire a city manager because she couldn’t handle the job (and because her sledgehammer political tactics made her so unpopular that a recall campaign ensued). Even as governor there is little to do, since 65 percent of the state is owned and run by the federal government, and she has little to do but hand out the oil money and federal pork.

When she does need to act, disaster ensues. As governor, she gave the legislature no direction and budget guidelines, then made a big grandstand display of line-item vetoing projects, calling them pork. Public outcry and further legislative action restored most of these projects — which had been vetoed simply because she was ignorant of their importance — but with the unobservant she had gained a reputation as "anti-pork." The self-proclaimed budget-cutter actually signed the biggest state budget in history; she took flak for not slowing down the spending. She paid for it all by borrowing a ton of money, relying on oil revenue, swiping pension money, and taking advantage of the arrival of big-box stores by jacking up sales taxes, using consumers like an ATM, which disproportionately hurt the poor and the middle class.

Likewise, hiring: her first police chief was fired as part of a personal vendetta; the second, also fired for political reasons; candidate number three rejected the job as “too political”; number four had to be fired within two weeks, because Palin didn’t bother to vet him and he turned out to be…a sexual predator.

Everything she touched fell apart. She blew $15 million on a sports complex that was actually on someone else’s land; a blizzard of legal action ensued and a $1 million payout was required. She wasted almost a million taxpayer dollars on an agricultural firm which experts had told her repeatedly was hopeless; in the process she fired all the people who opposed her—the entire Board of Agriculture (appointing her cronies to replace them). At one point farmers were pouring milk into the ground at a cost of $200,000. Her proposed pipeline deal is likely to go bust, which means taxpayers are out $500 million.

Palin’s popularity in Alaska was already dropping – ominously, even her presence on the national ticket didn’t increase Alaska voter turnout – and now it is obvious that she is too busy tarting up her national image to even try to do her job at home. The main Alaska paper condemned her for ignoring Alaska ’s sagging school graduation rates, dropping oil prices, and the pipeline problem. Medicare patients can’t get doctors. A key fishery has collapsed. Rural residents are off the main Alaska power grid and hurting during a very cold winter (Palin gave them a one-time $1200 payment and then abandoned them); some are using a lot of their money for fuel and living on moose meat.

Her record of crooked deals is dotted with lies and betrayal.

She collected per diem money while living at home, a crime which another official got fired for, then didn’t declare the money as income, and then lied about it all. She broke the law by failing to declare their financial business in an Anchorage car wash; they didn’t pay their licensing fees on time either – they were more than a year late. She used taxpayer resources for campaign expenses, steered tax money toward organizations that give misleading information on abortion, and raided the state pension fund for money. She used her influence to get a state job for one of her fundraisers. She raised her salary and then claimed she lowered it.

She is in the pocket of Big Oil: her chief adviser lobbied for TransCanada, who won a pipeline deal from Palin. The Palins violated their promise that her petroleum-industry husband would quit her job if she became governor. She thinks global warming is a hoax, she wants to drill in ANWR, and sued Bush for protecting polar bears (she also blocked a plan to protect salmon from contamination by miners).

She was endorsed by crooked Senator Ted Stevens, ran a 527 for him, did advertising with him (although the advertising mysteriously disappeared from the web), then threw him under the bus, claiming she opposed him. She is linked to the rest of the corrupt Alaska Republican machine, which she claims she reformed. She hired a lobbyist who also worked both for Ted Stevens, a crook, and Jack Abramoff, another crook.

She fought for earmarks and hired lobbyists to help get almost $200 million in pork (including $27 million for her hometown), which even McCain criticized, and then flipflopped completely and claimed to be an anti-earmark reformer. When Palin was campaigning for governor, she told her constituents that the “bridge to nowhere” was essential. She went to Washington to fight for the federal money for the bridge, and hired lobbyists to help her. When the resulting outcry started hurting her chances at the VP slot, she threw the Alaskans under the bus, changed her mind on the bridge, and is now bragging she opposed it all along.

And incidentally, Palin’s plane was not sold on eBay, and she lost money on it.

Palin abused her power at least three times during her reign of terror, to fire family enemies and political opponents: one was so egregious the town almost passed a mayoral recall. Also, Sarah’s husband Todd has pursued his own vendettas: a state employee named John Bitney made the terrible mistake of dating the soon-to-be ex-wife of a friend of Todd’s. Todd had him fired.

Palin has a long track record of betrayal. A number of times she has fired or targeted people who had helped her, including the City Council person who personally escorted her around town, introducing her to voters when she first ran for City Council. The person became one of her first targets when she was later elected mayor. She used Ted Stevens to get pork projects and then turned around and publicly humiliated him. She promised the “bridge to nowhere” to local residents, and then threw them under the bus because the unpopular project was interfering with Palin’s national political aspirations.
She screwed over local consumers with jacked-up sales taxes and stole from the state pension funds. And of course now, off the record, she and her allies are slamming McCain, the guy who made her national career possible in the first place.

Palin has a Nixonian paranoia about loyalty. Eleven days after taking office in 1996, she mailed letters to each of the city’s top managers requesting that they resign as a test of loyalty. She fired all the department heads who had supported her predecessor, and then betrayed some of her own supporters by firing them for suspicions of insufficient loyalty. She fired the police chief and the library director because they committed the heinous crime of...not supporting her campaign for mayor: she was quite open about it. She simply had termination letters typed up and thrown on their desks – she didn’t even have the guts to do it in person. The department heads she did keep were not even allowed to talk to reporters without her permission. She fired a whole room full of experts just because they told her, correctly, that her plan to rescue a doomed dairy was hopeless. She tried to fire a librarian just because she wouldn’t go along with her book-banning crusade. She was slapped down for trying to illegally pack the City Council with her supporters.

Palin had tremendous staff turnover due to her diva-like behavior, her inability to get along with staffers, her excessive micromanagement. She fired people, drove them to quit, and scared off potential employees. She also fought ideas that weren't generated by her or her loyalists.

Her reign of terror was needlessly nasty. The GOP claims she represents the values of small-town America , but the truth is exactly the opposite. Wasilla was a typical small town, everybody knows everybody, everybody behaves for the most part. They already had small-town values. But Palin came in and brought harsh, nasty partisan politics to a town that had never known it before.

Even her treatment of her own family is appalling. She didn’t just exploit her family as campaign props for political purposes: she publicly humiliated her own daughter, not just in front of the Alaskan community but across the nation, just so the rumors about Sarah Palin would stop. How ruthless can you get? Palin also risked her own baby’s life by flying to Alaska after her water broke. When Palin was forced out of the mayor’s job by term limits, her mother-in-law, who is pro-choice, ran for the job. Sarah backed her opponent, and their allies spray-painted “BABYKILLER” on the mother-in-law’s campaign signs. The woman who beat her mother-in-law is still mayor of Wasilla. The mother-in-law supported Obama for 2008.

Troopergate: Palin’s sister was married to a cop named Wooten. There was a bitter divorce case. The Palins concocted accusations against Wooten: torturing children, making death threats, other nonsense. Palin, members of her family, and members of her gubernatorial staff made incessant phone calls and emails to get Wooten fired, without cause. Palin’s husband, who has no official position, directed the police commissioner to investigate Wooten. Palin circulated an email rant, three pages long, against Wooten. Palin even stalked Wooten, driving to the house and peeping through the window. Wooten’s private personnel file was illegally leaked, to embarrass him.

The police commissioner, Monegan, declined to take part in Palin’s insane jihad against Wooten, and pointed out that if she didn’t stop this stupid holy war, Wooten could sue her and win big. Palin fired Monegan, a member of her cabinet; she has already given two different stories as to why he was fired, but it was his refusal to fire Wooten that did the trick. Palin claimed her office had no role in this, but then tapes were released which proved her a liar. The tapes also showed that Palin’s husband was advocating the firing – which shows it really was all about the family’s grievance, not the commissioner’s public duties. One superior court judge told the Palins “that the bitterness of whatever who did what to whom has overridden good judgment” and that their actions were silly.

An investigation ensued, which Palin tried to block, which in my day was called obstruction of justice.

Palin actually filed an ethics complaint against herself, in an effort to get the ethics probe taken away from the Alaska legislature and put in the hands of a board which has three members appointed by Palin. Palin lied to the Alaskan people in the case, and may have perjured herself. 87 percent of Alaskans said she’s lying. In the end it was determined that Palin broke the law, violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act. According to the law she should be impeached: even if an impeachment is launched and fails, her national aspirations would be in deep trouble.

Sarah Barracuda, indeed. This woman makes Lucretia Borgia look like Mary Poppins. She has the same combination of viciousness and stupidity that characterized Tonya Harding and Pamela Smart: her career runs a perfect parallel with Nicole Kidman in “To Die For”. This was her audition as an executive, and she failed disastrously. Even at the level of a small state, she handled executive power like my seven year old trying to handle a chain saw. Imagine Palin’s brand of recklessness and ruthlessness, harnessed to all the power of the executive branch: it’s Cheney II. Imagine if this Twinkie becomes president, and handles her cabinet picks and staffers they way she's been doing in Alaska -- poor judgment, personal vendettas, abuse of power, illegal leaks of private information, allowing her husband to use governmental power to crush the careers of his imagined enemies, inability to competently pick subordinates and vet them...? Washingtonians were shuddering at McCain’s promise/threat that Palin would be bringing her ugly tactics to the capital, doing the same death-and-destruction job on our nation’s capital, that she did in Wasilla and Juneau, repeating the very Rove/Cheney/Gonzalez tactics that repelled Washington the first time.

Sarah Evita Imelda Leona Cruella Palin. Just what America needs in our time of crisis, challenge and change.

Like many Republicans Palin faces a nasty problem: how to appeal to the far-right GOP base which picks all the nominees, while also appealing to the moderates and independents who get the deciding vote in general elections? Palin is popular among the base, but has serious problems among independents and moderates. During the 2008 race her negatives among independents doubled, reaching a 44/48 favorable/unfavorable differential; two thirds of independents said she is unqualified for the presidency, and among independents who said Palin was a key factor in their presidential choice, she lost 20-74. She played particularly badly in the suburbs; among other things, her snotty comments about community organizers didn’t sit well with all those Rotarian types organizing church suppers and so forth in suburbs and small towns. 53 percent of independents do not want her on the national scene in the future, at all. Among all Americans, the news isn’t much better: while Obama, McCain and Clinton saw their numbers improve after the election, Palin remained mired in a 35/45 favorable/unfavorable.

The smart move for Palin might be to move to the center so that she doesn’t get slaughtered in a general election, but the simple fact is that the hard-core party base which picks all the presidential nominees loves her because she is way, way to the right, a lifetime NRA member, who served not only as a campaigner but also as a fundraiser for ultra-Nazi Pat Buchanan.

She is a hard-core evangelical in a fanatic “End of Days” church; she sat patiently as her preacher claimed that Jews deserve to die by terror because they are unbelievers, a story that somehow didn’t get Jeremiah-Wright-size coverage (the church website with the inflammatory sermons mysteriously went off the air). Her church was passing out fliers for a group working to teach gays to “overcome” their homosexuality. Unlike Reagan and the Bushes, she is actually serious about overturning Roe and getting a constitutional amendment banning abortion; she opposes abortion even in cases of rape (she also charged rape victims for their rape kits!). She steered tax money toward organizations that give misleading information on abortion. She opposes stem-cell research. She rejects sex education and insists on abstinence-only education. She opposes same-sex marriage, and equal treatment for same-sex couples, to include benefits. She tried to ban books in her hometown library, and tried to fire the librarian when she objected. She wants creationism taught even in public schools.

This nastiness also translated into policy: she cut funding for a program to help teen mothers who need a place to live -- savor the irony! -- (she also slashed funding for special needs children and then said she was a friend of special-needs families). When Alaska ’s highest court struck down an overly-restrictive anti-abortion law in 2007, Palin shrieked that it was "outrageous".

She favors an energy policy that only Exxon could love. She wants to drill in ANWR and she wants offshore drilling; she doesn’t want to protect endangered species, and even sued Bush for being too far to the left on putting polar bears on the endangered list. She thinks global warming is a hoax.

She gave Israel the green light to bomb Iran; she says we must not blink in invading Pakistani territory; she tapdanced on whether the Iraq war is God’s will; she thinks Iraq was behind 911.

She tilted more taxes away from the rich and toward working people, by cutting property taxes and raising sales taxes. She opposes fixing the health care system: she wants to leave all health care to the market and to “personal responsibility”; she cut funding for a program to help teen mothers who need a place to live.

She joined an extreme Alaskan secessionist party that proclaims its hate for America; she later joined the GOP so she could run for the Wasilla job, but the McCain campaign admitted that she was still involved in the secessionist party’s conventions and other activities. The secessionist party’s founder proclaimed hate for the American government and its flag, insisting he was an Alaskan rather than an American; their leader calls for renunciation of Alaska’s allegiance to the United States, and assures party members that Palin “puts Alaska first." These guys are dead serious about making secession happen: their founder died in an illegal deal gone bad – to buy explosives. Having her in the Oval Office could be like electing Jefferson Davis as the president in Washington – ready for another civil war?

Palin’s problem is that she has credibility problems both as an executive and as a qualified player on national issues. Being governor doesn’t address the national-issue problem, and being Senator doesn’t address the executive-credibility problem (and a House run doesn’t help on either front). All in all, however, I don’t think another term as governor helps her much, particularly if she continues to do the job the way she is doing it now. And the 2008 election showed she needs more credibility on national issues, which also points to the Senate. The Senate also gives her more visibility, and makes it easier for her to raise money legally. The only downside is that while she would probably win relection to the governor’s job with little trouble, she would lose the Senate race (Palin still resents Murkowski because her father gave her the Senate job instead of Palin). Palin has enemies in Alaska, even in her own party, and the main newspaper doesn’t like her either. A loss in a Senate race would seriously hamper her presidential hopes. Even if she wins a Senate seat, she would have no seniority, and jumping from the Senate to the White House has always been a challenge.

Palin is definitely running for the White House: her husband was talking to Alaska politicians about it even before the 2008 election, and right after the election, national ad slots were bought, for ads thanking Palin and comparing her to Reagan. Palin herself said a presidential run is up to God and the people of Alaska.

Palin seems to have avoided taking too much of the blame for the 2008 election; most Republicans are sticking to the story that the Republican philosophy works but McCain and Bush betrayed it; this allows Palin to claim she’s the true standard bearer for those values. But Republicans do remember that she publicly defied McCain on a number of issues during the election, and she and her staffers have been badmouthing the McCain campaign from the beginning.

With the election over, and with all the damage done to her reputation, it is easier for other Republicans to attack her now. Eventually someone must be the first Republican to publicly criticize her, undoubtedly a presidential contender: whoever tackles her first faces great risk but also great potential reward -- the role of the Anti-Palin. Once the first one steps up, others will follow, and she will take some serious pounding.

Already the sharks are circling. Gingrich says she is not the de facto party leader. When Mark Sanford was asked about her position as a party leader, he actually laughed before putting on his game face and giving his “A” answer. Jon Huntsman, another presidential prospect, says she must perform as governor. An aide to one 2012 contender called her “our Britney Spears”, a “cult of personality”.

A pivotal event in all this was the Republican governors meeting in Miami in late 2008. Palin used the venue to hog some serious camera time in front of the media, at the expense of all the other governors, including some potential presidential candidates. The other governors were incensed. Rick Perry actually shoved her out of the way to get to the microphone.

Two things in her favor: first, her potential rivals are not a terribly impressive bunch. Second, while party moderates want someone with bipartisan appeal like Romney, the hard-core base, which dominates the party, loves Palin. The rightwingers think an attack on Palin is an attack on them, while the moderates see a presidential ticket headed by Palin in terms of the far right running the party off a cliff.

Two things to watch: who does she help in the 2010 race, particularly with fundraising (like she did with Chambliss in Georgia ), and who comes to help her in whatever she runs for that year? Would McCain help her, and would she even want his help?

She can reinvent her image in the next four years, but she needs to start now before the cement hardens and she is permanently written off as an airhead. She can establish a little bit of gravitas playing small ball: doing the Sunday morning shows, going out for speeches and trade delegations, publishing articles. Writing a book is tricky: a book on policy won’t sell, and a tell-all on the campaign will cause serious problems. One problem for her in the gravitas department is that Clampett-like family of hers.

Characteristically she is trying to have her cake and eat it too. She still has star power and she can still attract the media (although her camera-hogging is angering other Republicans), but she is also picking fights with the media, belittling Katie Couric, slamming the main Alaska newspaper. The media have returned the favor: Maureen Dowd, for one, called her “Eliza Know-Little”. Can she whip up the GOP base by attacking the media, without the media and her GOP rivals striking back?

Another problem: the more she stays at home in Alaska, the quicker people forget about her, but the more she seeks the national limelight, the angrier the Alaskans get, because she is neglecting her job.

She will need to ditch her snotty and sarcastic tone. She comes off as just plain nasty. She called Hillary a whiner, for complaining about her critics (Irony Alert!). She was caught on tape laughing hysterically as the Alaskan Senate President, a cancer survivor, was called a cancer and a bitch. A lot of Alaskans are actually angry about the lipstick/pitbull comment, because Palin pulled that quote out right when the big story in Alaska was about a six-year-old girl who was viciously attacked by a pit bull and eventually died after being taken off life support. For Palin to crack a pitbull joke in front of a national audience was incredibly insensitive.

Palin does have one priceless political skill: she can look straight into the camera, smile, say something completely dishonest or hypocritical, and never blink. Even televangelists and used car salesmen can’t lie as convincingly as she can. All through the 2008 campaign, the lies never stopped: lies about Obama, taxes, Iraq, Troopergate, the bridge to nowhere, the eBay plane, everything. She is completely tone-deaf to hypocrisy: she ridiculed the stage pillars at the Democratic convention which were modeled almost exactly on a similar event staged by the Republicans, and she claimed as her own idea the prospect of putting the federal budget online, which actually originated with Obama. Her snotty comment about community organizers was completely disingenuous because she was comparing Obama’s work as community organizer with her work as mayor – which happened more than a decade apart. When Obama was a community organizer, he was so young he hadn’t even been to law school yet, which incidentally was Harvard Law; Palin at that time was flunking out of her third college on her way to a bachelor’s in journalism at the University of Idaho and a job as a TV sports babe. And by the time Palin was mayor, Obama was on his way to the Illinois Senate where he represented many more people than Palin did. Palin knew she was being dishonest, but she swung for the fences anyway.

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