Palin: A Politician of the People?
Sarah Palin's candidacy for Vice-President of the United States is perhaps one of the most popular topics in politics today. Even though the John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket was decisively defeated on November 4, there is now talk of Palin running at the top of the ticket in 2012. There is simply no escaping her larger-than-life personality, her self-spun image as the "hockey mom" bringing common sense to Washington. But even though I am all for greater citizen involvement in politics, I find it incredible that any thinking person can buy the snake oil Palin is selling. If Palin is an ordinary citizen, I am Bill Gates. She is a career politician, and that is the exact opposite of a common man on the street.
A government of the people, by the people and for the people is a political ideal for many. In the original democracy of Athens, juries were selected by lottery; anyone could be picked to serve. The same concept still applies today to juries in most countries which maintain the jury system. The reason is simple: letting the people decide the facts is the surest way of guaranteeing that as many viewpoints as possible have been heard.
However, most governments around the world today are composed of career politicians — men and women who have devoted their lives to politics. As admirable as public service is, those who seek power are often, if not the most corruptible, the most corrupt. The scandals of lobbying and vote-buying in the United States are not much less common in other democracies. Simply put, career politicians are susceptible to outside influence, and Palin has spent her political life as a career politician.
There are politicians who do not make it their career; small-town mayors are often those types. When McCain picked Palin to be his running mate, he may have thought she was the sort of politician who could bring a different, less cynical and self-interested view of politics to Washington. In the minds of many Palin fans, she would bring a new sense of openness, transparency, and pragmatism to the executive branch.
However, Palin's own political biography seems to refute this narrative. When Palin ran for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, she politicised what had previously been a process largely based on pragmatic concerns. Palin made ideology an issue of her campaign — she heavily politicised what had previously been apolitical and relatively non-partisan.
As Mayor, Palin then hired a lobbyist in Washington to divert federal spending from other areas to Wasilla. This set a pattern for Palin's political career. To this day, the most controversial issues about Palin have been her abuse of power for personal gain.
When she ran for Governor of Alaska, she blatantly supported a "bridge to nowhere" which would serve less than a few thousand people at the cost of millions. As Governor, she took the federal money meant for the bridge and spent it on other projects. She attempted to fire a state trooper out of a personal vendetta. She charged the state for the per diem expenses of living in her own home in Wasilla. Palin is a terribly good politician, but that is not a credit to her if we are looking for the "common sense" of the ordinary man.
As a candidate for the Vice-Presidency, Palin spent profligately on clothing, charging the McCain campaign and Republican Party for her expenses. Her youngest daughter was spotted toting a luxury handbag (although it was later identified as a knockoff), and she and her entire family were outfitted by some of the swankiest chains in the nation. Among the other things she charged the campaign for were pairs of silk boxers for her husband. As I write, Republican lawyers are in Alaska attempting to retrieve some of the clothes that have been mysteriously "lost" in the wake of the campaign winding down. Palin is a career politician, plain and simple; she is out to enhance her own interests, and those who get in her way be damned.
None of this is to say that Palin cannot be an effective political leader; it is merely to say that her supposed key distinguishing trait, that of bringing the views and sense of the common man into Washington, is a complete lie. Palin is just like any other politician, like it or not. Polls now indicate many Republicans see her as the best candidate to lead the party into 2012. If that is so, I hope for her sake that she has something else to bring to the table besides her hunger for power, self-aggrandising character, and her hollow, groundless rhetoric — all of which featured so heavily in her campaign for Vice-President.