October 20, 2005.
Scene: The United States Senate.
Players: Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, Arizona Senator John McCain, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn.
Subject: Coburn’s amendment to remove the $223 million Alaskan “Bridge to Nowhere” from a Senate Appropriations bill and use it instead to repair the heavily damaged Interstate 10 bridge over Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain ruined by Hurricane Katrina.
Results: Intimidated by the power of Appropriations Chairman Stevens, who angrily threatens to resign if he doesn’t get his way, the Senate votes 82-15 to deny the funds to Louisiana and the Katrina victims who need the bridge.
Senator John McCain, a longtime opponent of Stevens and the Bridge to Nowhere, is not in the Senate the day Coburn brings up his amendment, but is well on record as opposing the Alaska bridge. His relationship with Stevens over the issue of earmarks has been explosive. Senators Obama and Biden vote for this Stevens earmark — against giving the Bridge to Nowhere money to the Katrina victims who need their bridge rebuilt.
Scene: Alaska. 2002-2006.
Players: Stevens ally, former Senate colleague of 22 years and current — and powerful — Republican Governor Frank Murkowski. Sarah Palin, a young Alaska mother, former mayor of a small Alaska town, ex-chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Subject: The ethics of powerful members of the Alaskan Republican Establishment.
Results: Angered by what she calls the “lack of ethics” of a fellow Commission member, the state Republican Party chairman, Palin resigns and files formal complaints against the GOP chair and Alaska’s GOP Attorney General. Both men are forced to resign, the party chairman paying a record $12,000 fine. Furious at the atmosphere of corruption, Palin turns her sights on the powerful Governor Murkowski, challenging him in a primary. She wins, and goes on to beat another Alaska insider, a Democratic former governor, to capture the governorship.
What we have here are two vivid examples of how to deal with corrupted power.
Example # 1: The Obama/Biden way. Beat your chest in public about the need for change, but when you think nobody’s watching — stick with the good old boy network. So what if you screw a few Katrina victims out of $223 million for desperately needed hurricane-induced bridge repairs for a Bridge to Nowhere? You don’t want to upset the old boy network, do you? Particularly when you are really part of it.
Example #2: The Palin way. Raise holy hell about the misbehavior of your fellow party members no matter how powerful they are. Go public. Tell the truth. File a complaint. Rattle every cage in sight. Challenge the powerful Governor head-on so you can put a stop to this kind of thing. You don’t give a flying fig about the old boy network, don’t want to be part of it and think it’s about time somebody stood up and said so. You just go do it.
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