Thursday, September 04, 2008

Is Sara Palin the new Spiro Agnew?

John McCain’s chosen successor gave her debut speech last night introducing her to the American voters sixty-one days before the election. The speech was geared to provide red meat to the party’s right wing. It was riddled with one-liners that dripped with contempt for Americans who don’t toe the extreme conservative line and many outright lies (overnight factchecks were done by Mark Kleiman here, Hilzoy here, and the Associated Press here). She even threw out the term “reform” repeatedly even though every policy promoted by McCain – from economics, taxes, foreign policy, to social issues –is embraced by Bush, the incumbent. McCain doesn’t represent reform; he represents four more years of the status quo. If they want to be the reformers then let’s hear how they are going to clean up the mess of the Bush administration.

She even compared herself to Harry Truman as if, given McCain’s age and health, American voters needed to be reminded she could become the next President of the United States just as Truman did less than three months after he was sworn in as Vice President. But Truman was a known figure to the American people. He served a decade in the U.S. Senate – including chairmanship of the famous Truman Committee investigating waste and mismanagement in war spending. Harry Truman was well known to American voters prior to his nomination for Vice President.

This, of course, raises the fair question about who Senator Obama is -- a relatively new on the national scene. But Senator Obama’s legislative record such as the Lugar-Obama initiative expanding the program to secure and dismantle weapons of mass destruction and their associated infrastructure in former Soviet Union states and the Coburn-Obama Transparency Act (which, by the way, was temporarily blocked from coming to a vote by Alaska’s senior senator) is public record. And during the past nine months he particiapted in an election by either primary or caucus in every single state and terrritory in the United States seeking the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. The public has had ample opportunity to get to know him and approximately 18 million Americans approved of what they have learned about him by casting their votes in his favor in various primaries and caucuses this past spring.

So who is Sara Palin? Is she the new Spiro Agnew? Agnew served four years as a county executive and two years as Governor of Maryland before Richard Nixon named him as his running mate in 1968. Agnew served Nixon as his hatchet man belittling critics before being forced to resign as part of a “no contest” plea to criminal charges arising from his tenure as governor. Agnew was famous for rightwing populist attacks on the so-called liberal media and liberal elite who, according to his script, were somehow un-American.

Based on the speech last night, clearly McCain is looking to the virtually unknown governor of Alaska to do his dirty work just as Agnew did for Nixon. But Nixon was 55 years old and in good health when he was elected president so the likelihood of Agnew moving into the Oval Office was slim. McCain’s age and health are a different matter and raise the stakes considerably about the quality of the person in line to succeed him and what the American voters know about this person

The McCain campaign seems to have little more idea about Governor from Alaska than most of the public. After all, Senator McCain only met her once before last Friday's announcement and that was in February. Stories come out daily about her that seem to take the McCain campaign by surprise. So if you can’t answer the questions, attack the question askers. The (Republican) party line about legitimate inquiries about Sara Palin, her experience, her knowledge, her position on issues, her management and decision making style are supposed to be somehow off limits. The press is being attacked as “anti-Republican” (another Agnew tactic) for simply doing their jobs.

Here is Glen Greenwald in Salon:
… to attribute the media scrutiny of Sarah Palin to this mythical "anti-Republican bias" is absurd beyond description. Palin is undoubtedly the most mysterious and unknown individual to be inserted into our national political scene in decades, if not longer. The first time her name ever appears in any news accounts, at least according to Nexis, was an April 3, 1996 article in The Anchorage Daily News that reported this:

Alaskans Line Up For a Whiff of Ivana

Sarah Palin, a commercial fisherman from Wasilla, told her husband on Tuesday she was driving to Anchorage to shop at Costco. Instead, she headed straight for Ivana.

And there, at J.C. Penney's cosmetic department, was Ivana, the former Mrs. Donald Trump, sitting at a table next to a photograph of herself. She wore a light-colored pantsuit and pink fingernail polish. Her blonde hair was coiffed in a bouffant French twist.

"We want to see Ivana," said Palin, who admittedly smells like salmon for a large part of the summer, "because we are so desperate in Alaska for any semblance of glamour and culture."

Ivana Trump, the former Czechoslovakian Olympic skier who found fame and wealth as the wife of the New York tycoon, came to Anchorage Tuesday to push her line of perfume. More than 500 people waited as long as half an hour in J.C. Penney to chat with her and receive an autographed photo.
That was 1996. It was that same year -- in October -- when Palin was elected Mayor of Wasilla. According to The Anchorage Daily News article reporting her victory, "the final tally was 617-413." There are High School Student Council elections with more votes than that. She ran her campaign, and won, based on the precise GOP wedge strategies that John McCain, to this day, pretends to decry. As a Wasilla councilman put it at the time:

Palin offers no management qualifications, basing her campaign on the buzzword planks and the political might of the far-right Republicans. She obtained endorsement by the NRA. Why is the Republican Party so interested in local elections? Why is the NRA involved in such a contest? The three council seats up this year also saw challengers running on the basis of the Republican Party platform, using the same tactics.

I would never suggest that an individual or organization refrain from participating in any election, but I had hoped this valley and Wasilla could avoid the nationwide tendency that sees such elections become more and more partisan. Bad enough that state decisions are made more often on the basis of party politics and in party caucuses. We don't need that at the local level.
Time today reported the same thing: "While Palin often describes that race as having been a fight against the old boys' club, [then-incumbent Mayor] Stein says she made sure the campaign hinged on issues like gun owners' rights and her opposition to abortion (Stein is pro-choice)."

The first thing Palin did after being elected was fire six department heads in the City, including the Police Commissioner and the librarian. As The Anchorage Daily News put it: "the newly elected mayor of Wasilla has asked all of the city's top managers to resign in order to test their loyalty to her administration." It added:

She's also been criticized by the local semiweekly newspaper for a new policy requiring department heads to get the mayor's approval before talking to reporters. An editorial in The Frontiersman labeled it a "gag order."
In January of 1997, Palin seemed actually to lie about what she did, as the same paper reported:

Palin said she planned to meet with [Police Chief Irl] Stambaugh and [librarian Mary Ellen] Emmons this afternoon. She also disputed whether they had actually been fired. "There's been no meeting, no actual terminations," she said.

Stambaugh's response was to read part of the letter given to him.

"Although I appreciate your service as police chief, I've decided it's time for a change. I do not feel I have your full support in my efforts to govern the city of Wasilla. Therefore I intend to terminate your employment. . . . "

"If that's not a letter of termination, I don't know what is," he said.
Perhaps the most disturbing revelation about Palin yet appeared in the Time article linked above -- that one of the very first things she did after being elected Mayor was pressure the librarian to ban books which she found offensive in some way:

Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.
Indeed, while reading through the early accounts of Palin's tenure as mayor, the most mystifying aspect was that she not only immediately fired people like the Police Chief and Finance Director -- one could argue that a new Mayor would want loyalists in those positions to carry out her new agenda -- but also the City Librarian. From the January 31, 1997 edition of Anchorage Daily News:

Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin fired the city's police chief and the library director without warning Thursday, accusing them of not fully supporting her efforts to govern. Irl Stambaugh and Mary Ellen Emmons said letters signed by Palin were dropped on their desks Thursday afternoon telling them their jobs were over as of Feb. 13 and that they no longer needed to report to work.

Emmons has been the city's library director for seven years. Stambaugh has headed the police department since it was created in 1993. Before that, he served 22 years with the Anchorage Police Department rising to
the rank of captain before retiring.
Other than banning books which Palin disliked, what possible agenda could a librarian be expected to serve upon pain of firing? Community anger over Palin's attempt to fire the librarian was apparently intense, forcing Palin to reverse her decision. From the The Anchorage Daily News on February 1, 1997:

City librarian Mary Ellen Emmons will stay, but Police Chief Irl Stambaugh is on his own, Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin announced Friday.

The decision came one day after letters signed by Palin were dropped on Stambaugh's and Emmon's desks, telling them their jobs were over as of Feb. 13.

The mayor told them she appreciated their service but felt it was time for a change. "I do not feel I have your full support in my efforts to govern the city of Wasilla. Therefore I intend to terminate your employment ..." the letter said.

Palin said Friday she now feels Emmons supports her but does not feel the same about Stambaugh.

As to what prompted the change, Palin said she now has Emmons' assurance that she is behind her. She refused to give details about how Stambaugh has not supported her, saying only that "You know in your heart when someone is supportive of you."
Thereafter, Palin fired the City Attorney, who was replaced by Ken Jacobus, the counsel for the Alaskan state Republican Party. Between this behavior almost immediately upon becoming Mayor and her subsequent firing of the State Police Commissioner while Governor, Palin has a rather clear pattern of trying to use her power to advance personal grievances and fill government positions with political hacks, cronies, and those who are loyal to her politically -- exactly what has infected so much of the Federal Government over the last eight years. Far worse, shockingly little is known about what she actually thinks and believes, and what little is known suggests some rather extremist and even bizarre leanings, beginning with an attempt to ban books from her local library, even firing the head librarian for refusing to comply.

… Has there ever been an individual on a major party presidential ticket about whom less was known than Sarah Palin? Infinitely more scrutiny is required before it can be said that the media has fulfilled its obligations here, let alone that it has done so excessively due to "anti-Republican" media bias …
UPDATE: Speaking of the merger of right-wing talking points and media narratives, the AP's Tom Raum last night "reported" -- falsely -- that "many liberals are belittling the choice, suggesting that as a mother of five children -- including an infant with Down syndrome — she has neither the time nor the experience to become vice president." National Review's Kathleen Parker echoes that claim almost verbtaim today: "Some also have questioned whether Palin, whose son Trig has Down syndrome, can be both a mother and a vice president? These questions aren’t coming from the Right -- so often accused of wanting to keep women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen -- but from the Left."

Which "liberals" -- who "on the Left" -- have done any such thing? Neither AP nor Parker bother to identify a single person who has. Here, however, is right-wing icon Dr. Laura Schlesinger:

I am extremely disappointed in the choice of Sarah Palin as the Vice Presidential candidate of the Republican Party. . . . I'm stunned -- couldn't the Republican Party find one competent female with adult children to run for Vice President with McCain? I realize his advisors probably didn’t want a "mature" woman, as the Democrats keep harping on his age. But really, what kind of role model is a woman whose fifth child was recently born with a serious issue, Down Syndrome, and then goes back to the job of Governor within days of the birth?

When Mom and Dad both work full-time (no matter how many folks get involved with the children), it becomes a somewhat chaotic situation. Certainly, if a child becomes ill and is rushed to the hospital, and you're on the hotline with both Israel and Iran as nuclear tempers are flaring,
where's your attention going to be? Where should your attention be? Well, once you put your hand on the Bible and make that oath, your attention has to be with the government of the United States of America. . . .

Any full-time working wife and mother knows that the family takes the short end of the stick. Marriages and the welfare of children suffer when a stressed-out mother doesn't have time to be a woman, a wife, and a
hands-on Mommy.

1 comment:

Comrade Kevin said...

We cannot let this woman get away with these lies, half-truths, and outright fabrications.

Nor should we let her present this revisionist view of her ascent to power without challenging its veracity.