Sunday, September 14, 2008

Every Woman A Runner-Up Queen

Serendipity plays a part in life. I am currently reading David M. Kennedy's magisterial Freedom From Fear: America in Depression and War, 1929-1945, part of the Oxford University Press series of books on American history. Kennedy, a historian at Stanford, has read and considered everything from economic theory to social and internal migration patterns, absorbed it, and offers a wonderful account of this most turbulent half-generation in American history.

In the early years of Roosevelt's first Administration, there emerged two men more than any others who posed real threats not just to his leadership, but to the course America would take. The first was the Limbaugh-like Radio Priest, Father Coughlin. The other was the colorful, bombastic, autocratic King of Louisiana, Sen. Huey Long. It is difficult to remember the way he captivated the country. Ruling the entire state as his own personal fiefdom, Long in 1932 and 1933 was both Governor and Senator. Refusing to leave his perch in Baton Rouge, he didn't take his seat in Washington until he had maneuvered a replacement. Even then, the entire apparatus of state politics was his to command, and he was ruler in all but name.

He wrote a couple books, too, offering promises not just to the people of Louisiana, but to all Americans, quick, easy nostrums that ignored the harsh realities of economics and politics. He understood in a visceral way that his moment had struck. He treated Roosevelt with disdain, calling him "Frank" in meetings where he refused to remove his hat. He was moving to unseat the President in 1936, not with himself but a conservative Republican who would then create an opportunity for him to run in 1940. Like Joe McCarthy and Tom DeLay (two other near-autocratic politicians), Long had much of the Senate intimidated. Roosevelt felt that he, along with Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur, was among the most dangerous political threats in the country at the time. Long's plans died with him when an assassin's bullet took him down in 1935, so we will never know if Roosevelt could outclass him on the national political stage.

I was thinking of the Long phenomenon yesterday as I considered the contemporary Palin phenomenon. Objectively, considering her actual record and her almost constant lying about everything from earmarks and going to Iraq to the on-going Troopergate scandal, taken as a whole she is a most unworthy candidate for high national office. Yet, she offers a case study in the ways in which a certain amount of physical attractiveness, a certain charismatic presence, an understanding of creating a folksy mythology about oneself can all play a part in creating an image that allows an individual to ignore the dirty realities that might intrude upon it. With that in mind, and with a generous tip of the hat to Josh Marshall for the link, I would insist that you read this piece in The New York Times in its entirety. Here is just a bit:
an examination of her swift rise and record as mayor of Wasilla and then governor finds that her visceral style and penchant for attacking critics — she sometimes calls local opponents “haters” — contrasts with her carefully crafted public image.

Throughout her political career, she has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance, according to a review of public records and interviews with 60 Republican and Democratic legislators and local officials.


Interviews show that Ms. Palin runs an administration that puts a premium on loyalty and secrecy. The governor and her top officials sometimes use personal e-mail accounts for state business; dozens of e-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that her staff members studied whether that could allow them to circumvent subpoenas seeking public records.

Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska professor, sought the e-mail messages of state scientists who had examined the effect of global warming on polar bears. (Ms. Palin said the scientists had found no ill effects, and she has sued the federal government to block the listing of the bears as endangered.) An administration official told Mr. Steiner that his request would cost $468,784 to process.

When Mr. Steiner finally obtained the e-mail messages — through a federal records request — he discovered that state scientists had in fact agreed that the bears were in danger, records show.

“Their secrecy is off the charts,” Mr. Steiner said.

State legislators are investigating accusations that Ms. Palin and her husband pressured officials to fire a state trooper who had gone through a messy divorce with her sister, charges that she denies. But interviews make clear that the Palins draw few distinctions between the personal and the political.

Last summer State Representative John Harris, the Republican speaker of the House, picked up his phone and heard Mr. Palin’s voice. The governor’s husband sounded edgy. He said he was unhappy that Mr. Harris had hired John Bitney as his chief of staff, the speaker recalled. Mr. Bitney was a high school classmate of the Palins and had worked for Ms. Palin. But she fired Mr. Bitney after learning that he had fallen in love with another longtime friend.

“I understood from the call that Todd wasn’t happy with me hiring John and he’d like to see him not there,” Mr. Harris said.

“The Palin family gets upset at personal issues,” he added. “And at our level, they want to strike back.”

From the same TPM post comes a link to this piece in The Washington Post, covering Gov. Palin's tenure as Mayor of Wasilia.
Palin took office as mayor in October 1996 with a show of force. She fired the museum director and demanded that the other department heads submit resignation letters, saying she would decide whether to accept them based on their loyalty, according to news reports at the time. She clashed with Police Chief Irl Stambaugh over his push for moving bar closing time from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. and for his opposition to state legislation to allow people to carry guns in banks and bars.

In notes that he took during a meeting in Palin's first week on the job, Stambaugh wrote that the new mayor told him "that the NRA didn't like me and that they wanted change," according to the Seattle Times, which reviewed the notes at a federal archive in Seattle. Stambaugh was fired on Jan. 30, 1997, partly, the mayor said, because he had not taken seriously her request for a weekly progress report "on at least two positive examples of work that was started, how we helped the public, how we saved the City money, how we helped the state, how we helped Uncle Sam." Stambaugh filed a wrongful-termination suit, which he lost.

Palin also differed with the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons. The Frontiersman reported at the time that Palin asked Emmons three times in her first weeks in office whether she would agree to remove controversial books. The librarian said she would not. The McCain campaign has confirmed Palin's questions but said that she never demanded removal of any specific books. Palin also fired Emmons on Jan. 30 but reinstated her after an uproar.

Although the town had a $4 million surplus, Palin cut the museum budget by $32,000, and the three older women who worked there quit instead of deciding which would have to go. But Palin dipped into the budget to create the deputy administrator slot, which some council members complained was at odds with her small-government stance. She told city officials not to talk to reporters.

A recall effort in early 1997 fizzled out, but hard feelings lingered. "Working in small towns, I had never seen someone come in and clean house like that in such a precipitous manner. It was pretty scary and emotional," said Dvorak, the city planner, who left after eight months.

Deuser, the former city attorney, said it was upsetting to hear the McCain campaign refer to Palin's takeover as a matter of getting rid of the "good ol' boy network."

"They were just good public servants who did a really admirable job and deserved better," said Deuser, who was replaced in 1997.

To call these reports "unsettling" is to couch one's feelings in euphemism. While the Times story in particular notes that Gov. Palin has much support across Alaska, it should be clear from a reading of the records contained in these stories that this woman, as I have said previously, is a thug, pure and simple. As Josh notes in the post recommending these two article, Gov. Palin is "a small-minded person who populates her administration with cronies and grade-school friends, fires those who dare to criticize her and uses the power of her office to pursue personal vendettas. In other words, someone in the habit of abusing official power who should not be let within a mile of being president."

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