Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Truly principled politicians don’t split the baby

Jerry Stratton, July 13, 2009

For as long as I can remember a “principled politician” has been a politician who doesn’t offend their colleagues across the aisle, with bonus points for obstructing their own party’s principles. “Principled” politicians enabled the current economic crisis by not making a stink when their colleagues across the aisle blocked Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac reform. “Principled” politicians talk fiscal responsibility and prudent tax policy, but stand bravely ready to compromise for the greater good by spending and taxing more. “Principled” politicians praise our liberty for the sole purpose of compromising it.

Too often, a “principled politician” is Solomon without his wisdom. Offering to split the baby isn't a ruse-politicians often seem to believe that any problem can be solved as long as you’re willing to forge a compromise and split the baby. But that Solomonic baby is the future of their constituents. I’d like to see a principled politician who shows their constituents more respect than their colleagues and “Washington insiders”.

To a lot of Washington insiders, Governor Palin’s resignation speech sounded like an incomprehensible foreign culture. And to them it is. That speech came from a culture where the right thing isn’t always the politically expedient thing. Where personal success isn’t more important than policy success. To most politicians, that will always be “rambling and unfocussed.”

To understand the environment Governor Palin was in, and how amazing it was that she was able to accomplish so much in that environment, let’s take a trip down trivia lane:

  • In the Alaskan senate, what party is the Senate Minority Leader?
  • In the Alaskan senate, what party is the President of the Senate?

Unless you answered Republican in both cases, you don’t even begin to understand the strange politics going down in Alaska today. When Sarah Palin became governor she beat her own party to do it. She was part of a grass-roots uprising in Alaskan politics that resulted in “Reform” Republicans doing very well. Enough reformers won that the Oil Republicans were about to lose control of the Senate to the Reform Republicans.

Rather than give up their politics as usual, the Oil Republicans formed a coalition with the Democrats in the Alaskan senate. In that first year, the President of the Senate, the Majority Leader, and the Minority Leader were all Republicans: the Minority Leader being a Reform Republican, as he is now, and the other two being Oil Republicans from the Oil Republican/Democrat coalition.

Up until August of last year, this mainly meant that oil reform was difficult to get through, and that the senate leadership cycled between members of the (Oil) Republican/Democrat coalition. The Democrats, however, had no particular dislike of Governor Palin, so along with the (Reform) Republicans she was able to get important reforms through. She was also able to enforce “open door” laws that had been previously ignored. Thus, she renegotiated an oil deal that had been negotiated behind closed doors, and whose costs probably weren’t fully public because they likely included bribes.

When she accepted John McCain’s request to join his ticket, all that changed. The Democrats in Alaska became her enemies just as much as the Oil Republicans. It’s one thing to fight half your party; it’s another thing to fight half your party and an entire other party. But she successfully did that, too, until the Democrats discovered that they could abuse the ethics reform laws in Alaska to bankrupt her. But at the same time that they racked up $400,000 (and climbing) for legal costs to the Palins, it also cost Alaska $2,000,000 worth of time and money. All for frivolous allegations that were either thrown out completely or found in favor of Governor Palin. That wasn’t going to end as long as she represented a potential 2012 Presidential candidate.

“She had become the issue.” The reforms of the Reform Republicans were threatened. That reform is the reason that Palin ran for governor. Politics as usual is to forget the promises you made once you win the election. Palin hasn’t done that. That’s the bottom line. She ran to reform Alaskan government. She resigned to improve the chance of further reform legislation. How many inside-the-beltway “principled” politicians would do that?

The unprecedented personal attacks and the frivolous complaints were all symptoms of a greater problem: Democrats and Oil Republicans were willing to sell Alaska short to hurt their Governor. Palin was unwilling to let reform die. So she resigned at just the right moment to improve both the chances of reform, and the chances of a reform governor rather than an oil governor winning the next election.

While I was mulling over this article, Palin retweeted Thomas Paine that “if there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace”. That’s the opposite of what politicians today think; they’d rather push trouble off for others to deal with. The rule of the day is borrow now, and let the next generation pay for it. That’s the “sacrifice” we’re being asked to make: someone else’s future. Political sacrifices are for the voter, not for politicians.

Palin’s “child” in Thomas Paine’s words and in Solomon’s story is Alaska and Alaskan reform. Democratic and Republican partisans said they were willing to damage Alaska in order to get to Sarah Palin. Palin said she wasn’t willing to save her own career if it meant Alaska had to suffer.

Yes, leaving office before a single term is up reduces her chances of success in national politics. But at the same time that Palin reduced her own personal chance of success, she increased the possibility of lasting reform in Alaska. Even leaving office, she’s still an effective reformer.

May 8, 2012: The anti-politician

In Simple, obvious, and unobstructive: minimize the value-minus of taxes, I wrote, about Governor Palin’s responsibility to her state, that “it isn’t her responsibility as Governor of Alaska to hope that the rest of America suffers.”

I was writing about oil prices; Palin had called for policies that would reduce the price of oil, and some were saying that “Sarah Palin prefers her state poor” because she didn’t want the rest of the country to suffer for her political benefit.

It was something that most politicians don’t understand. Turns out it isn’t the first time that Palin considered the needs of the nation over the needs of her own political future. In the emails Alaska released from her time as governor, she writes about the comparative need for an Alaskan bridge or a Minnesota bridge:

So ironic—I told Leo, Tibbles, etc just yesterday that we MUST come out with a strong position against AK’s perceived “Bridge to Nowhere” so we quit looking clueless and selfish across the nation and can clear up the perception that the Gravina project is the state’s priority. The $350m bridge is not our priority.

The nation needs to be spending $ on fixing what we have—Minnesota needs “bridge money” today more than we need a few Alaskans to perpetuate the notion that our Gravina earmark is more important than fixing aged infrastructure.

We would gain so much if we get that message out there—that the nation can pull, and work, together and make wise decisions on federal priorities… we should see that earmark redirected to Minnesota’s tragedy bc the Gravina bridge isn’t going to happen on our watch anyway.

“The Gravina bridge” was the infamous bridge to nowhere; it was a waste of money, according to her, but rather than have the money diverted to somewhere else in Alaska, she wanted it diverted to Minnesota.

That email is dated August 2, 2007. On August 1, Minnesota’s I-35W bridge had collapsed, killing 13 and injuring 145. I’m sure that Minnesotans would have appreciated the gesture, but (a) she didn’t publicize it, and (b) Minnesotans don’t have any say in who Alaska elects anyway.

A real politician would have realized that and just taken the money.

  1. <- Political bloodsport
  2. Rationing health ->