A week ago, I wrote that John McCain's pick of Sarah Palin was political malpractice.
In light of her rapturous reception at the Xcel Center on Wednesday night, the rabid enthusiasm of the hard-right base of the Republican Party for her, and even the glowing reviews from many in the media, that view might seem outdated or wrong-headed.
But I still firmly hold it.
I have a hunch Wednesday night will prove to be the high point of Sarah Palin's Fall campaign. Charles Krauthammer, a prominent member of the right-wing media establishment in Washington, D.C. and who has a negative view of the Palin pick writes today:
performance Wednesday night. In a year of compounding ironies, the
McCain candidacy could be saved, and the Palin choice vindicated, by
one thing: Palin pulls an Obama.
There is a big problem with that hope, if bloggers and journalists do their jobs; Sarah Palin is a Potemkin Village of a candidate. Her speech Wednesday night, and the persona the McCain campaign is trying to construct of and for her, doesn't square with the truth about who she is, and what she stands for. Because of that, it is impossible for her to "pull an Obama."
And as this dichotomy between her public rhetoric and actual record becomes more clear, she will seem more hollow, smaller, and the downsides of the huge gamble by McCain will become more pronounced.
Why am I confident that the Sarah Palin we saw Wednesday isn't the real Sarah Palin? Wednesday's speech (and spin from the McCain operatives) present us with an average American mom, tough as nails, who has turned into a crusading, principle reformer — cleaning up "the old boys network" in Alaska and ridding her government of waste.
The tough-as-nails average American mom bit is true, perhaps, but the rest is a bunch of hooey. "Thanks, but no thanks" to the Bridge to Nowhere? Utterly, patently false. "Listed the state jet on Ebay?" Yep, she listed it, but never sold it (and the state lost $500K on it). A strong crusader against earmarks? Umm, no. She has aggressively sought earmarks, both as mayor and Governor. In fact, just this year, Governor Palin asked for more in earmarks from the Federal government than any other state, despite the fact her state is swimming in oil funds.
Those of us in the lower 48 ought to say "Thanks, but no thanks" to Governor Palin's continued, outrageous and undeserved requests for far more money than her state needs or deserves.
Indeed, with just a modest amount of reporting and digging, more people will learn that rather than being a prudent fiscal conservative and ardent reformer, Sarah Palin presides over a state more dependent on Federal funding than almost any other. Here's Tim Noah in Slate:
The woman who made this complaint about big government taking your
money is the governor of Alaska. Please take a moment to look at this U.S. Census chart
showing federal-government expenditures, per capita, in the 50 states.
You will observe that Alaska receives about $14,000 per citizen from
the federal government. That's more than any other state, and
a good $4,000 more than every other state except Virginia, Maryland,
New Mexico, and North Dakota. The chart is from the Census Bureau's Consolidated Federal Funds Report for Fiscal Year 2005. I skipped over the 2006 report,
the most recent one available, because Hurricane Katrina put Louisiana
and Mississippi ahead of Alaska that year. But that's an anomaly.
Alaska held the per-capita record for sucking on the federal teat in 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, and 2000. According to the nonprofit Tax Foundation, Alaska gets back $1.84 for every dollar it pays into the U.S. Treasury—even though Alaska enjoys a higher per-capita income than 34 of the 50 states. This is a state that preaches right-wing libertarianism while it practices middle-class socialism.
More attention should, and with luck, will be paid to her consistent, and not at all moderate, social views. Her statement that the war in Iraq is a mission from God; the affiliation of her church and Pastor with Jews for Jesus; her evangelically-driven pure and total opposition to a woman's right to choose, to sex education of any kind or form. Her history advocating book burning.
There is a risk that none of this will get the attention it deserves. Her personal story is so interesting, so compelling and so unusual that the media — especially the broadcast and cable networks — might regress into the "Frank Bruni" style of journalism, in honor of the NY Times journalist assigned to the Bush campaign in 2000. Bruni may have harbored private doubts about Bush, but he presented his readers with a portrait of a seemingly normal, regular guy, and failed to give us a look behind the carefully crafted veneer.
As we sadly learned from that pitiful coverage, shallow reportage focused on a candidate's personality and how "likable" they are does little to tell us whether they will be good stewards of the Presidency. With a 72-year old, four time cancer survivor as the Republican candidate, we can't afford that kind of fluffery with Sarah Palin.