I confess that I have laughed at many of the Sarah Palin jokes in my email this week. But is this what we want our campaign, and our national leadership, to become?
Clearly, without popular issue positions to run on, McCain-Palin have committed themselves to a strategy of lies, personal attacks, and evading direct answers to questions about policies. But do we want our candidates, or our own campaign activities to sink to this level? Are we willing to concede the Rovian message that issues don’t matter to the voters?
I think not. I think U.S. voters care enough about this great nation that they will consider the issues and use those issues to decide about candidates. And so I want to cut through some of the complaints about lies and meritless attacks on the press, and through the rhetoric of speeches, to see if we can actually discern where the candidates stand on some of the issues. To start, I tried to learn more about Sarah Palin – not just the labels and slogans but about what her actions tell us about her stance on the issues. With this week’s essay, I want to share a little of what I have learned about her position on a couple of issues:
Free Enterprise Fiscal Conservatism
Palin describes herself as a traditional Republican fiscal conservative. She talks about her managerial experience as a mayor and then a governor. So we should understand what that experience actually consisted of.
When she was mayor, Wasilla, Alaska had less than 6,000 residents. When she took office, Wasilla had a budget surplus. When she left office, Wasilla had a $20 million budget deficit. Was the deficit created by improving schools, or civic infrastructure? No, Palin paid contractors more than $20 milllion to build a for-profit sports facility. Palin guaranteed Wasilla tax payers that the facility would generate profits for years to come. Now, a decade after she left office, it has run at a loss every single year it has been open. But all of her contractor friends got paid.
Maybe she learned from the experience by the time she became governor. She told the Republican convention about her devotion to fiscal control and budget discipline. What she didn’t mention was that her current state budget, at $6.6 billion, is the highest state budget Alaska has ever had. She did mention that she had cut the fat out of the budget. What she didn’t mention was that the “fat” included a wind power energy project and a clean coal energy project. As we struggle to get less dependent on imported oil, Palin’s fiscal conservatism doesn’t encompass any new forms of energy production.
You might think that a fiscal conservative cut wind and clean coal power projects because she doesn’t believe private energy companies should be getting taxpayer subsidies. You’d be wrong. One of the things Palin insisted on in the $6.6 billion budget was a $500 million contract with a Canadian company to build a natural gas pipeline across Alaska. That’s right. Because the oil industry is so impoverished and unable to afford to build its own pipelines, she wants taxpayers to build the pipeline for the industry.
$500 million is 7.6% of the state’s entire $6.6 billion budget. 7.6% for just one contract, for a foreign contract – no, she couldn’t find any U.S. company to build her pipeline. While you’re thinking about giving 7.6% of the state’s budget to one company, try to decide if you think she put a clause in the contract that provides for the taxpayers to get any share of the profits the Canadian pipeline company will earn from the pipeline the taxpayers paid for.
Fiscal conservatism? Free enterprise capitalism? Saving U.S. jobs for U.S. citizens?
Palin has attacked Barack Obama’s tax reform plans. So looking at her record on taxes should help us understand her better. She told us that she believes in cutting taxes. And it turns out that she did cut some taxes in Alaska. And she raised some other taxes.
Palin cut taxes on commercial buildings. Say, for example, that a big real estate investor in, say, Phoenix owns a few office buildings and some apartment complexes in Juneau and Fairbanks, Palin wanted them to have a reasonable rate of return on their investments, so she worked to reduce the taxes they were paying on their buildings.
Those taxes were used for things like maintaining (and plowing) the streets around the buildings, providing police and other government services for the buildings, and paying for the various government agencies that kept the cities running so that the buildings had tenants to occupy them. So cutting the taxes didn’t mean cutting the services. Instead, Palin had to find some other source of money for the services. And she did. She raised taxes on groceries.
That’s right, to provide a tax cut to large property investors, Sarah Palin increased taxes on groceries purchased to feed families.
Now don’t get me wrong. Not all of the higher grocery taxes were routed directly into tax cuts for the investment companies. No, no! If you remember from the section above, $500 million of the taxes go to guarantee the profits of a Canadian pipe line company.
John McCain is famous for complaining about “earmarks” – those special bundles of tax money that congressmen give each other. Alaska Senator Ted Steven’s famous “bridge to no-where” was an earmark program, which Palin supported, until congress killed it. That’s why Ted Steven’s, between appearances in Court on criminal charges, campaigned for Palin for governor.
Long before she became governor, Palin was working to get earmarks for that 6,000-person metropolis of Wasilla. She succeeded in getting $27 million Federal dollars for her 6,000 citizens. That works out to $4,500 for each person, each school child, each infant in Wasilla. That was your tax money and mine.
When did she decide that she was opposed to earmarks? As governor of Alaska, she asked for $160.5 million in Federal dollar earmarks for 2008, and $198 million for 2009. She actually ‘discovered’ that she was against earmarks when she learned that McCain wanted to pick her to try to go after ex-Hillary voters.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the speaker’s podium. Palin decided that she was against earmarks, but not against Federal dollars. You see, she told us that as a reformer she opposed the bridge to no-where earmark. But she didn’t mention that after “opposing” it, she took the $223 million Federal dollars anyway, and decided to spend them on other things.
Palin tells us that she’s a committed “Christian,” devoted to the Bible and working to force women everywhere to accept her narrow understanding of the Bible, in their health decisions. But she doesn’t mention how narrow that understanding is.
The Bible commands that “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”
But in her first national speech, Palin lied about Obama’s tax plan. She lied about her support for the bridge to no-where. She lied about Obama’s legislative record. She lied about her “reform” efforts in Alaska. She lied about her tax history and McCain’s tax plans.
I guess maybe her evangelical Bible has a different list of commandments in it than the Bibles which most of us read. In a later essay, I’ll look at how Biblical Palin really is.
Tom Hall is a family law attorney. He is originally from Boston, where he grew up in the Cambridge Friends Meeting (Quakers), thinking that religion was a progressive force. During the Vietnam War, he organized draft counseling centers and worked with groups training people to participate in highly disciplined nonviolent demonstrations (real disciplined nonviolence is just plain maddening to police forces who count on demonstrators giving them reason to get ‘messy’ during public demonstrations). After the war, he became just another yuppie working to make himself a comfortable life. The Bush administration has shocked him back into social concerns. Tom can be reached at [email protected]
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