Sarah Palin: The view from Alaska

One of my favorite characters in Alaska politics is Mike Doogan. He is a solid Democratic state representative from Anchorage, and a former columnist for the Anchorage Daily News. In addition he is a darn good novelist and storyteller. On Saturday, August 30, 2008, Doogan ran an opinion piece in the Anchorage Daily News entitled, 'Palin as the president-in-waiting of our nation? Really?' On the positive side, he notes that she's a woman, she's young, she's good-looking, she tells a story, and she can handle the media. Then he says, 'Debating foreign-policy with Joe Biden? What's she going to do? Hit him with her briefing book? If Palin has two thoughts about foreign policy, she's managed to keep them to herself. Ditto health care. National energy policy. Fiscal policy. You could make a long list, but I'll stop there. She's going to need a lot of handlers feeding her a lot of talking points and she's going to have to hope that the discussion only goes about yay-deep.' Next day the Anchorage Daily News ran a political cartoon in the opinion section. It is a cartoon that originally appeared in the Boston Globe. Palin is standing in the background with a big smile on her face. McCain is at the podium in the foreground explaining, 'An inexperienced, anti-choice, pro-gun, creationist, drilling zealot – isn't that what women want?'

Taken together, these two images, one by a legislator and writer, and the other by a political cartoonist, do a pretty good job of characterizing Sarah Palin's politics. She is extremely short on vision, substance, and understanding of the social and economic forces in which she lives and to some extent which she influences. On the other hand, she is very willing to fill in the gaps of her knowledge with a sludge of right wing ideology mixed with extreme Christian fundamentalist beliefs.

But that is not all. Her new found friends who surround McCain in his bid for the presidency have repeatedly claimed that she has 'executive experience' as a mayor and a governor which sets her apart from the presidential and vice presidential candidates on the other side. Let's talk about that for a minute.

In Alaska, she has the reputation of being unavailable and unapproachable by legislators, by commissioners who head up the departments in her own administration, and by lobbyists and activists who represent the interests of the working people of the state. For example, Walt Monegan, a former Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety who was recently fired by Governor Palin (and who is now being investigated by the legislature for her poor handling of the circumstances leading up to his firing) met only once with the governor since she was elected.

On the other hand she is surrounded by a small group of select lobbyists and cronies from her hometown of Wasilla who feed her, or at least approve of the simplistic social nostrums that suffice for public policy in her view. For example, her entire worldview of health policy is informed primarily by one lobbyist who represents investors in freestanding imaging clinics that want to establish these clinics in profit centers throughout the state. Consequently, her one and only concept of health care reform is to do away with the state's Certificate of Need program, a program designed to allow the state to review large health-related capital investments in terms of whether they are actually needed or not. Her mantra is that competitive health-care programs will bring down prices, which of course has been repeatedly proven not to be the case. The other part of her mantra is 'personal responsibility.' That is code for, 'you are on your own.'

--David Lawrence is a 25-year resident of Alaska.