With the debate only a few hours away - and with it, Sarah Palin's last best chance to reverse her slide into Quayle-dom - it's worth re-focusing briefly on her record as governor. You've probably noticed that my mounting disillusionment with Palin has centered almost entirely around her performance as a candidate, rather than on all the shocking revelations in the press and the blogosphere about what a terrible governor she actually was. That's because I don't really think there is very much evidence that she was a terrible governor, and what passes for evidence is mainly sound, fury, backbiting and gossip, signifiying not terribly much at all.
Take, for instance, this Michael Crowley post on Palin's "Potemkin" popularity, which I think is a good example of the style of criticism Palin's record has earned in the media:
Read today's Times piece about her tenure as governor, and you'll see that two of her signature achievements involved giving away money. One was signing a $200 million increase in education spending, and another was approving a $250 a month subsidity to low-income elderly Alaskans; Palin had originally sought to restore a subsidy, cancelled by her predecessor, to all elderly Alaskans who had lived in the state since before its statehood. This of course was all made possible by the state's skyrocketing oil revenues. It's not that hard to become popular when you can fling around money like that. (Although this campaign is putting a dent in that popularity among Alaskans.)
P.S. On NPR this morning I heard an interesting description of her management style from a former newspaper editor who had worked in state government under Palin: "She governs by BlackBerry," he said, eschewing long substantive meetings. How reassuring. At least she doesn't use an iPhone.
Now imagine for a moment that Sarah Palin had emerged from the ranks of Alaska's Democrats, rather than Alaska's Republicans. Imagine that she had followed the same political trajectory - taking on a cozy GOP establishment, attacking corruption, defeating incumbents, etc. And then imagine that she had amassed exactly the same record in office - passing ethics reform, imposing a higher tax on the state's oil and natural companies, facing off against the same companies in the battle over the state's new gas pipeline, and investing the state's rising revenue in education, a subsidy for the low-income elderly, and rebate checks for all Alaskans. Do you think that any liberal writer in America would have accused her of buying her way to "Potemkin popularity" by "giving away money," as Crowley does above? Seriously - read that Times story he links to on her record as governor, set aside her record on polar bears and the references to her social conservatism, and try to imagine how a magazine like TNR would normally cover a gubernatorial record and political story like hers if she were a centrist Democrat.
Ah, but then the twist of the knife - a former associate says she doesn't hold long meetings and "governs by Blackberry." Clearly, that's all we need to know about her!
Look, obviously, there are plenty of blemishes on the Palin record, as governor and as mayor - failed projects, whiffs of cronyism, the troopergate/tasergate affair. But no politician, and especially no governor from a small, strange state, is going to arrive on the national stage without blemishes, and in spite of wall-to-wall media coverage of Palin's career, nothing has surfaced that's significant enough to change the impression I had of her a month ago - an impression that had me touting her as a rising GOP star, and a potential McCain veep. Was she ready for this stage, and these responsibilities? It sure doesn't seem like it. Was it a responsible choice by John McCain? Almost certainly not. But she was an effective and impressive governor, however briefly - and perhaps will be again when all this is over. And the reality of her successes, and her untapped potential, only make what's happened over the past few weeks all the more disappointing.
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