It’s been quite a ride. But what has she learned? From our April issue.
“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that
is the lamp of experience.”
- Patrick Henry, 1775
“I told reporters what I still believe today: government
experience doesn’t necessarily count for much.”
-Sarah Palin, Going Rogue, p. 84
Sarah Palin, 55 percent unfavorable poll ratings notwithstanding, is a political phenomenon the likes of which American public life rarely has seen. There’s something distinctive, something deeply personal, about the way her legions of strong supporters rush not just to defend her but to counter-attack any and all of her critics. Palin has a way of establishing a sense of connectedness with her backers — such a strong, attitudinal sense that she is not just like them but one of them — that she has created what amounts to a one-woman, conservative “identity politics” writ very, very large.
Yet if conservatives are to continue a political love affair with this admirable and galvanizing woman, we need to insist on more than mere identity. And more than mere attitude.
We know that Sarah Palin shares our conservative values. But is she the leader conservatives need?
IN HER RECENTLY RELEASED memoir, Going Rogue, Palin tells a story about how she approached the first state budget she handled as governor. It sounds like something right out of the 1993 Kevin Kline movie, Dave, except that Palin’s tale is fact instead of fiction.
We worked late into the night with the warm midnight sun still pouring through my office windows….Pens in hand, we combed through the budget, line by line, page by page — my inner nerd coming out again, just like Wasilla City Council days….I had to know what was in there, or I wasn’t doing my job. We spent days trying to decipher who put in what and why. Late one night, I looked up from the table and asked our veteran staffers, “What did past governors do? How did they get through these budgets with so little detail?” “They didn’t,” was the response. Before, others skimmed through it and governors signed off on it. Well, it was a new day, and we sifted through funding requests for schools, roads, ports, AstroTurf and batting cages, blueberry farms, and, believe or not, a lawmaker’s friend’s suicide memorial….
It was amusing when Kline’s character, Dave, filling in for a stricken president, called an accountant friend to pull an all-nighter to find $650 million in the federal budget. And it was no doubt admirable for Palin to take her own responsibility so seriously. But at some point a chief executive can’t personally handle such details herself. A governorship or, especially, the presidency, is not the Wasilla City Council. Presidents who are too detail-oriented wind up like Jimmy Carter, literally solving disputes about schedules on the White House tennis courts.
The obvious retort is that what matters are results. Maybe Alaska, being the single most sparsely populated state in the Union, lends itself to having budgets personally vetted on every line by the governor herself.
Palin never actually provides numbers in her book, but she does write that she “had made the largest veto totals in the state’s history.” Well, context is important. An observer parachuting into a state without knowing all the local factors can think something is utterly inexplicable which in truth is easily defensible. Still, the results of Palin’s efforts seem strongly to belie her claims of fiscal conservatism. The first two general-fund budgets for which she was responsible showed spending hikes of 16.4 percent (from fiscal year 2007 to ‘08) and a mind-boggling 21.8 percent the next year. Total government expenditures (a slightly different measure) grew 38.6 percent in those two years combined. This record is to fiscal discipline as the Grateful Dead was to sobriety.
Similarly, as has been well documented, Palin’s original claims about the “bridge to nowhere” were flat-out false. She campaigned in favor of the funds for the bridge; then even after killing the bridge project once it became infamous, she kept the federal money and used part of it for a “road to nowhere” that leads to where the bridge was meant to begin.
(To nitpick: Other vignettes in Going Rogue also don’t completely check out, ranging from details of her famous gas pipeline negotiations through aspects of how she described her appearance on Saturday Night Live — not to mention her breezy portrayal of her peripatetic college years that mentioned a transfer from a university in Hawaii to her graduation from the University of Idaho without noting or explaining her stops at North Idaho College or Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna College.)
All of which takes on added importance because her record in public office really is quite short. She won her race for mayor of Wasilla by a vote of 651 to 440 — a vote total less than those cast in races for student council president in big-city high schools. Her fans like to say that a president of the United States ought to be able to understand small-town America, and they say the experience Palin herself described as sometimes being like “mayor of Peyton Place” is a major point in her favor. Against that argument, it could equally be said that Wasilla, Alaska, is so different from, say, East St. Louis, or even from south Mobile, Alabama, that the experience in Wasilla could give Palin a set of reference points so unrepresentative of the majority of the American population as to be a drawback.
And while supply-side conservatives are rightly thrilled at Palin’s mayoral record as a tax-cutter, fiscal conservatives again have reason for concern: the town’s long-term debt reportedly jumped from $1 million to $25 million.
Then she accepted an appointment to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Unfortunately, we don’t know how well she would have done as an oil and gas regulator, because — to her credit — she spent most of her time fighting against ethical improprieties of others. She resigned in protest after fewer than 11 months in the job. Chalk up a point for Palin’s integrity…but…but resigning again cut short her experience, and her record, in the actual substance of governing.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online