Posted by: Mark Nielsen | September 4, 2008

Sarah Palin: Pit Bull or Just Plain Bull?

I gotta admit, I kinda like her. I’m scared of her, almost as much as I am of Dick Cheney. I wouldn’t vote for her. But she is likeable, which no one has ever accused Cheney of being, and which John McCain sometimes has a problem with as well.

In her speech last night– a brilliantly snarky blend of fiction and nonfiction written by star Bush/Cheney speechwriter Matthew Scully –Sarah Palin showed all the poise, humor, presentational talent, intelligence and “pit bull” tenacity that one might expect from a college-educated former pageant winner, sports television reporter, entrepreneur and hockey fanatic. (BTW, doesn’t she know that the general public opinion of pit bulls is that they’re a menace, inbred, and often violent far beyond the tendency of any other breed? Is she saying she’s going to go Michael Vick on my ass, with no provocation?) 

Having heard her, we can now apply all those classic cliches about spunk and originality and character and fierce Mama Bear protective love of family and country (hey, she’s the female version of Papa Bear O’Reilly!). In fact, the persona projected in that speech is probably somewhat accurate (small town, hands-on, populist, tough, savvy but not sophisticated – a classic Western U.S. type). But that’s where the problem gets slippery. It starts getting hard to tell where the words of Mr. Scully end, and the reality  of Palin and her own ideas begins. Her speech was long on style, but came up way short on substance.

Not that the Democrats don’t use speechwriters, or do too much posturing and rhetorical sleight-of-hand as well. Palin (oops… I mean Scully) was right on target in pointing out things like the pompous visual of Obama’s Mile High speech with those fake Greek columns behind him. It’s true, and truly annoying, how Hollywood-ized both campaigns are becoming. But at least Barack wrote his own speech. And those columns are no more of a political prop than Palin’s son Trig, who has Down’s syndrome, or the shot of Mount Rushmore on the video screen when she was done speaking. (One scary line from the speech: “Children with special needs inspire a special kind of love…”, as if those with children who are not disabled couldn’t possibly love our children as much as the longsuffering parents of disabled children do. What a crock!)

I noticed a couple of interesting historical angles pursued by ScullyPalin as well. In discussing McCain’s military service, he/she used the phrase “profile in courage”, which is a direct reference to the title of John F. Kennedy’s book. Then a few minutes later, in the small-town-girl section, she/he cited Harry Truman, the humble haberdasher from small-town Missouri (a swing state… let’s not forget). That made two popular Democratic presidents whose coattails she was trying to ride upon, for those keeping score. Is there any doubt McCain’s reaching for those Reagan Democrats, who are quietly coming back from the Dark Side this year to support Obama? Meanwhile, Eisenhower’s granddaughter Susan, a policy expert on Russia, left the Republican party recently, gave a supportive speech for Obama at the DNC last week, and made an appearance on The Colbert Report.

Sometimes we can learn more by what is NOT said than by what is said. For example, Palin/Scully barely made any mention of major issues — state-related executive branch issues that she ought to know about –like education, healthcare, the mortgage and financial crisis, and balancing budgets [which she does not do, by the way: she left the city of Wassila with a $22 million debt by the time she was done there as mayor]. Sarah/Matthew also did not go hard after Joe Biden… a tacit acknowledgement that when it comes to credentials, the governor is “bush league” compared to the longtime senator from Delaware. Plus Biden’s just as much a “working class hero” as she claims to be, and everyone knows it.

The speech attacked Obama on the executive experience question (talk about the pot calling the kettle… um, dark?), belittled his community organizing efforts (“a mayor’s a lot like a community organizer, except that we have actual responsibilities”), and ignored his teaching experience and expertise in constitutional law. Instead, ScullyPalin played the “Obama as celebrity” card numerous times, in an extremely condescending manner. And the “action” card, as if the use of power (even veto power) is a virtue in and of itself, never mind the actual executive decisions made and how effective they were.

Her awareness on energy issues is extensive, though wrongheaded. Clearly it leans toward old-school solutions (drill in ANWAR, drill offshore in the Carribean, keep using coal), with very little specificity about how solar and other renewable options will be developed or funded. For the McCain campaign, the environmental/energy debate revolves around reducing our dependency on foreign oil, not reducing our dependence on fossil fuels in general (nor acknowledging the difficult scientific realities that Al Gore was so kind as to remind us about last week). It’s as if, being the governor of the last great American frontier state, Palin wants to apply the old Manifest Destiny principle in the name of blind, shortsighted development, to go ahead and wreck the planet more quickly in order to make our own lives more comfortable now.

Which brings us to my final point about Ms. Palin: she’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a habitual abuser of whatever resources are at her disposal, be they monetary, natural or human. She’s a win-at-all-costs person, more concerned with victory in Iraq than in whatever outcome will be best for both the U.S. and the Middle East. She likes to play the conservationist/Nature Girl card, but ultimately sees the undeveloped wilderness as more of a playground for humans, as opposed to a shared, precious, rapidly disappearing gift. 

In doing some homework yesterday, I found a sad item regarding game and predator management in Alaska during Palin’s current term. It seems she’s not so much a hunter as a butcher, with little concern for science or ecology regulations. She’s not only in favor of the hunting of gray wolves in her state, but actually put a $150 bounty on their heads. Meanwhile, she has heavily encouraged the non-sport shooting of wolves from airplanes. Here’s a quote from the Defenders of Wildlife website:

The state’s press release, issued last Wednesday, indicates that “Permittees will be paid $150 when they bring in the left forelegs of wolves taken from any of several designated control areas.”

“Governor Palin needs to take a close look at wildlife management practice in her state and restore the use of sound science,” concludes Banks. “She said would heed the will of the public, but it’s increasingly clear she’s only listening to that segment that is willing to sacrifice Alaska’s natural heritage for the benefit of a few.”

There are numerous problems here, though the general control of the wolf population, in order to control the loss of caribou and other game through over-predation, is not one of them. I recognize that fish and wildlife management is a complex issue, and that hunting (for sport and for ecological balance) is a necessary part of both the scientific and political picture. Yet what rings hollow and cruel for me in this story is that the bounty offered, and the regulations overall, subtly encourage the hunting of wolves in protected areas as well. Not to mention Palin’s Bush-like overreaching use of executive authority and lack of concern for the law, in unilaterally re-establishing the wolf bounty practice that was outlawed in 1984.

I’ve been to the exceptional International Wolf Center (in Minnesota… how ironic is that?), and have found through both reading and direct experience that wolves are a kind of bellwether species by which we can gage how well or how poorly we are treating the habitat overall. I’ve also learned how frequently these noble animals have been scapegoated and lied about throughout history (For example, despite our fairy tales and horror stories, there was not a single confirmed killing of a human by wolves throughout the entire 20th century in North America.)

We shouldn’t be surprised that Gov. Palin is playing fast and loose with the truth about the Bridge to Nowhere, and about her role in what they’re calling Troopergate (the situation with her ex-brother-in-law), and about her environmentalist credentials. She’s got blind spots, and holes in her resume, and an ego the size of… hmm, let me see, …Texas? No, bigger than that. This woman’s got an ego the size of Alaska, and after eight years of George Bush’s Texas-sized ego and inability to listen, we can’t afford to trash the Constitution or the landscape for another day, let alone another four years.






    SHE IS..

  2. Thank you for this eloquent review. Her remarks at the RNC about Alaska’s wild heritage being there to be exploited, not just admired, were saddening. I wonder of Matthew Scully is sleeping well this week.

  3. […] In her speech last night– a brilliantly snarky blend of fiction and nonfiction written by star Bush/Cheney speechwriter Matthew Scully –Sarah Palin showed all the poise, humor, presentational talent, intelligence and “pit bull” tenacity …[Continue Reading] […]

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