Thursday, September 04, 2008

Palin's prevarications (& her road to nowhere)

It seems clear that John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his Vice-Presidential running mate was a last-minute impulse choice, and that when he decided to pick her he didn't know much more about her than the rest of us. Part of the background, it appears, is that McCain was boxed in after the candidates he would have preferred--most prominently Joe Lieberman & Tom Ridge--got vetoed by Republican Party bigwigs who warned that those nominees would have enraged the so-called Republican "base."

The practical implications of McCain's gamble on Pailin will take a while to sort out, since we're all still finding out about Governor Palin. But it's hard to avoid the conclusion that this choice was an irresponsible piece of political opportunism that raises some legitimate questions about McCain's judgment--and that's true even if Palin turns out to be a net plus for the Republicans in the general election campaign (which strikes me as unlikely, but anything's possible).

=> In the meantime, it's clear that Palin can be a fluent and appealing speechmaker (her convention speech showed that, even though it didn't have much in the way of substantive content) ... and also that, despite her apparently frank and straightforward air, she's pretty careless with the truth.

To take one high-profile example, Palin claims that she "told Congress, ‘Thanks, but no thanks’, on that bridge to nowhere.” I was a little surprised that she had the chutzpah to repeat this particular claim in her convention speech, since it has already been established that it can most charitably be described as deceptive. OK, let's be blunt--it's not true. Palin campaigned for Governor as a strong supporter of this earmarked project and abandoned her support for it only after it had become a national laughingstock and Congress had already eliminated the earmark mandating this project ... but she also kept the relevant federal money for other purposes.

=> By the way, this falsehood was repeated in the McCain campaign's statement announcing Palin's selection: "She put a stop to the "bridge to nowhere" that would have cost taxpayers $400 million dollars."

Nobody expects campaign announcements to be models of accuracy and honesty, but the deception here is pretty brazen. As a Reuters article sums up the actual facts of the matter:
During her first speech after being named as McCain's surprise pick as a running mate, Palin said she had told Congress "'thanks but no thanks' on that bridge to nowhere."

In the city Ketchikan, the planned site of the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere," political leaders of both parties said the claim was false and a betrayal of their community, because she had supported the bridge and the earmark for it secured by Alaska's Congressional delegation during her run for governor.

The bridge, a span from the city to Gravina Island, home to only a few dozen people, secured a $223 million earmark in 2005. The pricey designation raised a furor and critics, including McCain, used the bridge as an example of wasteful federal spending on politicians' pet projects.

When she was running for governor in 2006, Palin said she was insulted by the term "bridge to nowhere," according to Ketchikan Mayor Bob Weinstein, a Democrat, and Mike Elerding, a Republican who was Palin's campaign coordinator in the southeast Alaska city.

"People are learning that she pandered to us by saying, I'm for this' ... and then when she found it was politically advantageous for her nationally, abruptly she starts using the very term that she said was insulting," Weinstein said. [....]

National fury over the bridge caused Congress to remove the earmark designation, but Alaska was still granted an equivalent amount of transportation money to be used at its own discretion.

Last year, Palin announced she was stopping state work on the controversial project, earning her admirers from earmark critics and budget hawks from around the nation. The move also thrust her into the spotlight as a reform-minded newcomer.
So yes, Palin did cancel this bridge project she had previously supported. But the point is that when the did that, it was no longer a federally mandated "earmark". If work on the bridge had been continued, it would have required the state of Alaska to spend the money on the bridge instead of spending it on something else.

So what about that $400 million in taxpayer's money (which McCain, to the fury of Alaska's Congressional delegation, once proposed spending to rebuild infrastructure in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina instead)?
The state, however, never gave back any of the money that was originally earmarked for the Gravina Island bridge, said Weinstein and Elerding.

In fact, the Palin administration has spent "tens of millions of dollars" in federal funds to start building a road on Gravina Island that is supposed to link up to the yet-to-be-built bridge, Weinstein said.
So instead of a "bridge to nowhere", she's building a more modest "road to nowhere".
"She said 'thanks but no thanks,' but they kept the money," said Elerding about her applause line.
=> Someone named Jim on one of the Obama campaign blogs has already posted a useful fact-check of Palin's speech last night that surveys its prevarications, deceptions, misleading formulations, and outright falsehoods: FACT CHECK: Sarah Palin’s Speech I might have formulated a few details slightly differently myself, and the foreign-policy stuff toward the end is weaker than the rest, but overall this assessment strikes me as very fair and accurate, so it's worth checking out.

Some random highlights:
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PALIN: “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. But the fact that drilling won’t solve every problem is no excuse to do nothing at all."

REALITY: PALIN SAID SHE WOULD "BEG TO DISAGREE" WITH ANY CANDIDATE WHO SAID WE CAN’T DRILL OUR WAY OUT OF OUR PROBLEM [....]

PALIN: “Before I became governor of the great state of Alaska, I was mayor of my hometown.”

REALITY: UNDER PALIN, WASILLA GOVERNMENT SPENDING & DEBT SKYROCKETED.

[JW: And this despite the fact that she was also an earmark queen who brought in truly impressive per capita levels of federal pork-barrel funding--almost $27 million in federall-funded projects for a town of less than 7,000 people.] [....]

PALIN: “I suspended the state fuel tax, and championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress.”

REALITY: ALASKA HAS REQUESTED $589 MILLION IN PORK SINCE PALIN TOOK OFFICE & AS MAYOR, SHE HIRED WASILLA’S FIRST FEDERAL LOBBYIST TO SECURE EARMARKS FOR THE TOWN.

[JW: And yes, she did suspend the state fuel tax, but she had the kind of compensating funds available that the rest of the US doesn't. Alaska, like Saudi Arabia, is a big oil producer with a relatively small population, so Palin essentially levied a windfall profits tax on the oil companies used it to hand out $1,200 to each resident of Alaska. Applied to the US as a whole, an equivalent give-away would amount to some $360 billion. This kind of petro-state populism may or may not be a good idea, but it's the sort of thing that Republicans usually criticize when it's done in places like, say, Venezuela or Russia.]

PALIN: “As Governor, I have a record of being a strong fiscal conservative and have vetoed millions in special projects pushed by legislators.”

REALITY: Palin Increased Taxes on Oil Companies to Pay for $1,200 Giveaway to Every Resident in the State. [....]>

PALIN: “In fact, I told Congress — I told Congress, ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ on that bridge to nowhere.”

REALITY: PALIN WAS FOR THE BRIDGE TO NOWHERE BEFORE SHE WAS AGAINST IT. [....]

[JW: And kept the federal funds.]

REALITY: PALIN ONLY ANNOUNCED OPPOSITION TO ONE “BRIDGE TO NOWHERE,” STILL SUPPORTS THE OTHER ONE [....]

PALIN: “But we are expected to govern with integrity, and goodwill, and clear convictions…”

REALITY: PALIN UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR ABUSE OF POWER.: [....]

PALIN: “Starting in January, in a McCain-Palin administration, we’re going to lay more pipelines … build more new-clear plants … create jobs with clean coal … and move forward on solar, wind, geothermal, and other alternative sources.”

REALITY: PALIN CUT FUNDING FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY [....]

PALIN: “But listening to [Obama] him speak, it’s easy to forget that this is a man who has authored two memoirs but not a single major law or reform – not even in the state senate.”

REALITY: OBAMA PASSED THE MOST SWEEPING [ETHICS] REFORMS SINCE WATERGATE IN BOTH THE ILLINOIS AND US SENATES, AMONG OTHER ACCOMPLISHMENTS [....]

Obama Helped Pass The 2007 Ethics Reform Law, Which Curbed The Influence Of Lobbyists [....] In the first week of the 110th Congress, Obama joined with Senator Feingold to introduce a “Gold Standard” ethics package. [....]

Obama Passed Illinois State Gift Ban Act “Heralded As the Most Sweeping Good-Government Legislation in Decades.” [....]

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote of Obama’s bill, “The ethics restrictions would be the most far-reaching since the Watergate-era campaign financial disclosure law. They are the product of months of negotiations among two lawmakers of each party, other state officials and Mike Lawrence. He is an aide to former Sen. Paul Simon, a Democrat, and used to be an aide to Edgar, a Republican.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 5/24/98] [....]

Obama And [Republican Senator Richard] Lugar Passed Law Boosting U.S. Efforts To Keep WMDs And Other Dangerous Weapons Out Of The Hands Of Terrorists. [....]

Obama and [Republican Senator Tom] Coburn Passed A Bill Creating A “Google-like” Database For The Public To Search Details About Federal Funding Awards. [....]

Obama Passed A Bill Creating $100 Million Earned Income Tax Credit As A Member Of The Minority Party In The Illinois Senate [JW: There's also THIS.] [....]
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And so on. If Palin gets away with this sort of stuff, that will reflect poorly on the health of our political process. (But since that process is not in great shape, it's by no means impossible that she will, indeed, get away with it.)

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

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