Top Ten Most Disturbing Facts and Impressions of Sarah Palin
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Sarah Palin was named John McCain's vice presidential nominee just three days ago, yet it seems that weeks have passed in terms of the mountains of controversy it has stirred up. An overwhelming amount of negative publicity and sometimes shocking information has come out about her and her relatively short political career.
Choosing Palin has been called alternately a brilliant stroke that reinforces McCain's maverick image and a desperate, irresponsible "Hail Mary" pass in the face of an almost sure defeat in November. The fundamental question being raised: Why Palin? True, her personal narrative has lots of color: former fisherman, NRA hunter, mother of five, small-town mayor, short-term governor of a state with a small population, etc. But that does not qualify her to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Anathema to Moderates, Liberals and Progressives
George Lakoff, in an accompanying article, lists some of the issues swirling around Palin:
She is inexperienced, knowing little or nothing about foreign policy or national issues; she is really an anti-feminist, wanting the government to enter women's lives to block abortion, but not wanting the government to guarantee equal pay for equal work, or provide adequate child health coverage, or child care, or early childhood education; she shills for the oil and gas industry on drilling; she denies the scientific truths of global warming and evolution; she misuses her political authority; she opposes sex education and her daughter is pregnant; and, rather than being a maverick, she is on the whole a radical right-wing ideologue.
Part of the shock that many are grappling with: How could a 72-year-old man with bouts of cancer choose someone who appears to be completely unqualified to become president? Thus, McCain's age and health become central issues in the campaign, as does his judgment, although it may be tricky for Democrats to raise these issues without creating some backlash.
As Democratic strategist Paul Begala notes: "It is interesting that McCain passed over Tom Ridge, a decorated combat hero, a Cabinet secretary and the former two-term governor of the large, complex state of Pennsylvania; Mitt Romney, who ran a big state, Massachusetts, a big company, Bain Capital, and a big event, the Olympics; and Kay Bailey Hutchison, the Texas senator who is knowledgeable about the military, good on television and -- obviously -- a woman."
Not Good in the Polls
Republican pollster Frank Luntz, working with the AARP, did some focus groups of "undecided" voters and found some bad news for John McCain:
They don't like his choice of Sarah Palin for vice president. Only one person said Palin made him more likely to vote for McCain; about half the 25-member group raised their hands when asked if Palin made them less likely to vote for McCain. They had a negative impression of Palin by a 2-1 margin ... a fact that was reinforced when they were given hand-dials and asked to react to Palin's speech at her first appearance with McCain on Friday -- the dials remained totally neutral as Palin went through her heart-warming(?) biography, and only blipped upward when she said she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere -- which wasn't quite the truth, as we now know.
Then there was this, from a woman named Teresa, who went to the Democratic convention as a Hillary delegate and is leaning toward voting for McCain -- obviously the target audience for the Palin pick: "His age didn't really bother me until he picked Palin. What if he dies in office and leaves us with her as president? Also she leans toward the rigid right, and I always thought he was a moderate. ... You know, I change my mind almost every day, but right now I'm wondering where the John McCain I really liked in 2000 went. What happened to the moderate? This John McCain has the look of someone who is being manipulated -- probably by Karl Rove."
A commentator to the article appearing on the Time Magazine blog BlankSlate wrote:
Only someone in the throes of a serious mental condition could have make a pick this astonishing. This focus group confirms the Rasmussen Reports polling that, among undecided voters, the Palin pick makes 6 percent more likely to vote for McCain and 31 percent less likely to vote for McCain. About 59 percent of these undecided voters do not think Palin is qualified to be president. It is a stunt gone terribly amiss. And the hilarious thing is that the right wing really believes that this is going to turn everything around. Amazing, amazing, amazing.
Local Media Unhappy with Palin
Greg Mitchell, the editor of Editor & Publisher , checked out the Alaska newspapers to see how they felt about their governor. He found that they were nervous to say the least:
The pages and Web sites of the two leading papers up there have raised all sorts of issues surrounding Palin, from her ethics problems to general lack of readiness for this big step up. Right now the top story on the Anchorage Daily News Web site looks at new info in what it calls "troopergate" and opens: "Alaska's former commissioner of public safety says Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain's pick to be vice president, personally talked to him on two occasions about a state trooper who was locked in a bitter custody battle with the governor's sister."
A reporter for the Anchorage Daily News , Gregg Erickson, even did an online chat with the Washington Post in which he revealed that Palin's approval rating in the state was not the much-touted 80 percent, but rather 65 percent and sinking -- and that among journalists who followed her, it might be in the "teens." He added: "I have a hard time seeing how her qualifications stack up against the duties and responsibilities of being president."
His paper found a number of leading Republican officeholders in the state who mocked Palin's qualifications. "She's not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president?" said Lyda Green, the president of the state senate, a Republican from Palin's hometown of Wasilla. "Look at what she's done to this state. What would she do to the nation?"
And from the editorial in the Anchorage Daily News : "It's stunning that someone with so little national and international experience might be heartbeat away from the presidency."
With the Republican National Convention delayed by Hurricane Gustav's arrival on U.S. shores, there must be lots of discussion and soul-searching going on in Republican circles as to how the Palin candidacy will hold up over the next two months. The biggest question perhaps is whether the McCain inner circle, perhaps in a major concession to the extreme right wing, which hasn't been friendly to McCain, has made a drastic error to woo its support. Or in fact, as some would suggest, McCain is crazy like a fox. Under that scenario, Palin will weather the initial avalanche of negative publicity that paints her far outside of the political mainstream, and she undermines many of McCain's efforts to appear to be the maverick moderate. Palin becomes a strong campaigner, and her extreme positions get lost in her efforts to support McCain.
AlterNet editors have collected a list some of the major issues that are bubbling up about Palin. Here are our top 10 most disturbing facts, rumors and impressions of Sarah Palin, gathered in the past two days:
1: Palin supports gunning down wolves from planes
Sarah Palin is no friend of wildlife. And let's not blame this on her being a hunter. Plenty of subsistence hunters respect animals. But Palin reportedly came out against legislation introduced by Rep. George Miller, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, that would "end Alaska's policy of allowing people to shoot wolves from airplanes."
Miller is among a large number of folks who believe the practice is not only cruel, it's unnecessary (proponents say it is to keep caribou and moose numbers up for other hunters) and a violation of federal law banning airborne hunting.
Palin has also tried to make gunning down wolves (and even bears) from the air easier and financially rewarding.
As the Huffington Post reported:
Last year, the state offered a $150 bounty as an incentive for pilots and aerial gunners to kill more wolves. And leading up to this week's statewide vote on Measure 2 to stop the aerial shooting of wolves and bears, Palin's Board of Game spent $400,000 of public money on brochures and radio ads to influence the election. She not only took an inhumane and unsporting position at odds with the principles of wildlife management and fair chase, but did it in an undemocratic and underhanded way.
Palin has been said to have a "failing record" on wildlife -- including being in favor of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- and she has opposed efforts to protect beluga whales in the Cook Inlet (whose numbers have dropped to just 375) because it might adversely affect the oil and gas industries.
2: Palin doesn't believe global warming is man-made
At every campaign stop, McCain says that human activity is the driving force behind global climate change.
For the first time in its history, the GOP caught up to the rest of the planet by accepting the reality of man-made climate change in its 2008 platform. It reads, "The same human activity that has brought freedom and opportunity to billions has also increased the amount of carbon in the atmosphere," and "increased atmospheric carbon has a warming effect on the earth."
But Palin is among the conservative fringe that rejects the scientific consensus. According to the Washington Post , "Sarah Palin told voters there she wasn't sure climate change wasn't simply part of a natural warming cycle." Palin told the conservative Web site NewsMax, "I'm not one ... who would attribute it to being man-made."
This may help explain why Palin announced this year that Alaska would sue the Department of the Interior over its decision to add the polar bear to its list of endangered species. If people are "over-reacting" to global warming, as Palin has said, then the polar bears' rapidly dwindling habitat should be fine and those bears can fend for themselves. As Palin explained in an op-ed in the New York Times , "I strongly believe that adding them to the list is the wrong move at this time. ... The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, has argued that global warming and the reduction of polar ice severely threatens the bears' habitat and their existence. In fact, there is insufficient evidence that polar bears are in danger of becoming extinct within the foreseeable future."
3: Palin is the candidate of powerful far right-wing cabal; her nomination seals their support for the little-wanted McCain
As Max Blumenthal reports:
Last week ... the country's most influential conservatives met quietly in Minneapolis to get to know Sarah Palin. The assembled were members of the Council for National Policy, an ultra-secretive cabal that networks wealthy right-wing donors together with top conservative operatives to plan long-term movement strategy.
CNP members have included Tony Perkins, James Dobson, Grover Norquist, Tim LaHaye and Paul Weyrich. At a secret 2000 meeting of the CNP, George W. Bush promised to nominate only pro-life judges. ... This year, thanks to Sarah Palin's selection, the movement may have finally aligned itself behind the campaign of John McCain.
What happened at the secret meeting was the topic of online commentary by one of its attendees, top Dobson/Focus on the Family flack Tom Minnery.
Minnery described the mood as CNP members watched Palin: "And I have to tell you, that speech -- people were on their seats applauding, cheering, yelling ... That room in Minneapolis watching on the television screen was electrified. I have not seen anything like it in a long time."
Minnery added that his boss, Dobson, has yearned for a conservative female leader like Margaret Thatcher to emerge on the American scene. And while Palin is no Thatcher, "she has not rejected the feminine side of who she is, so for that reason, she will be attractive to conservative voters."
The members of the Council for National Policy are the hidden hand behind McCain's Palin pick. With her selection, the Republican nominee is suddenly -- and unexpectedly -- assured of the support of a movement that once opposed his candidacy with all its might. Case in point: While Dobson once said he could "never" vote for McCain, he issued a statement last week hailing Palin as an "outstanding" choice. If Dobson's enthusiasm for Palin is any indication, he may soon emerge from his bunker in Colorado Springs to endorse McCain, providing the Republican nominee with the support of the Christian right's single most influential figure.
4: Palin staunchly opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest
Sarah Palin is strongly anti-choice, but she has taken her views on abortion to an extreme that may prove unpopular even among Republicans. Palin only supports abortion if the mother's health is in danger. Rape and incest don't register with her as legitimate reasons to honor a woman's right to choose -- not even if the women is her own daughter. In 2006, when her daughter Bristol was only 14, Palin said that she would not support choice even if her daughter were raped.
She made that announcement at a time when Alaska was plagued with a rape rate more than twice as high as the national average.
"This is absolutely outside the mainstream. Even in South Dakota they rejected (outlawing abortion in cases of rape) in '06 because it has gone too far and everyone can identify that in a case of rape or incest a woman should have the chance to make the decision with their family or doctor," Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro Choice America, told the Huffington Post. "Women voters are going to reject both her and John McCain, and I think we see it specifically because we reach out to Republicans and independent pro-choice women. They live in the suburbs and exurbs. They are very much part of the mainstream America. And woman in general will reject that ticket."
5: Palin takes unnecessary risks with the health of her own child, supports failed abstinence-only programs
Amid the now-disproven rumors that the Palins' fifth child, Trig, was the son of her 17-year-old daughter, are reports that Sarah Palin seriously endangered her child during labor. Palin was in Texas delivering a speech when she allegedly began to leak amniotic fluid. Instead of immediately checking into a hospital, Palin finished her speech. She then flew to Anchorage, Alaska, where she drove to a hospital 45 minutes away to give birth.
Palin's apparent need to rush to Alaska for the delivery helped fuel rumors she was faking the pregnancy to cover for her daughter. Now that the story has proven to be false, it nevertheless raises questions about Palin's judgment. In this case, she seems to have taken unnecessary risks in the delivery of her child. As the past eight years have shown us, the last thing we need is a reckless politician in office.
And speaking of unsound judgment, her daughter's pregnancy demonstrates seriously poor decision making -- not on the part of Bristol but by conservative politicians like Palin and McCain, who have decided that the best way to ensure kids learn about sex is by depriving them of information. Palin is a firm supporter of abstinence-until-marriage sex education, despite the fact that numerous studies show that abstinence-only sex education does not delay sexual activity and may in fact lead to unsafe sex practices.
It would be cheap to trade on the irony that a firm backer of abstinence-only sex ed is now the mother of a pregnant teen. But it does need to be noted that many pregnant teens do not have the financial and emotional supports that Bristol appears lucky to have. Palin's abstinence-only stance on sex ed, like McCain's, is wrong because it puts everyone's kids in danger.
6: Palin is under investigation for allegedly abusing her power as governor to help her sister in a messy divorce
Politicians are supposed to recuse themselves, or step away from matters, when there is a conflict of interest. Yet according to the Washington Post and other news outlets, Palin "has been embroiled in a bitter family feud that has drawn in the state police, the attorney general, the governor's office and the state legislature." In fact, a "bipartisan state legislative panel has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate whether Palin improperly brought the family fight into the governor's office," the newspaper reports.
At issue is whether Palin and her staff pressured and then fired the public safety commissioner, Walter Monegan, because he did not fire Palin's ex-brother-in-law, Mike Wooten, from the state police after he apparently threatened her sister and other family members, including her father, in 2005. The Post reported that Palin heard Wooten "threatening to kill their father" for helping his daughter obtain a divorce. Palin, who did not call the police that day, later reported the incident.
Upon becoming governor, Palin and her staff asked Monegan to fire Wooten, but the state's top cop replied that the matter had been investigated and had been closed. In July, Palin fired Monegan. The state legislature subsequently launched an investigation into whether she had improperly used her office's power. A report is due in October.
The so-called troopergate incident apparently is not the first time Palin fired police officers for failing to follow her wishes, according to Andrew Sullivan at TheAtlantic.com.
Sullivan cites an Anchorage Daily News report from December 1997 when, as mayor of Wasilla, Palin faced a recall "in response to Palin's controversial firing of Police Chief Irl Stambaugh." Sullivan reports that Stambaugh and another city official, the library director, Mary Ellen Emmons, were fired for "not fully supporting her efforts to govern."
"Both had publicly supported Palin's opponent, longtime mayor John Stein, during the campaign last fall," the Sullivan report said. "When she was elected, Palin questioned their loyalty and even initially asked for their resignations."
7: Palin lied about her plans for the "Bridge to Nowhere"
When accepting the GOP's nomination for vice president, Sarah Palin took credit for killing a controversial bridge project in Alaska dubbed the Bridge to Nowhere: "I told Congress, 'Thanks but no thanks on that Bridge to Nowhere,'" she exclaimed to a cheering audience in Ohio. But it turns out that her relationship with the bridge wasn't that cut and dry.
The Gravina Island Bridge would have linked the town of Ketchikan to its international airport, which is extremely difficult to get to by car, as it is on Gravina Island (there is currently a ferry in place to shuttle people to and fro). The bridge was to be federally funded but was quickly labeled a pork barrel project by many conservatives in Washington, including McCain.
So maybe it was an eagerness to please her new boss that caused Palin to lie to the American people right out of the gate. Who can say? But thanks to reports from the Washington Post and the Anchorage Daily News , we are now aware that that is exactly what she has done.
It turns out that initially Palin was a big fan of the bridge -- although it could be that Palin wasn't so much a fan of the bridge as she was a fan of telling Ketchikan's 14,000 residents that she was while on the campaign trail in September 2006. "She was the only candidate who was saying, 'We're going to build that bridge,'" former governor Tony Knowles, a Democrat who lost to Palin in the 2006 general election, told the Washington Post . "She's taking a position now which certainly wasn't what it was when she was campaigning."
After a long fight about how much federal assistance should be granted to Alaska for the bridge, Congress decided to grant Alaska a lump sum of $454 million to spend on general infrastructure projects, instead of specifically earmarking federal money for what had become a very unpopular project.
Even then, though, there where plans for the bridge. It wasn't until September 2007, a year after her promise to the people of Ketchikan, that Palin finally shut down the project, citing overspending. As Keith Ashdown, an investigator with Taxpayers for Common Sense, told the Post: "She made the final decision to kill a very bad project, so she deserves credit for that. But she didn't do it as an ideological opponent of earmarks. She did it as someone who had to balance the books."
Palin lied to her constituents about getting the bridge done, and now she is lying to the American people about what her position was in the first place. It looks like Palin isn't the type of politician who would clean up Washington after all.
8: A so-called political reformer, Palin has big money ties to Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who has been indicted for political corruption
Former Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil was known for political witticisms, including "Dance with the one that brung ya." That refers to being loyal to your supporters through the thick and thin of political life. According to the Washington Post's The Trail, from 2003 to 2005, Palin was one of three directors of "Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service, Inc.," a 527 group that could raise unlimited funds from corporate donors. A "527" refers to a section of the tax code governing such campaign groups.
"Palin, an anti-corruption crusader in Alaska, had called on Stevens to be open about the issues behind the investigation," the Post reported. "But she also held a joint news conference with him in July, before he was indicted, to make clear she had not abandoned him politically."
Stevens, who is running for re-election this year, was inducted by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., this summer for failing to disclose sizeable gifts from a now-defunct Alaskan oil company, including assistance with renovating a vacation home.
The Post report said that Stevens agreed to lend his name to the campaign committee, but it did not say how much was raised or how the funds were distributed. A report on the group at the CampaignMoney.com Web site also does not list funds raised or spent.
It is not inconsistent that Palin would have been able to muscle major oil companies into making financial concessions for the benefit of Alaskans as governor -- and would have raised funds from those same corporations, the largest doing business in the state, as a director of a 527 group. Such clout is part and parcel of modern campaigns and governing. While much remains unknown about Palin's role as a fundraiser for Steven's 527, her role as a white knight reformer of Alaskan politics has some shades of gray -- as anyone who follows money in politics in small states will affirm.
9: Palin exploits her son's Iraq service for political gain
Taking the stage alongside John McCain last Friday, it took no time for Palin to play the 9/11 card. "On September 11th of last year," she announced, "our son enlisted in the United States Army. â€¦ And on September 11th, Track will deploy to Iraq. ... And Todd and I are so proud of him and of all the fine men and women serving this country."
Palin's public pride in her son served a purpose, one the media dutifully picked up. As campaign operatives rebuffed charges that Palin is unprepared, they reached for her son's military service. Confronted with her admission that she has "not paid much attention" to the war in Iraq, one guest told Hardball's Chris Matthews that, as a military mother, "she pays attention to it with her heart."
Maybe so, but Palin is hardly alone. The 2008 presidential race is remarkable in that three of the candidates have sons in the active duty military. But standard practice seems to be not to discuss it publicly.
Take John McCain. His son Jimmy returned from Iraq in February. "We have two sons in the military," he told Sean Hannity, "but we never talk about it, if that's all right." Similarly, Joe Biden, whose son Beau will deploy to Iraq in October, has kept uncharacteristically quiet about it.
So what gives Palin license to wear her son's military service on her sleeve?
Simple: She's a mom.
Palin's uber-motherhood is already the stuff of legend and controversy. With five children, including an infant with Down syndrome, now she's dealing with her teenage daughter's pregnancy. In a game that has traditionally shredded male candidates on the slightest hint that they are not tough enough for the job, Palin is the Right's version of what a strong woman should look like. That she'd be given a pass for exploiting her son's military service on emotional grounds is one thing. For her campaign to construe it as somehow making her more qualified to be commander-in-chief is absurd.
10: During her time as mayor, Palin drove a town deep into debt
According to Politico, "Palin, who portrays herself as a fiscal conservative, racked up nearly $20 million in long-term debt as mayor of the tiny town of Wasilla. That amounts to $3,000 per resident. She argues that the debt was needed to fund improvements."