What a Non-Judgmental Account of Sarah Palin Still Shows

I’ve finally had the time to finish “The Rogue Room,” Robert Draper‘s cover article from the November 21 Sunday edition of the New York Times.  It is an inside look at Mayor Palin’s “inner circle” of advisers who the former Alaska Governor thinks she can “trust.”  (Normally the Liberal Ironist uses the honorific to refer to our public figures, in acknowledgment of past contributions and experience; however Palin’s considerable limitations on these counts makes the application of the “Governor” honorific arguably unearned.  While I understand some will find this petty, in Palin’s case I consider it just desserts: She has styled herself in contrast to a professional politician–a strange tactic when considering a run for the most powerful office in the World.  She was a Wasilla–then-pop. ~5,000–city councilman for 4 years and Mayor of Wasilla for 8 years; then she spent several years in the Alaska state bureaucracy and served as Governor of Alaska from December 4, 2006 to late-July 2009.  Considering the near-2 months she spent campaigning with John McCain in 2008, she was the Governor of Alaska, a state kept afloat by massive Federal budget outlays, for just over 2 years.  The likely reason she resigned is because the day-to-day business of actually being Governor of Alaska would have precluded her crafting a credible image as a small-government Conservative.)

The article is Draper’s fruits for a vetting process that went on for months as her irregular, non-hierarchical group of advisers questioned him and debated the merits of his interview.  All of this led to a revealing history of Palin’s past 2-plus years in national politics, an account that reads respectfully but is very unflattering in what it shows about Palin’s mentality and sense of direction.  Consider the consequences of her non-traditional media organization for her own ability to produce opinions on matters of policy:

“Press reports variously name Fred Malek; Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard; and Kim Daniels, a conservative lawyer, as key advisors, when in fact Daniels has not worked for Palin for several months and Malek and Kristol are seldom in contact with her.  ‘It’s nearly every single day we learn a lesson about a person who claims to speak for us or work for us,’ Palin told me.  ‘Seems 9 times out of 10, Todd and I look at each other and say, “Who is this speaking for us?”‘”

This–and the succeeding mention of 4 actual political advisors to Palin who have weekly conference calls without Palin’s input–highlights what makes Palin unequal to the task of the Presidency; having rejected formal titles for her political advisors out of a desire for the freedom to make ad-hoc personnel decisions to reward loyalty, she still feels victimized by her inability to control who will speak on her behalf.  This is a logical outgrowth of her unwillingness to go through normal press channels, to name advisors to recognizable positions that require accountability, and her signature tactic of shooting from the hip, spouting off personal criticisms and trying to de-legitimize other media sources without returning to basic questions of policy or principle.  Her behavior as a national political fixture strongly suggests narcissism: Refusing to act like a professional politician, revealing a bad attitude in the way she talks about her political opposition, and refusing to engage the media the way the other politicians do, she then finds herself compelled to insist that she really wants to talk about the issues, that she has been the victim of a smear campaign, and that the media holds a grudge against her.  The 2 essential features of most past Palin statements that I’ve seen is their personal rather than principled nature, and their hypocrisy of her attacks in light of her own defensiveness.

This brings me to my core criticism of Palin: She has no vision.  Draper revealed this in his long and circumspect account of Palin’s surface-deep evolution in the limelight–and that without even trying:

“…(T)he prevailing narrative of Palin in 2009 was that she was an incompetent ditz.  This year’s story line is that she is a social-media visionary who purposefully circumnavigated the power-alley gasbags and thereby constructed a new campaigning template for the ages.  The reality is that Palin’s direction is determined almost entirely by her instincts–or, as Fred Malek puts it, ‘There is no über-strategy…'”

There isn’t a strategy because Mayor Palin has no goals outside of increasing her own power.  She isn’t trying to change the political culture, to protect a set of political values, to make the country stronger or unleash the entrepreneurial spirit.  For all his faults of judgment, the unsustainable risks of his brash foreign policy and complete naiveté–shared by almost all of us–about the over-leveraging of our financial sector, George W. Bush did in fact possess a vision about where he wanted to take the country.  His about-face from a Realist to a Neoconservative foreign policy was by far the biggest transformation from what he promised to do as President to what he did.  He postured against gay marriage during his 2004 re-election campaign for political advantage and immediately abandoned the issue after his re-election; other than that, he generally meant what he said, and he was as predictable as he was stubborn.  When he defended the majority of Muslims against bigoted hostility after September 11th, or when he promoted immigration reform to give undocumented migrant workers a means to naturalization, he wasn’t doing it to appeal to the Republican base but to expand and transform it.  The despised and very-jaded Karl Rove may have been the idea man, but the President was standing on principle.  Palin, on the other hand, is transparently jockeying for political advantage with her party’s base in the absence of any further purpose.  She says what she says not because she is spirited but because she is concerned with staying in the thoughts of those whom she thinks are already sympathetic.  She has no principles and nothing to do with the power she seeks.  Her early opposition to the “Ground Zero Mosque” (actually a Lower Manhattan Islamic community center) and endorsement of the anti-immigrant Tom Tancredo and Sharron Angle in the last election is an example of the sort of demagoguery that George W. Bush never resorted to.

Draper had the opportunity to ask Mayor Palin about her 2006 gubernatorial campaign message of comity between the parties.  Her response was equal parts unremarkable, disappointing and unconvincing: “…(T)hey go home.  It doesn’t matter what you do.  It was the left that came out attacking me.  They showed me their hypocrisy; they showed me they weren’t willing to work in a bipartisan way.  I learned my lesson.  Once bitten, twice shy.  I will never trust that they are not hypocrites until they show me they’re sincere.”

This explanation, which I do not believe, suggests that Palin was willing to entertain bipartisanship until it became a challenge.  One could say she is “once bitten, twice shy;” one could also say she has just claimed she will respond to the low road with the low road.  Our past 3 Presidents, though each would sometimes speak in partisan terms when they felt they were being blocked, didn’t assume their most-vocal opponents spoke for the rest, and didn’t stoop to their level.  Lacking a vision for the country or the perspective to set a good example in her actions, Mayor Palin isn’t a conventional politician; she’s something less, a follower of the crowd.


11 thoughts on “What a Non-Judgmental Account of Sarah Palin Still Shows

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  3. JES

    It seems pretty clear to me that Governor Palin is projecting a vision of a smaller, more accountable federal government with greater control given back to states and local communities. It’s actually a pretty clear message, and as a former mayor and governor, it seems she’s is a qualified enough messenger for it. Whether or not that resonates enough to form a presidential run, time will tell.

    As for being a partisan, well, that’s hardly confined to Palin. Obama has thus far been the most partisan president of my lifetime. Disappointing considering his rhetoric during the election. While I was admittedly skeptical of Obama from the get go (as a constiuent in Chicago I was never as impressed as the press told me I should be), I at least thought he would try to rise to his own rhetoric and avoid blatant partisanship politics. Sadly, that’s not the case.

    1. liberalironist Post author

      I understand why you would assume Palin had a message of smaller, more-accountable government and greater respect for federalism; the issue is how little time she actually spends discussing it. I see no evidence that Palin is interested in political philosophy or public policy.

      Consider her Facebook page. There are November notes rallying the Republican troops (“Rendezvous with Destiny”), engaging in personal attacks (“Lisa, are you going to shut down my Facebook page for writing this?”), and defending past silly comments (“Alaska’s Position on the Globe (Yes, You Can See Russia!)”) while taking a swipe at the “lamestream media.” There are a ton of notes promoting her reality TV show and her new book published by HarperCollins.

      Then there is her Thanksgiving note, with the mock title “A Thanksgiving Message to All 57 States.” Palin thought Thanksgiving the time to insinuate, yet again, that the media is trying to make her look stupid. It’s rather misleading (and frankly, parasitic) to represent the media to her followers as a unitary actor considering that HarperCollins published her book and The Learning Channel gave her a show; it’s also unfortunate that this would be the last message she would post to her fans on Thanksgiving week.

      Consider her post-election assessment in the National Review: http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/252477/midterms-lessons-learned-and-way-forward-sarah-palin?page=1
      Some Republicans would have taken time to discuss the policy agenda at some length, or perhaps show Tea Partier Marco Rubio’s humility (“…we make a grave mistake if we believe that tonight these results are somehow an embrace of the Republican Party. What they are is a second chance…”). Instead, she focused entirely on politics, and issued an implicit warning to so-called RINOs. (The National Review loves that stuff.) There were some references to policy, but they consist of a series of attacks of Obama’s proposed expansions of Federal authority–and finally included a call for entitlement reform. It’s commendable that Palin would mention this massive looming issue, but unlike Representative Paul Ryan or George W. Bush, she doesn’t seem to have any actual Conservative reforms to propose.

      I’ll put my foot down about whether Palin’s term as Governor of Alaska qualifies her as a messenger for a smaller Federal government. During her half-term as Governor, her requests to Alaska’s Congressional delegation for earmarks were regularly the largest per-capita of any state. She made her 2008 earmark request while dividing the State revenue surplus into payments of $1,200 that she gave to each Alaskan:

      Palin is not personally responsible for Alaska’s disproportional share of Federal outlays, but I think her desire to make general pronouncements about reducing the scope of government without the distraction of…well, governing…is the reason she resigned. Unlike Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Marco Rubio of Florida, Bob McDonnell of Virginia (or Governor-elect Nikki Haley of South Carolina, if this is trending too masculine), she has chosen to become an employee of a mainstream media outlet (!) so as not to be bogged down by the responsibility of putting a set of political ideas into practice. That does not inspire confidence, and it is a good reason for Republicans to be concerned about someone so unproven becoming their standard-carrier.

  4. Arctos

    As an Alaskan, I’d like to say that you absolutely captured the great emptiness that is Mayor Palin. Thank you for this insightful analysis.

    I have friends who worked in different capacities in her administration, and the faults they noticed then continue playing themselves out on an epic scale–a profound disinterest in understanding or formulating policy beyond mouthing the words; chronic disorganization and impulsiveness; a paranoid working style that limits her to a few trusted (and equally limited) advisers; and her often vindictive approach to working with others. A paid staff adviser, former campaign manager and family friend once commented–after she threw him under the bus and then backed up and ran him over several more times–that Mrs. Palin had no boundaries between her professional and personal lives. She takes everything personally, and she runs her personal life for professional gain.

    She liked being governor far more than she liked governing, even before McCain plucked her from obscurity. So your analysis about her lack of vision is quite insightful. Or perhaps it’s that if she has a vision, it extends only as far as picturing herself winning office and thus making instinctive decisions about how best to acquire that office (which can be summarized as: pander to her base).

    As you point out so astutely, she sees herself as the president, but precisely because she has no idea what would come next, she’ll never be a true leader.

    1. liberalironist Post author

      I remember the “hot mic” comments on MSNBC right after McCain picked her as his running mate. Chuck Todd, Peggy Noonan and Brian Murphy all seemed to agree that Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson would have been a more-compelling choice if McCain wanted a woman on his Presidential ticket. I remember thinking the same thing about Linda Lingle when she spoke during the 2008 Republican National Convention. One of the truly unfortunate things about McCain’s selection of her and her lingering presence on the national stage is the her cornering of the role as “the woman Presidential hopeful.” Also considering her endorsement of fringe Senate candidates Sharron Angle and the hopeless but discussed-to-death Christine O’Donnell, she may singlehandedly invite broad skepticism towards a lot of woman political hopefuls who deserve better.

  5. Diane

    Great article.
    I, too, feel that palin does not deserve the term Gov. She resigned, she reneged on her sworn oath to serve the people of Alaska.

    You are so right on her lack of.. anything. She is not growing as a politician, her gaffes are childish and telling.
    She is nasty and negative. That may draw the crowds, but you are right, she lacks substance and direction. If you can only complain about t he other guy and cannot articulate what your plans are, you do not belong in government.
    Maybe a reality show?

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