On rare occasions our nation has been lucky when new political leaders were selected from obscurity by circumstance. They weren’t indebted to the party bosses or special interests, but they rendered unusual and historic service in times of need. Washington, Lincoln, the first Roosevelt and Truman come to mind.
Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska, has been plucked from obscurity and now shares the stage with three other national leaders vying to head the next government of the United States. Sarah is very much of an Alaskan character. Politicos and pundits will have difficulty handling her as she is being tested in the crucible of media scrutiny over the next nine weeks. My guess is, Americans will relate to her and love her story.
In my mind, that Sarah comes to the national scene as a novice with a clean slate is her main asset. Having a long history of political experience also means a long history of exposure to the political corruption endemic to the process of human governance, with the phony public and private compromises that accompany political experience.
Foreign policy experience? Thank god she has none beyond that of a normal citizen subject to the militarization of our culture over the past 50 years, particularly so in Alaska with its strong military presence. The three other would-be leaders have tons of experience among them. But whether liberal or conservative all three are committed to a policy of American imperialism with the self-appointed role of world policeman. This role of trying to influence the world with our military might sustains bloated defense budgets that profit the few and impoverish the social and economic needs of the many.
The United States spends more on defense than all the rest of the world combined. By comparison, Russia and China—our supposed competitors on the world scene—each spend less that 10% of our budget, preferring to strengthen their economic sectors. Are we not as concerned about the wellbeing of our citizens as Russia’s and China’s leaders are? Do they—or do we—have our budget priorities wrong?
Sarah is no doubt going to be briefed by the “best and the brightest” of the neocon crowd that President Washington warned us about with their foreign entanglements, and the military and corporate leaders that President Eisenhower predicted would destroy our democracy. Will they be able to write her a new slate that is a replica of John McCain’s? Odds are they will. But just maybe she won’t be so easily co-opted by corporate America––she hasn’t thus far. Wow! Isn’t that an interesting possibility?
Close observation of Sarah’s meteoric rise points to that very distant possibility I campaigned door to door in Wasilla where Sarah and her husband Todd grew up. (This was before the community prospered as a result of my securing the Alaska Pipeline.) Wasilla is one of the most conservative communities in Alaska. Little wonder that children reared close to family in that environment become conservative with strong family values, a deep sense of fair play and strong patriotism tinged with jingoism. They are personally independent and self reliant, yet fearful of the unknown and susceptible to narrow biblical religious beliefs.
Sarah is instinctively ambitious and rose above her small-town environment because she has a bright inquiring mind and isn’t afraid to question authority in her quest for answers and solutions. She has confronted the powers-that-be in both the Republican and Democratic parties in campaigns and in the legislature. She has been initially inept in handling legislators, a product of inexperience. But she has made some corrections relying heavily on her persuasive charm.
Governor Palin has an advantage that her three other national contestants can’t begin to match. I’m not talking about the fact that she has technically more executive experience than all three put together, although Obama has exhibited uncommon competence in managing the slickest and most efficient campaign since Mark Hannah got William McKinley elected president. However, like Hannah, who ran afoul of his corporate interests by selecting Teddy Roosevelt for vice president, Obama may have doomed his prospects by not selecting Hillary as his running mate.
Sarah Palin has a sense of personal outrage over political corruption that plays extremely well with the public, something the others have lost long ago. She has demonstrated the personal courage to publicly confront and overcome Republican Party corruption and has successfully taken on the oil industry over taxation and oil leasing issues. She has publicly stood up to Senator Ted Stevens and Representative Don Young on the “Bridge to Nowhere” and the policy of federal earmarks arguing for a public transparency process.
Sarah has literally come to the national scene without owing anything to any party or corporate interest––not even McCain––he needs her more than she needs him. Imagine a person a heart beat away not owned by the military-industrial complex, Wall Street, corporate America or AIPAC. WOW! Can this last? Probably not. But she does have an uncanny sense of political direction and the ability to capitalize on change like putting the public interest above Republican Party interests.
I strongly disagree with her views on abortion, creationism, stem cell research and a host of extreme conservative views that are a product of her environment. We must bear in mind she is running for vice president––a heart beat away––not president. If McCain is as fit as his doctors report, Sarah will have ample time to be the perfect understudy. She will have the opportunity to travel, grow and mature intellectually.
Sarah has issues. What politician doesn’t? Hers are a product of family loyalty and insufficient knowledge of politics and governance. The Troopergate issue will break in her favor politically. Sarah: the next time you get frustrated with personnel laws and union problems, call and commiserate with Michelle Lee, who heads up the Washington, DC dysfunctional public school system. She has fired more than 100 teachers and school principles and closed more than 20 schools. You will find her counsel helpful.
In the interest of full disclosure: I have no intention of voting for McCain. He is too steeped in the use of military power to solve problems and American imperialism—and the wars it creates. At times McCain has been a maverick, but, unfortunately, never that consistently. There are too many temptations in Washington, even for a man born on third base.
McCain did himself proud by flickering back to his gut maverick instincts in throwing a “hail Mary pass” to Sarah Palin. Can she and will she catch it? Wining the election is not the touchdown, it’s her conduct in office a heart beat away. It’s how quickly she learns and grows; what of Wasilla she keeps and what she must discard.
President Kennedy said that the White House is a poor place to make new friends. That’s why his father Joe Kennedy insisted Jack keep Bobby close to him. This would apply to the vice president office. Sarah: keep up the practice of having Todd hang out with you in your official capacities. Insist that he be given a clearance equal to yours, so that you are not excluded from the full depth of his counsel. If push comes to shove, he is the only one you can trust. He must study, read and grow in your office as quickly as you. What you face is more than one person can handle. The two of you must be a political and intellectual team.
One last piece of advice. Governor: you are now in the world of barracudas. It’s no different than Wassila or Juneau; they just pay more for food, clothing and their houses. But they have the same capacity for fear, greed and love. Sarah: if you refuse to sell out––you don’t need to––you have a glorious future ahead of you with your gift of courage, a virtue that permits you to implement all other virtues. Whether you can or will depends on your capacity to constantly re-exam your ideologies and grow politically and intellectually
Mike Gravel served in the senate from Alaska and ran for president in the Democratic Party primaries.