Mimsy Were the Borogoves

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

What is the purpose of a politician?

Jerry Stratton, August 13, 2011

I’m seeing a lot of 20/20 hindsight regarding Sarah Palin from blog commenters who don’t seem to remember what the world was like before the summer of 2008. Every time Palin’s name comes up, they repeat that:

  • Palin shouldn’t have accepted the VP nomination knowing that her daughter was pregnant, even if John McCain had no problem with it.
  • Palin shouldn’t have resigned as governor just because the attacks on her were paralyzing her team’s legislative efforts.

Before 2008, it was reasonable for politicians to expect some privacy for members of their family. John Edwards was a well-known, among the press, adulterer in 2004, and it wasn’t made into headlines.1 Bill Clinton’s daughter was afforded privacy, as she should have been, and even the Bush twins were rarely visited in the public media despite the hatred the press showed for George W. Bush. People who asked questions of politicians were not destroyed.

If you had told me, in 2007, that the press would hound non-candidates out of their jobs, drive their employers out of business, and applaud hacking into private emails, I would have said that, yes, the press is biased, but they’re not that bad. If you had said that the Atlantic would run conspiracy theories on their web site claiming that a very public governor conspired with hospital staff, doctors, and her family and friends in order to fake one pregnancy and hide another, I’d probably have just nodded and moved away as quickly as possible. At the time, I didn’t believe that the Atlantic was World Net Daily.

To claim that Palin should have foreseen this media lunacy is pure hindsight.

The second charge, that she shouldn’t have resigned, is more important, because it strikes at the heart of what it means to be a politician in the United States. Is it a job, or a purpose?

I’ve proposed this riddle before, and I will probably continue to use it, because it really clarifies why Palin and reform was needed in Alaska in 2006:

In the Alaskan Senate, when Governor Palin took office, what party held the office of Senate Majority Leader? What party held the office of Senate Minority Leader?

The answer highlights just how necessary reform was in Alaskan politics. Palin took office with a wave of reformers, mostly among Republicans. The old guard were going to lose their plum offices in the Senate; a reformer was going to become Senate Majority Leader. The old guard couldn't abide that, so establishment Republicans in Alaska’s Senate joined with Democrats, and made a deal: we’ll trade off on offices if you’ll help us block the reformers.

That’s why the majority and minority leaders were both Republicans in 2006: the “Corrupt Bastards Club” was a bipartisan effort to retain power against Republican reformers.

Governor Palin, however, was able to work with a triply-divided Senate and get real reforms passed anyway. She was able to reform Alaska’s ethics rules, its budgeting expectations, and the corrupt oil industry’s closed-door deals. She was able to do this right up until the summer of 2008 when, suddenly, Democrats lined up firmly with the Corrupt Bastards to block any of Palin’s reforms and appointments; and they were backed by a biased and complicit press that didn’t, and doesn’t, care about corruption as long as Palin loses.

To thwart Palin’s national ambitions, Democrats, oil Republicans, and the establishment media were willing to divert Alaska’s money and the Alaskan government’s time away from the important legislation that Alaska needed, into an increasingly violent political catfight.

If being a politician is just a job, then it doesn’t matter whether you’re getting any actual work done. You hold the job until it’s over, and then you go on to a new job.

Palin never worked that way. This wasn’t the first time she resigned from office: when she discovered corruption in Alaska’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the law said she couldn’t talk about it because she was a member, too. So she resigned; her hands no longer tied by the corruption-enabling rules, she was able to expose the commission’s corruption and end it.

If you go into politics for a purpose, then you try to fulfill that purpose. Palin’s resignation freed the governor’s office to work on actual legislation rather than fighting frivolous complaints.2 It diverted Democratic ire away from the governor’s house and onto her Facebook page, freeing the new governor to continue work on her important reforms. It was a very smart answer to the Gordian knot that establishment politicians and the press were tying Alaska with.

It also, of course, reduced Palin’s personal chance of ever being elected again to higher office. She knew that when she did it. The fact that she did it anyway is to her favor. I hope that she runs, because the United States needs her now as much as Alaska needed her then. We need someone who can throw open the doors of Washington politics to expose the corrupt bastards club in the beltway–and who is willing to expose corruption in her own party as well as the other party.3

Someone who understands that the way to have a surplus in hard times is to save money in good times. Someone who is willing to follow the constitution even when it goes against her personal beliefs—someone who is willing to take responsibility for her office rather than pass the buck for unpopular decisions to the courts. That is a rare person in politics—someone who remembers the purpose of the office and who remembers their own purpose in running. Someone who will act right, and at the right time.

The purpose of a politician is not to be a politician. The purpose of a politician is to stand for something. When politics is just another job—when politicians care more for politics than for the country—politics is broken. By her actions, Sarah Palin has shown that she is not that kind of politician.

But I can understand why she might choose not to run. It’s going to be an uphill battle—against conventional wisdom, against establishment politics, and against establishment media. With the array of forces against her, her circle of trust will be tiny; every person who knows her or works for her will have to worry that every other person who knows her is a mole for the establishment media. Personal emails of friends and family will continue to be stolen; private messages from staff will be wheedled out of ex-friends; they’ll dig through her trash, buy houses next door to spy on her family, run red lights across the nation to blame her for everything that’s gone wrong in the country since she left office… and then condemn her for making this all about her.

Folks can’t seem to realize that it isn’t a smooth talker we need in there but a steady man, a man with judgement. Any medicine-show man can spout words, if they are written for him. It takes no genius to sound well. To act right and at the right time is something else again. — Louis L’Amour (Comstock Lode)

September 7, 2011: The endless campaign

I noted earlier that the beltway isn’t used to dealing with politicians who say what they mean. That’s starting to include some bloggers writing about Palin’s campaign announcement. She’s been saying for a while now that her announcement will come by the end of September. Complaining about “dithering” at the beginning of September just makes you impatient. It’s not “dithering” or “teasing” to announce a milestone and stick to it. That’s pretty much the opposite of either dithering or teasing.1

Complaining of “dithering” or “teasing” or “fatigue”, because one candidate is following their announced milestones without acknowledging the announced milestones that candidate has put out in the open, is disingenuous at best. There is no dithering or teasing yet, and any fatigue is your own fault: she said by the end of September, and she said she wanted to see if any of the early entrants will support small government constitutionalism. It isn’t the end of September, and the early entrants are still stepping up. Any impatience on your part is your own problem.

The very recent trend towards announcing well before September—January of the year before rather than January of the year of—is not a good one. I’m generally inclined against long campaigns because I’ve seen what they become. If campaigns were actually a fight on the battleground of policy, I’d say make them as long as possible, but they’re not. The moment candidates announce, they stop talking about specific policies and start talking about generalities. You can’t fix anything or reverse mistakes in generalities. You can only fix and repeal in specifics.

John Hayward writes in The Palin Uncertainty:

On a personal level, I cheerfully admit to wanting every candidate to declare early and stay in the race a long time, because they give me stuff to write about. I admire those like Herman Cain who got into the race early, and put all their cards right on the table. Institutionally, I worry that a late entry followed by victory will form a new conventional wisdom for 2016 and beyond, in which the early primary season is dismissed as a forlorn bullpen for hopeless wannabes.

September 3, 2011: Sarah Palin’s Gordian Knot: Slicing crony capitalism

Sarah Palin wants to cut the knot tying big businesses to big government. The way she wants to do this: remove, not reduce, the corporate income tax. To hear this from a potentially major candidate is huge, especially in the context in which it’s most important, which is crony capitalism. The corporate income tax is probably the Gordian knot of crony capitalism. Federal officials use it to extort support, and major corporations use the lobbyists that they must hire to deal with the tax, to lobby for other federal givebacks in exchange for even more support for politicians. It’s a huge vicious circle that benefits larger businesses over smaller businesses who can’t afford teams of federal lobbyists.

There’s a huge difference between lowering the corporate income tax and getting rid of it entirely: as long as it still exists, businesses have to hire experts in government bureaucracy in order to deal with it; they have to hire experts in government lobbying in order to make sure the onus of the tax applies to their competitors rather than them. They have to maintain a line to federal politicians. Take the tax away entirely, and they no longer have to do any of that.

That line goes two ways. Through manipulation of the corporate tax code, politicians can convince businesses to do things the business would never consider doing without the tax break—all without the politician passing any controversial anti-privacy law. Take away the tax, and congress can no longer offer a tax break for supporting more surreptitious surveillance or instituting drug testing on employees.

A lowered tax still allows politicians to benefit from crony capitalism. We can’t end corporate welfare without ending the incentive for big businesses to lobby for it.

Another fundamental she mentions is that government cannot create jobs. Only the private sector can. Every job “created” by the government needs to be paid for by taxes on private sector employees.

  1. He was, after all, just the candidate for vice president, not the top of the ticket.

  2. So frivolous that all of them were found to be unfounded.

  3. One of the reasons that corruption is hard to expose is that corruption tends to be bipartisan. As long as any particular bit of corruption is practiced by both parties, the party in power will always be implicated by exposure. We need someone who can cut through that knot.

  1. <- Obama’s default
  2. How biased is Fox News? ->