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Monday, October 6, 2008

A Little Clarification

My previous posts regarding Alaskan Governor, Sarah Palin, have gotten a lot of traffic. Some were reposted elsewhere in whole or in part, and have served to pull a significant amount of traffic to Stonekettle Station.

What I find perplexing is that my thoughts and words have been interpreted in wildly disparate ways depending who is reading them. Conservatives see my posts as direct support for Palin, liberals see my words as as a rail against Palin- or perversely support for her, or just plain confusing. I find this both interesting, and infuriating.

Initially I felt compelled to write about Palin, because as an Alaskan I kept seeing spontaneously self-generating falsehoods broadcast by the media, both about Palin's tenure as Alaska's Governor and about Alaska itself - and I'm still seeing a lot of hysterical nonsense and hyperbole being created whole cloth by those who have no experience in, or knowledge of, my state and the culture I live within, and because for the large majority of Americans, Palin is still a relative unknown and Alaska is a vast remote mythical land.

The intended gist of my posts was that instead of buying into hysterical or enthusiastic rumor, outright falsehoods, exaggeration, and preconceived notions about either Palin and/or Alaska, readers should base their judgement of the woman, indeed any political candidate, on accurate information, verified fact, and validated historical performance - and then vote according to whether or not those things fit within the acceptable boundaries of their political ideology.

My intention was never to endorse Sarah Palin, influence your vote, or to tell you who to vote for - only to exhort you to think before you make your decision and make certain that you are voting for or against the things you really want.

Here in Alaska, Sarah Palin represents a marked change from the corrupt nepotism of our previous executives. Many Alaskans, myself included, were aware of her religious beliefs and political leanings prior to her election, and we voted for her either because we agreed with those ideals or, in my case, because we wanted our state to move in a new direction. And in large part she has done exactly what many of us, but not all, wanted. For me, voting for a creationist, was no different than voting for any other Christian, or a Jew, or a Muslim, or for that matter an atheist - providing that they can separate their beliefs from their duty, I consider the point of minor concern.

Based on that, albeit brief, track record I wrote that I thought she would "make a dandy Vice President, and an even better President" somewhere down the line - which is probably why so many people took my words as a wholehearted endorsement of Sarah Palin.

It's obvious in retrospect, that I should have been much more clear and I will attempt to be so here.

First, see the previous post for a graphic of my basic political position: I'm a centrist, who leans very slightly towards liberal/libertarianism when it comes to social issues, and slightly to the right when it comes to matters of national security, defense, and the economy. I'm neither republican or democrat or libertarian. I'm an independent who votes my conscience, I believe in common sense, education, and intelligence and Joe-Six-Pack would probably call me an elitist, real elitists would probably call me a jumped up pretender - frankly I don't care, I am who I am and I like making it difficult for people to pigeon-hole me. If you're one of those people who just has to categorize others, you'll be extremely unhappy here, and it's best you leave now.

With that said, I think that, if we have to have John McCain as President, Palin will make a dandy Vice President. And I do think that she has the potential to be a decent president.

Wait, don't start screaming yet. Hear me out.

First, as regular readers are fully aware, I am diametrically opposed to Palin's publicly professed personal beliefs, i.e. creationism - from which all else in her world view depends. I think creationism is, well, to be blunt, just plain stupid and ignorant. While the Constitution says that the government has to respect Creationism as a religious belief, our law puts no such onus on me as an individual and I have absolutely no respect for what I see as deluded silly nonsense. Now, before the creationists out there get all red-faced and pear-shaped, don't feel singled out - I feel that way about most religions. However, as long as you keep it to yourself and don't attempt to push your beliefs on me, I'm perfectly willing to let you believe whatever you like. And that's how it's been here in Alaska, Palin, despite her religious beliefs has done a credible job of representing those who believe as she does, and those of us who emphatically do not.

In other words, for the two years that she has been Alaska's governor, she has placed her duty as governor above her personal religious beliefs.

This is in large part acceptable to me. I am quite familiar with with many folks who have the ability to separate duty from personal belief. The military, where I spent most of my life, is full of people who every day place their sworn duty above their personal, religious, and political beliefs. This is called professionalism. And based on her track record, Palin has by and large exhibited this quality as Alaska's Governor.

I do think that she has allowed her political beliefs to influence her professed views on certain things - such as the underlying cause of global warming. [As an aside here, I don't think this particular viewpoint is limited to Sarah Palin. Seriously, I think a hell of a lot more conservatives would be willing to accept the vast array of high confidence science that points directly to human activity as a significant contributing factor in global climate change if anybody but Al Gore was the spokesman for the cause. Any conservative who embraces the environment as a cause celebre, will be seen as a traitor to the party, period. I've always found this bizarre and perverse, but that's human nature in general, and politics in particular, for you.]

This is less acceptable to me. However placing the politics of the party above logic, science, and duty to the whole is unavoidable in our current system. Politicians largely place their duty to the party that got them elected over their duty to the whole. Like it or not, that's part and parcel of American politics.

Now, down to the crux of the matter at hand, i.e. justification of my stated opinion that Palin will make a decent Veep.

First, as long as she continues to place duty above personal belief, I believe she'll execute the Office of Vice President in a manner that brings credit upon the office. Will she? Place duty above belief, that is. All I can point to is her track record, which indicates that she will, anything else is pure speculation, hysteria, and presumption of guilt without proof.

Second, it is important to point out that she is the Vice Presidential candidate, not the Presidential candidate.

Now, the formal duties of the VP are limited by the Constitution to a few simple roles: 1) become President should the sitting President become unable to serve for whatever reason, and 2) act as the presiding officer of the U.S. Senate which includes two primary, and very limited, duties: a) to cast the deciding vote in the event of a senatorial deadlock, and b) to preside over and certify the vote count of the Electoral College. And if you want to get technical about it, the VP is also required to sit behind the President during State of the Union addresses, and try manfully to stay awake for an hour without resorting to either doodling or throwing spitballs at the back of the President's head.

Is Palin qualified to carry out those duties? No, and yes. I think that it's painfully obvious that she is not qualified at the moment, in either knowledge or experience, to execute the first duty of the Vice President, i.e. become the President should the sitting executive become incapacitated due to a rage induced stroke or sudden age-related cardiac infarction. However, based on her track record, Palin is both smart and a quick learner and given enough time in the standby seat I think she'll come up to speed fairly quickly. Additionally, as I've written elsewhere, a president's knowledge and experience is less important than who they get advice and consul from, and how willing they are to listen to that advice and consul - which is why I think it imperative that we as voters demand to know who those people will be now, prior to the election. Now don't get me wrong here, I do think this is a major concern, however, I think it's less a concern regarding Palin's qualifications than it is McCain's, and if you truly believe that John McCain will die in office, well, then you probably should have picked a different candidate - and that's a separate post entirely. Now, is Palin qualified to carry out the other formal Constitutional duties of Vice President? Yes, certainly. Her experience as town mayor and governor qualifies her for that. In the event of a Senatorial deadlock, she'll predictably vote along party lines, just as every VP has, whether or not she understands the issues in detail. And anybody of sound moral fiber can certify the Electoral College vote - additionally there's plenty of oversight, transparency, and a formal process for doing so, even those without sound moral fiber would be hard pressed to jigger results - not that it couldn't be done, but it's unlikely despite urban myth to the contrary.

What about the informal duties of the Vice President? What are those exactly? Well, that's a good question, and the answer often depends on the relationship between the President and the Vice President (I almost said between the President and his Vice, but that conjured up images of Bill Clinton and cigars and I really don't want to go there). In recent years the Office of VP has usually included the following duties: 1) spokesman for the administration's policy - which I think Palin has demonstrated that she's aptly able to carry out. 2) Advisor to the President - which, in Palin's case, would depend entirely on what type of salmon fishing McCain had mind. I'm being a smart ass, of course, but the truth of the matter is that Palin lacks any kind of experience that would make her a respectable presidential advisor in any significant capacity outside of a very few, very limited areas - such as Alaskan oil exploration and export (However, this may be a critical role, and one few others could provide). It is unlikely that Palin will be able to provide the type of advice and consul that the current VP does to George Bush. At the beginning of the current administration, Dick Cheney's experience in Washington far, far outweighed Bush's, this is manifestly not the case with McCain and Palin. However, the role of advisor is purely dependent on the person, and not a formal duty, and this is important to remember. 3) Traditionally, since the Kennedy administration anyway, the Vice President serves as the Chairman of the Board of NASA, and in this Palin is utterly unqualified, but so have been most Vice Presidents. Lyndon Johnson's tenure primarily emphasized beating the Rooskies in manned spaceflight, and getting as much of the resulting NASA pork barrel dumped into Texas as possible. And vice presidents since the last American left the moon in 1972, have mostly been about containing NASA's expenditures and reliving past glories. Note: astute readers might note that Alaska is one of only three states to have a spaceport (the others being Florida [Kennedy SFC] and California [Vandenberg AFB and the Mojave Civilian Aerospace Test Center]). However, the Kodiak Launch complex is used for unmanned, circumpolar orbital insertion and missile testing and Palin has no duties or experience relating to it whatsoever. Additionally, Palin lacks formal education or experience in hard science research and application, which is the mainstay of NASA's overall mission. Her ability to carry out the duties as NASA's Chairman of the Board will depend entirely on her ability to listen to others. In this regard, I doubt Palin will be any better or any worse than her predecessors. 4) The VP also serves as a member of the Board of the Smithsonian Institution, and here I do have a major concern when it comes to Palin's religious and political beliefs. I find it difficult in the extreme to believe that an avowed creationist would be able to separate her beliefs from her sworn duty when when it comes to this role. Additionally, Palin lacks any kind of formal education in mainstream science, history, or culture - the very things that the Smithsonian is entrusted with preserving and extending. However the VP's role on the board is not overriding and the amount of influence she has will be limited. And finally 5) the Office of VP is often delegated to carry out the formal ceremonial duties of the Executive Office, and in this Palin has demonstrated her ability to speak publicly and well, to rally the crowd with ease and expertise and here I think she'll do exceptionally well.

Now, let's get right down to brass tacks. I said previously that I though Palin was the best choice John McCain could have made for a running mate, and I stand by that statement. McCain isn't stupid, he's an experienced and savvy political insider, this isn't the first time he's run for president - and last time he lost, and he learned from that - he chose Palin for a particular reason, to get elected. And that is the primary role of the Vice Presidential candidate, and a role Palin is exercising with confidence and enthusiasm. And the numbers reflect the soundness of McCain's tactical choice. There's no doubt she embarrassed herself and McCain with her poor performance during the Katie Couric interview, but it's important to note that she corrected that deficiency two weeks later during the vice presidential debate with Joe Biden, while her performance wasn't exactly stellar, it was far and away better than anybody expected. So much so that the GOP could claim victory, or at least not concede defeat and embarrassment. It's obvious that she crammed for that debate, and that she stuck to the approved republican talking points, but that's exactly my point here - she's a very fast learner and she's growing politically very, very quickly. Others have underestimated her to their detriment, and so has the Obama campaign. Don't make the same mistake.

Does that mean she'll make a good Vice President? Not necessarily. The ability to get elected, and the ability to carry out the duties of office are two totally different things. There are many, many folks in this country who would make better presidents or better vice presidents than any of the current candidates, but they could not possibly get elected even if they wanted the job. The best we can hope for is that if elected by popular vote, the candidates will grow into the office and execute the duties of that office in accordance with the law and the Constitution.

Based on Palin's track record, I still think that she can execute most of the duties of vice president fairly well, however as noted I think she's seriously lacking it some of the most important areas. So was Johnson, so was Ford, hell so was Teddy Roosevelt.

Palin is not my choice for Vice President and I have no intention of voting for either her or John McCain - but then I wouldn't vote for McCain no matter who he chose for his running mate. I don't like him, and I don't like his party. And I feel this way because I've examined the requirements of the office, and compared both the candidate's experience, history, and stated goals, desires, and intentions. And not just because I've had enough Republicans in the White House to last me for a while, thank you very much.

McCain, Palin, Obama, Biden, none are the anti-Christ, or evil incarnate, or the end of America as we know it, or the downfall of Western Civilization and there is no need to pretend that any of them are. Who you vote for is entirely your business, but please, break it down line by line and responsibility by responsibility, and figure out whether or not the person you vote for is truly representative of your ideals.

Bottom line, no matter who wins this election - come January one of the darkest chapters of American history will come to a close, and personally, at this point I consider that a win for all of us.

21 comments:

  1. Jim, I've come to think the world of ya' in the short time I've known you through the interwebs....

    But....

    One of the admirable ironies of your post is that you do one of the things Governor Palin repeatedly hasn't been able to do: outline the duties of the office of Vice-President and the potential roles she or any other candidate for the office might play in an administration. She may say she was just joking when she fumbled the question the first time it came her way, but her response during the VP debate shows she still has no clue what the Constitutional role of Vice-President (or political role) is--and that's the charitable interpretation, the alternative being that she stood there and pretty much said Cheney hadn't gone far enough in his unprecedented power grab (I don't really think that's what she meant, but it's a choice between her being clueless and her being evil, and I'm really trying to give her the benefit of the doubt).

    When I read your initial posts, I was willing to give her all kinds of benefits of the doubt. But then there was Gibson, and Couric, and the VP debate--and that was all her. And I'll be honest, I can't disregard the coverage she's gotten from MSNBC or CNN or New York Times or the rest; still, even if I could, well, there's Gibson, and Couric, and the debate. The truth is, you've made a far better case for her than she has for herself.

    Okay, to be honest, maybe it doesn't matter--I'd decided to support Obama months ago, probably when he gave his milestone speech on race and Wright (I mean the reverend, of course). But there's the very real possibility she could be President in three months or three years or twelve years. McCain isn't young, and his health isn't the best, and being President seems to suck the iron out of the blood and the marrow out of the bones; it takes young and healthy men down, and McCain is neither. So I have to worry. And then there's what her choice says about McCain even if he thrives--that short-term calculations matter more to him, at this point, than the longer welfare of the nation. He's not the first candidate to make that choice (witness JFK or the first President Bush), but it's not even close to what was purportedly the main reason for voting for him: his supposed character and service.

    I've observed Palin from a nation away, and I've come to my own conclusions, Jim. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think I know her: I've met her in judge's races and mayoral races and running for State House. She's a small town politician who's a pretty nice person outside of politics. She's not the brightest person you'll meet. She isn't deep, or thoughtful, and charisma has taken her a lot further than intelligence or wisdom (the latter, in all likelihood, being dump stats for her). She's earnest in her beliefs, but shallow; she means most of what she says and says most of what she thinks, but she hasn't spent much more time thinking it than she has saying it. She's a little corrupt, but maybe not much: it's nice to be able to give your friends jobs, and if the taxpayers maybe paid for this extra meal they shouldn't have, well, what's fifteen bucks? (It's not like she ordered the steak.) Of course, that kind of thing ratchets--some day she might be surprised at what she finds herself doing--but for the present instant in time, she cares about doing the right thing for her people, and she's mostly following the precepts of her Bible, and she's definitely not as bad as some of those other people. (You know, there may even be a twinge of guilt when she fills the tank with the State gas card while she's on vacation--but hey, it's only twenty bucks, and she's never gone in to get herself a raise like some of those other guys--it's really not a big deal.) And of course she's a good neighbor, of course she's likable, of course she was good on the PTA or the Board Of Commissioners or wherever else she (I mean the archetype, not Palin herself--for Palin herself it was what, the energy commission she served on) cut her teeth.

    She's small, Jim, in everything good and bad. Small in every way good or bad. Small in her achievements and small in her harms. So far. The best known analog from my home state might be U.S. Representative Sue Myrick, former mayor of Charlotte and now serving the 9th Congressional District of North Carolina for far longer than anyone would have dreamed.

    Maybe, being small, the worst she could do as President, if it ever came to that, is be the most mediocre President since Warren Harding. That's damning with the faintest praise imaginable. And maybe she'd be worse.

    Of course I could be wrong. The McCain campaign has been restricting access since her last interview, so maybe I'm not seeing the scintillating political star, the (this hurts to write) maverick.

    But ultimately, you've made a better case for her than anyone else. And as much as I want to trust you on this, Jim, I have to conclude that this state of affairs says more about your abilities as a thoughtful writer than it does about Palin's potential for anything more demanding than the House of Representatives or Governor of a lightly populated state.

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  2. Hmmmm, let me think about that for a bit, Eric.

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  3. Jim, don't you know you're supposed to be frothing at the mouth about her?

    Thanks for the insightful and interesting post. I'm not surprised you've been referenced elsewhere, undoubtedly, this one will be too.

    Cassie (who wandered over from Whatever)

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  4. Thanks, Cassie, and welcome.

    Eric, I'm still thinking about this, and at the moment I'm dealing with an industrial air compressor in the shop that has had a cooling fan disintegrate into about a million pieces - argh! why would the cooling fan be made of plastic? (don't answer that, it's a rhetorical question, I know why it was made out of plastic and considering that pieces of it are embedded in the sound damping enclosure it's probably a good thing). So, anyway, while I work on that, I'm thinking about my response - but at first blush, overall I don't necessarily disagree with you (especially that part about my writing abilities :) though I think you're more emotionally vested in the issue than I am. That's not a slam or intended to belittle your position - but you are far more to the left than I am, which is one of the things I enjoy about your comments.

    Again, give me some time to think about what you said.

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  5. I may not be totally on topic (surprise, surprise), but what all of this make me think of is that politicians usually surprise you. They tend to end up being much better than you expected...or much worse.

    Truman was essentially a little man who rose to the occasion. He's one of my heroes. LBJ, if he hadn't inherited Vietnam, probably would have done amazing things toward eradicating poverty and establishing Civil Rights. And that from an unrepentant cracker from Texas. I was pretty sure GWB would be a disaster, but even he has surprised me in the heights of failure to which he has cluelessly soared.

    In all seriousness, I've made no secret of my support for Obama, but that's a crap shoot too. I'm impressed by what he says now (and the way he says it), but I don't think anyone can truly know what they're up against until they're actually sitting in the big chair and getting all the shit dumped in their lap.

    Having said that, I still want to know why the Governor of Alaska sounds like she's from Embarrass, Minnesota.

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  6. Yes, that's a real place and I've been there.

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  7. Jim,

    I think that one of the things I don't like about her choice is that she most adamantly does not strike me as ready to take over the presidency.

    I realize that no one likes to presume their mortality, but McCain HAS to know that when we (the thinking American populace) look at his VP pick, we're considering the fact she is very likely to be come president in the next four years.

    To choose someone who is at this moment completely unprepared for the duties is a very frightening prospect for me.

    I watched the VP debate, and was frustrated by the way she didn't answer the questions asked of her--she seemed to provide answers that related to things she knew rather than what she had been asked.

    Perhaps this is my bias, but her inability to answer the questions posed to her was very disturbing.

    And as much as I hate to make the comparison, I think the sentiment of Ohio Senator Mark Hanna nearly a century ago should be considered:

    There is ONE life between her and the presidency. And that life is not one I consider particularly healthy.

    To be blunt and mention an unpleasantness, in this race the choices for VP are more pertinent than any race in recent memory, because for different reasons (poor healthy versus racist fuckwads) we have two vice presidential candidates with a greater than average likelihood of taking over the presidency.

    We'd be a fool not to seriously consider the abilities of these v candidates to take over the office of president.

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  8. Jim, politics aside: when she was asked what magazines she reads, Governor Palin couldn't name one.

    Isn't that a question most people could answer reflexively if they were readers? Just saying.

    I'm not even saying she would have to come up with anything deep. John Kennedy's answer to a similar question was that he was an Ian Fleming fan, as I recall. Did wonders for the sale of James Bond books.

    Hell, she could have lied and it's not like anyone would have known any better, is it?

    Anyway, on maybe a more important topic: good luck with the air compressor.

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  9. Yeah, well the air compressor is a write off. I can salvage parts from it, but I need a new one. This does not thrill me.


    Let me get cleaned up and finish dinner and I'll respond to your comments, all of you.

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  10. Eric,

    I found your post interesting while I also took offense to your assertions of corruption and nepotism on behalf of Sarah Palin. I suspect those comments were made somewhat tongue-in-check to make a point, but would appreciate additional insight regarding your intent when invoking those terms. Are there some facts that I've missed?


    Rick

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  11. Tongue-in-cheek and imaginary example insofar as gas cards and meals are concerned (but see below re: the Governor's per diem). But not so tongue-in-cheek insofar as nepotism goes:

    http://tinyurl.com/5qbeav

    Questions about whether Governor Palin's per diem should be taxable income remain, as far as I know, unresolved:

    http://tinyurl.com/4yr395

    I would like to emphasize that I don't think these are things to necessarily disqualify the Governor from national office--I suspect any and all her sins are banal ones typical of a kind of small-time political insider mentality, the equivalent of "embezzling" paperclips from the office. A lot of these things are part and parcel of being a mayor, or a governor, or serving in the state house. It's more about a mindset: I think I recognize Governor Palin as being a type of politician I feel familiar with.

    I do apologize if I caused offense, or if the examples I used (except for the nepotism allegation) came off as specifics instead of generalities and hypotheticals. 'Twas not my intent to stir up fud or make more light than heat.

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  12. OK, I've thought about your comment, Eric, and I talked to Rick about it on the phone last night.

    If I understand you correctly, especially your observations in the third paragraph, you're saying that Palin is small. I.e. a small town politician, both small town Alaska and small state Governor. Small in her vices, and small her accomplishments. And I think there's significant merit in that observation, Alaska is a small stage, politically, and our problems and issues are unlike those elsewhere in the US. Palin's experience is limited to that stage, and I think that is pretty obvious at this point. Not only is her experience limited, but so is her viewpoint - i.e. she's not widely read or traveled or deeply educated. If that's what you're saying, I concur.

    Now, I don't out and out think that's necessarily an indicator of her native intelligence. While her knowledge and experience are limited, she's demonstrated a capacity for rapid learning in a brief time (not necessarily deep knowledge of national issues, but the ability to learn national level politics under intense pressure and time), granted that's a shallow pool in the larger scheme of things at the moment - but I do agree that it's a concern.

    The crux of your comment, if I'm reading you correctly, is that based on that shallow knowledge and experience base, her small town viewpoint, and the small corruptions you alluded to, it is possible that once thrust into a position of national power, i.e. Dick Cheney's seat, she is likely to either a) be totally overwhelmed and ineffective. And/or b) corrupted by the power inherent in the position - in other words, more or less go the route of her predecessor (who, so far as I can tell was thoroughly corrupt and mad with power prior to assuming VP).

    Now, I agreed that the potential exists, for her to go that route. I agree that there's some indication, the Cheney comment in particular, that she's thinking about it. But, you're a defense attorney so I know you'll understand when I say, we can't convict people based on the assumption that they'll commit the crime in question somewhere in the future. While I agree that the potential for her to go over to the dark side exists, the potential also exists for her to shine, i.e. to grow and develop in the areas she is currently very much lacking in.

    Now frankly, it's a risk, a big risk when you factor in Michelle's concern, which is representative of a rather large number of voters, i.e. she'll become president by default on about day 3 of McCain's presidency - and the American voters will have to decide if they're willing to take that risk next month.

    Now, not to be a smart ass, but to be blunt, the current VP was extremely experienced, knowledgeable of both Washington and the world in general, with a detailed political education and widely read, slick, smooth, and powerful. Look how that turned out. Perhaps a little naive, small town politician is exactly what we need this time around.

    Again, I'm not voting for her or McCain, for the reasons I've outlined elsewhere, but the point of my posts was that she's not the anti-christ the left is making her out to be, she's also not the experienced and knowledgeable politician the right is making her out to be. The point of the initial posts was to do exactly what you said, give her the benefit of the doubt rather than judge her immediately in an automatic kneejerk reaction because she wasn't Hillary Clinton. She's had a month since then for you to get to know her: And you (and I for that matter) have found her lacking. This cements your initial gut impression. Fine. But now your dislike of her is based on solid (mostly) observation of her recent performance, and not an automatic distaste for some republican creationist chick from some bumfuck Red state. And I am in no way attempting to change your mind or your opinion about Palin or your politics, you are fully entitled to your opinion, but at least you've given it some thought. 99% of America has not: She's either the best thing since sliced moose salami, because she's hot republican, or she's the fucking anti-christ because she's not a democrat. Liberals hate her, but when pressed it's because of rumor and myth and what they think she's done, and not for anything tangible. They hate her because she's not Hillary Clinton. I'm not saying they have to like her, or vote for her, or agree with her - but that's not enough for people, they can't just vote for the other guy, they've got make shit up, spew hate and hysteria and hyperbole (like the Feminists currently screaming in outrage that Palin "made rape victims pay for their own rape kits! The traitorous Bitch!"), because they can't stand the thought of anybody else voting for her either.

    I do agree that I've made a better case for her than either she or McCain have. As long as you only read this post. However, should I do this post using Biden as a comparison, well, I think there will be no comparison. Which is, of course, what the next post will probably be.

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  13. Jim, I hate to use you as an Alaskan version of snopes, but...

    Is there any truth to the "she hunts wolves from helicopters so there are more moose for hunters" allegation? It seems a bit far fetched to me, but it IS hearsay, which tends towards the extremes.

    I'm glad you mentioned the "how will she [and he in the case of all the other candidates] react to pressure/corruption" question. That is actually becoming my determining factor of late -- mainly because it disturbed me how GWB became a puppet. I really don't think he's a bad man. Unfortunately, I do think he's a very weak man. I'm reacting to that, I know, but having good intentions means nothing when you can't DO anything with it or you fold to persuasion to do the easy/wrong thing.

    No comment on Palin is in that last paragraph (as you say, she's too untried to say how she'd bend), but I wanted to say it. :)

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  14. Anne, the whole "Palin shoots wolves from airplanes" thing comes from a uniquely Alaskan issue.

    Basically, the issue is this. A large number of folks here in Alaska depend for their very lives on subsistence hunting and fishing - this includes both native Alaskans and Bush families. Unlike elsewhere in the country, a significant fraction of our population lives in a manner reminiscent of 19th century pioneers - far removed from what you would think of as modern society. Some of these villages and homesteads are hundreds of miles from the nearest road, power line, or grocery store. I realize that most Americans have no idea that such a lifestyle still exists in this modern age, but it does here in Alaska. And Alaska is a vast, vast land, seriously I live here and I can hardly comprehend how immense this place is. Many of the folks that live in the bush depend on hunting and fishing for their very existence, this is not hyperbole, but the honest truth.

    Additionally, in some areas (areas that are often larger than some lower 48 states, encroachment and environmental factors have caused a significant bloom in large predator populations, primarily wolf and bear.

    Environmentalists speak of predator/prey balance. When the number of predators exceeds the available prey food stock, the predator population crashes due to starvation and disease and less surviving offspring. Eventually a state of balance is achieved, and the prey population begins to recover and expand, consequently so does the predator population. Boom and bust.

    (I assume you know all of this, but it bears repeating for other readers)

    Initially, wolves, bear, moose, etc were hunted from the air by so-called sportsmen, or hunters, or hungry pilots. That practice was banned in the 60's. And starting around the 70's, when Alaska began to experience a massive influx of newcomers and tourists, strict controls were put in place to regulate hunting, both for sport and for subsistence. And for the most part these programs have been highly successful in preserving and maintaining Alaska wildlife.

    Now, back to the predator/prey balance - what environmentalists fail to mention is that in a natural environment, especially one as large and diverse as Alaska, there will be periods of natural events that directly impact that balance. For example, during a mild winter with heavy snow. Moose calves have a much higher chance of survival, because they are naturally adapted to deep snow (those long legs) and because there is a larger amount of foliage available. Predation drops, because the wolves have a much harder time of it in the deep snow, many starve. A couple of seasons like that and the moose population balloons, then we get a couple of winters that favor the wolves and their population swells. Then they eat all the moose, then they starve and die off.

    Bear populations are a little different, they tend to hang out around human populations and eat the cast offs. Their populations can become huge and not much kills them, except other bears, and they eat everything and they adapt very, very quickly.

    So, the Alaska Dept of Fish and Game proposed aerial predator control - NOT HUNTING. Selected areas, not all, only about 9% of the state, within Alaska where the balance between predator and prey strongly favored the predator would be culled by professional state regulators from aircraft. Aircraft are necessary because, as I mentioned, Alaska is vast and rugged and finding the predators is difficult and dangerous and expensive. Enough animals would be taken to return the area to balance and preserve the prey animals for BOTH predators and subsistence hunters - NOT sport hunters.

    Palin endorsed this idea. So did I. I voted for it, because I think it is the most efficient, cost effective, and humane way to maintain the population balance and preserve both the wildlife and the Alaskan native and bush lifestyles.

    However, environmentalists seized on this as an example of how Palin is destroying the environment, and endorsing wanton hunting from aircraft in order line her own pocket and the state coffers. This is absolutely not true and never was. and the percentage of animal culled would be small, and only under dire circumstance. Neither wolves or bears are endangered here in Alaska, their populations are very large (this doesn't include the endangered polar bear, who live only north of the Brooks range and don't eat moose anyway).

    The measure (prop 2) was voted down, largely due to hysteria and a campaign of outright lies. (In fact I talked to a woman who was protesting in front of the store before the vote. She claimed that prop 2 would legalize sport hunting from airplanes and would decimate the population, when I showed her prop 2 in writing, which said no such thing, she replied, it doesn't matter - whatever it takes to save the poor wolves! There's no reasoning with that)

    Hope that answers your question.

    BTW, so far as I know, Palin herself has never shot a wolf from an airplane.

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  15. Eric,

    I appreciate your willingness to help me understand the tongue-in-cheek and imaginary example information from your post. I read the links you provided. However, I'm concerned that both of these NYTimes Blog posts appear to be more innuendo than fact with no balance – some of this innuendo having already been addressed elsewhere here on Stonekettle Station.

    Much of our media appears more interested in making the news then they are in reporting it. I remember watching the U.S. evening news reports in Iraq (via satellite). On virtually every occasion the discussion in the room was to the effect “what part of Iraq are they talking about” because we were not seeing what was being reported.

    If this is the best “dirt” available, after the inflow of hundreds of media members into Alaska after the announcement of Palin’s candidacy, I can honestly say that I’m not convinced. I agree with your desire not to “make more light than heat” and accept your apology. Maybe I’m too much of a half-full glass kind of guy, but when opinion and turn-of-phrase are more important then fact we all lose.

    Rick

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  16. For some reason hunting always seems to get environmentalists' panties in a bunch.

    You're dead right about the predatory/prey balance and how important it is. That balance has been of in WV for years, and so human hunters are required to keep down the deer populations.

    Why is this balance important? As you say, there is a natural rise and fall of predator/prey populations, but these rises and falls are due not just to the balance between the two populations.

    Nature has her own way of taking care of the balance of these populations, and the alternatives can be far more unpleasant than human hunting.

    Starvation occurs when a prey population rises too far and is larger than the food source. This doesn't mean a few animals dying of starvation, this means malnourishment and disease affect the entire population.

    Additional, there are diseases that appear and spread rapidly only when a population density reaches a certain level.

    What this means is that you have more deaths due to starvation, disease, and encroachment into human population areas (i.e. being hit by vehicles.)

    When compared to hunting, these deaths are far more unpleasant and cause far more suffering to the animal population.

    What gets me is when people who don't live in an area pitch a fit about hunting, without knowing local customs and regulations.

    In WV, if a hunter kills more deer than he can use himself, the meat is donated to local food banks, so not only are hunters helping to cull a booming populations, they are also helping to feed those in need.

    I do instinctively feel that hunting from a helicopter is unsportsmanlike, but if it is the only option to cull a rural population, it makes sense.

    Anyway, I didn't mean to go on, but as an environmentalist and a pacifist who doesn't eat mammals, it irks me when people get self-righteous without knowing the full story.

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  17. Sorry it took me a while to get back around to this.

    At this point, much of the discussion may be moot: it appears the only way McCain can win (and Palin become an issue) is by way of a massive October surprise or if pretty much every major poll is wrong. It ain't over 'til it's over, as somebody once said. Or until the fat lady sings, as someone else observed. But it is looking overish, and I think that bulge in the curtains near the edge of the stage is someone getting ready to come out for her aria.

    And if that's the case, whither Sarah Palin? I think the conventional wisdom is going to be that she blew her interviews and didn't leave the debate with much, and that whatever she supposedly brought to the table for the Republicans didn't amount to much after all. And even if she is, in fact, a wonderful human being and a wonderful national candidate (and I doubt at least half of that), I suspect that some odor of failure will cling to her for years to come. Maybe, or maybe not.

    On a tangent: it may surprise people out there in the rest of the country to know that John Edwards was never taken that seriously in North Carolina after 2004. He had his supporters, sure, but he wasn't a superstar or a phenomenon in his home state; he was the guy who was teamed up with the loser, and the scent of fail wafted off him in waves whenever the wind blew a certain way. Y'all were probably to far away to smell it on the breeze, or were upwind of it. I mention it because I don't know if that will happen with Palin: Alaskans still seem to love her, or at least like her, or at least to fondly tolerate her--maybe they'll eventually send her to Washington and maybe she'll eventually back her way into the Presidency or Vice-Presidency. I suppose it could happen. Maybe we'll be having this discussion again in sixteen or twenty years. Maybe it'll be the same or maybe she'll have surprised everyone.

    But right now--and maybe I'm being biased--right now Obama, for all his faults (and I'm not denying them), is managing to sound presidential and McCain... I dunno. At the last debate McCain sounded a little like a junkie in a gangster movie begging for his life after ratting someone out (possibly by accident)--his voice has never sounded so reedy, and there was that edge of a wine and that constant, increasingly desperate-sounding dropping of the word "friends" into every other sentence--"Friends, you remember who supported you that time--we're not going into the woods, are we? You can put that gun away, can't you? I can go to Cleveland, friends, I won't say nothing to no one."

    But back to Palin. There was one specific thing I wanted to address: Jim wrote,

    Now, not to be a smart ass, but to be blunt, the current VP was extremely experienced, knowledgeable of both Washington and the world in general, with a detailed political education and widely read, slick, smooth, and powerful. Look how that turned out. Perhaps a little naive, small town politician is exactly what we need this time around.

    I don't know if you meant it to, Jim, but it's sounds like the Mr. Smith fantasy, the myth that small town values have something inherently wonderful to offer America. I guess, being someone who generally prefers David Lynch to Frank Capra, it's not a notion I put much stock in. Small town America certainly isn't inherently worse than any other part of the country, but you can still find a ready supply of sleaziness and corruption. Small towns and there naivete are no worse, probably, but I know they're no better.

    (By way of my bona fides, I practice law in what is essentially a small town jurisdiction--that is, the courthouse is in a middling-sized town surrounded by a number of small towns. I've met a number of their cops and criminals, their judges and their local politicians.)

    For the record, the sophisticated Washington insider who currently serves as Vice-President grew up in Caspar, Wyoming. He flunked out of Yale and eventually graduated from the University Of Wyoming. When he entered elected politics, it was as a Representative for a state that is less populous than Alaska. You could make the case, and I have no doubt he would himself, that the Vice-President is as representative of small-town heartland values as anyone, at least by background.

    Which is sort of the point where Palin is concerned, actually. You don't have to be from Chicago, or Boston, or even Charlotte to be a self-obsessed, incurious, petty politician with a demented vision of how the world works and how the country ought to work. And I'm not saying Palin is Cheney; if anything, I suppose I'm trying to say that Cheney wasn't always Cheney. He didn't blossom forth fully-sprung as a quietly Machiavellian totalitarian backroom-man with a salty tongue and folksy accent.

    Was he ever naive? Maybe not, I don't know. Is Palin? I'm not sure, but I doubt it. When I said she was small I didn't mean she was stupid or foolish or even inexperienced: I meant she's small in the way George W. Bush is small, or small the way Lyndon Johnson--who was born in a farmhouse in a tiny town--wasn't (for all his faults--the bullying, the dishonesty, the insecurity, the arrogance, the narcissism--and yes, you can find a paradox in that last one, if you want, a man who could think of others so often even while he spent so much time obsessed with himself), LBJ was someone with some substance and some sense of vision larger than himself, LBJ was a big man who succeeded (the Civil Rights Act) or failed (Vietnam) in big ways.

    Besides which, as people have started pointing out, something like 80% of the American population lives in bigger urban areas now. Is the small-town, rural politician even truly American anymore? They always say they are, that they're representing core American values, when the core American values may involve people who get their meat at the supermarket and whose thoughts on gun control mostly revolve around whether or not a gun's ever been pointed at them.

    I have to wrap this up--my lunch hour is ending. I don't have a resolution or a big final thought. I'm afraid I don't even have a winning argument. My consolation prize is the hope, clutched tight to my chest, that it doesn't matter, that Governor Palin will soon be going back to Alaska, and all of y'all out there can decide what to do with her. I can't say I think much of her, is all.

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  18. Thanks for the thorough reply, Jim. I suspected it might be something like that. :)

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  19. The seeds of an October surprise may already be planted. Before the fat lady sings, whether it turns out to be a red or blue oak, the heart of the new administration may emerge from nothing more than ACORN.

    While I think we both agree that the candidates can “talk the talk”, have they shown their ability to “walk the walk”? Have any candidates refused to recognize post-surge successes in Iraq in the face of continually mounting evidence? I would hope our future leadership is capable of admitting personal error while working to advance the nations agenda/needs. If a candidate can’t admit when he/she may be wrong, what might we expect from him/her if they become an elected official?

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  20. Wow! another so called liberal obamaidiot talking out his ass on Sarah Palin

    What makes YOU an expert? What just because you live in Alaska? Give me a break


    Mccain/Palin supporter 2008!

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  21. Hmmmm,

    It probably wasn't necessary to sign your comment "McCain/Palin Supporter," Sparky, just saying. Your bigoted and obnoxious sig line pretty much told me who you're voting for.

    What makes me an expert? Well, you answered that for yourself - but since you're obviously a NeoCon Republican and therefor incapable of any kind of intuitive logic, let me spell it out for you in the words of your own VP candidate:

    I can see her house from here.

    If Palin is an expert on Russia due to her proximity, I'm an expert on her.

    Hope that answers your question, now piss off.

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