Palin Fails by Her Own Standards
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Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accepted the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nomination Wednesday night in a confident and insistent address that attacked members of the media and Washington "elites" who questioned her experience to be vice president and mocked Barack Obama for his qualifications, stances on issues and even his inspiring words.
After several days of silence, Palin introduced herself to America as the newest GOP attack dog. She alternately wrapped herself in what she described as all-American small-town values and engaged in nasty smear tactics -- belittling Democrats, mischaracterizing Obama and insulting Americans, who she and her campaign speechwriters must think will not have enough sense to see past such a thin veil.
Palin established the confrontation tone early in her speech by deriding "pollsters and pundits" who "wrote off" Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the Republican nominee, early in his presidential campaign for supporting a troop surge in Iraq. She then introduced her family, praised her rural upbringing and experience in local and state government, and concluded -- in a departure from reality -- that her brief political resume qualified her to serve as vice president.
"And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain to them what the job involves," Palin said, comparing herself to Obama's community work after law school. "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities."
Then, as was typical of her speech, she broadened her political attack.
"I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening," Palin said. "We tend to prefer candidates who don't talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco."
Palin was referring to comments Obama made at a fundraiser that were controversial during the Democratic primaries when he was asked about why rural voters often vote for Republicans when the GOP did not advocate for their economic interests. She then drew a picture of life in small town America that was at least as divisive as Obama's remark was controversial, by suggesting rural America is where the country's truest patriots, hardest workers, and members of the military come from.
"I grew up with those people," she said. "They are the ones who do some of the hardest work in America ... who grow our food, run our factories, and fight our wars. They love their country, in good times and bad, and they're always proud of America. I had the privilege of living most of my life in a small town."
Vice-presidential candidates are often used by presidential campaigns to criticize the opposing ticket -- so the presidential nominee does not have to descend to the muddier side of politics. However, as Palin wrapped herself in a mythic version of small-town America to emphasize Republican values, she also presented a distorted picture of political realities in the country. Most notable in this regard was her criticism of the media and Washington "elites," even though her party has held the White House for seven-plus years and majorities in Congress until 2006.
"I'm not a member of the permanent political establishment," Palin said. "And I've learned quickly, these past few days, that if you're not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone. But here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion; I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country. Americans expect us to go to Washington for the right reasons, and not just to mingle with the right people."
Palin portrayed herself as a reformer in Alaskan politics, although independent press accounts in recent days strongly suggest otherwise. Despite an ongoing investigation by Alaska's Legislature into Palin improperly using her office to pressure the state police to fire an officer who divorced her sister, and Palin heading a fundraising committee that accepted unlimited donations for Sen. Ted Stevens, now under federal indictment for corruption, Palin said that she fought and beat "special interests."
"We are expected to govern with integrity, good will, clear convictions, and a servant's heart," she said. "I pledge to all Americans that I will carry myself in this spirit as vice president of the United States. This was the spirit that brought me to the governor's office, when I took on the old politics as usual in Juneau; when I stood up to the special interests, the lobbyists, big oil companies, and the good-old-boys network."
Palin's account of herself as an anti-corruption and anti-spending crusader also included her oft-repeated claim that she opposed building a bridge costing several hundred million dollars to a remote town of 14,000. Press accounts from Alaska note that she supported "the bridge to nowhere" for years, before finally canceling the project as governor.
Palin touted her efforts closing a deal to build a new major natural gas pipeline, saying efforts to drill for oil, natural gas and to build more nuclear power plants would be the cornerstone of the country's energy independence. Energy was the only domestic issue Palin discussed at length in her speech, which notably did not mention the economy, health care, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, immigration, family planning, appointing Supreme Court judges or the relation of church and state -- she is an evangelical. She dismissed Democratic priorities such as global warming and civil liberties.
"Our opponents say, again and again, that drilling will not solve all of America's energy problems -- as if we all didn't know that already," Palin said. "But the fact that drilling won't solve every problem is no excuse to do nothing at all."
Palin's harshest attack concerned the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Obama's qualifications to lead the military.
"This is a man who can give an entire speech about the wars America is fighting, and never use the word victory except when he's talking about his own campaign," she said, speaking of Obama. "Victory in Iraq is finally in sight; he wants to forfeit. Terrorist states are seeking nuclear weapons without delay; he wants to meet them without preconditions. Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America; he's worried that someone won't read them their rights."
Notably, the only foreign policy issues raised by Palin concerned using U.S. troops to ensure the country had an ample supply of oil from the world's trouble spots. If anything, these remarks suggest that a McCain-Palin administration would continue the current White House policy of deploying troops overseas to ensure oil imports.
"Families cannot throw away more and more of their paychecks on gas and heating oil," she said. "With Russia wanting to control a vital pipeline in the Caucasus, and to divide and intimidate our European allies by using energy as a weapon, we cannot leave ourselves at the mercy of foreign suppliers.
"To confront the threat that Iran might seek to cut off nearly a fifth of world energy supplies, or that terrorists might strike again at the Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia, or that Venezuela might shut off its oil deliveries, we Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas," she continued. "And take it from a gal who knows the North Slope of Alaska: we've got lots of both."
Palin also attacked Obama for saying he planned to raise taxes on the top 5 percent of American income earners, which the Democratic nominee has said was necessitated by a federal deficit that has ballooned since the Bush administration needlessly invaded Iraq.
Palin's attacks undoubtedly previewed those the McCain campaign will use in the final two months of the campaign, as Republicans try to convince Americans that a candidate who did not wear a military or law enforcement uniform as a younger person is unfit to be president.
"Though both Senator Obama and Senator Biden have been going on lately about how they are always, quote, 'fighting for you,' let us face the matter squarely," Palin said. "There is only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you, in places where winning means survival and defeat means death, and that man is John McCain."
Of course, Palin did not hold herself to those same standards, which many newspaper editorial writers have said is the most important consideration for the running mate of a candidate who would be the oldest American ever to enter office as president. Instead, she joked that the only different between a "hockey mom" -- her role prior to government service -- and "a pit bull" was lipstick. Indeed, her introduction to America and national politics was as the GOP's newest attack dog.
Steven Rosenfeld is a Senior Fellow at AlterNet.org, where he reports on elections from a voting rights perspective. His books include Count My Vote: A Citizen's Guide to Voting (AlterNet Books, 2008), What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election (The New Press, 2006), and Making History in Vermont: The Election of a Socialist to Congress (Hollowbrook Publishing, 1992). An award-winning journalist, he has been a staff reporter at National Public Radio, Monitor Radio, TomPaine.com, and at daily and weekly newspapers in Vermont.