A Bridge Too Far

Sarah Palin has wowed many with her convictions and charisma. But can she deliver effective policy?

An ideologue can deliver one hell of a stirring speech, free of wonkish policy proposals, measured caveats, or hint of vacillation. Combine that lack of inhibition with a unique personal history and the audience is elated.

Those political observers that have been weakly insisting that women should not support Governor Sarah Palin simply because they share the same reproductive organs are overlooking how compelling her biography is, particularly when paired with that reproductive apparatus in question. Indeed, women do yearn to see another of their kind catapulted to a position of power, especially one as charismatic as Palin. That yearning does not trump all other considerations, but that visceral factor is in play this election and it will be difficult to track or predict. And Palin's background powerfully reinforces Senator John McCain's campaign narrative.

It remains to be seen whether some of the particulars of Palin's personal and political past that were not featured at the convention could dispel women's and independents' newfound enthusiasm for her. The Obama camp will face difficulty in attacking an evangelical female candidate with a special-needs son and another son bound for Iraq (although Biden also has a son to soon deploy). But when it comes to her sparingly professed policy positions and the accuracy of some of her statements, the Obama campaign has a number of valid arguments to make.

When compared to some other politicians, Palin's misrepresentations and inconsistencies may not be so damning. But since she is being promoted-and indeed is promoting herself-on her values and fortitude of character, she must remain virtually beyond reproach. But the facts do not suggest that the GOP has found itself an unimpeachable candidate for the vice presidency. More importantly, though, what little she has said on foreign policy should set off alarms. She appears to be McCain's ideological brethren-more hardline, that is, than the current Bush administration and dangerously idealistic.


Palin vs. Clinton

Perhaps the best way appreciate Palin's personal history is to juxtapose it to that of the other prominent woman this campaign season-Hillary Clinton. While many political observers are upholding Clinton as the female candidate that women can legitimately support, consider that the senator from New York was able to leapfrog to her current position by virtue of her association with her spouse. Palin has made her achievements on her own. If that statement seems unfair, consider that the Clinton administration never assigned Hillary a single task of overriding importance after her health care initiative failed so publicly. Perhaps it was that lack of demonstrable experience under the Clinton administration that prompted Hillary to concoct her tale of coming under sniper fire in Bosnia.

As a candidate, Bill Clinton publicly pledged to give his wife a significant role and promoted a two-for-one presidency. Hillary Clinton could have credibly argued that she earned a mandate to draft policy, given her husband's clearly stated intention to give her such responsibilities. But following the failure of her health-care proposal, the administration put her in a corner. While campaigning for her party's nomination, Hillary Clinton could not point to an important initiative as first lady bearing her signature. But as a junior senator herself, Hillary was promoting that first-lady experience to differentiate her from Obama.

Perhaps no image can best illustrate that distinction between Palin and Clinton than that of Mr. Palin cradling their newborn son during Palin's convention speech. While Hillary Clinton always waited for her husband to fulfill his own political ambitions before she made any attempt to attempt to do so herself, in the Palin household it is the husband who is now playing a supportive role. That image alone, of Mr. Palin holding Trig, could have bolstered the McCain-Palin poll numbers.

For all of her backwater experience, Palin has authored her own achievements. After she served as Wasilla's mayor, she became chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, only to resign in 2004 over ethical grounds. She claims to have challenged Alaska's Republican machinery to win the 2006 Alaska governor's election. As governor, she was able to get a natural gas pipeline from Alaska's North Slope under way. Her decision to take the bidding process outside the state was commendable and TransCanada Corp., based in Calgary, has been awarded the contract. But interestingly, that decision to tap a Canadian firm contrasts sharply with her convention speech in which she said, to roaring applause: "We need American energy brought to you by American ingenuity and produced by American workers." All the same, in some respects Palin's progression, from PTA to small town mayor to governor of a sparsely populated state, seems more natural than Hillary Clinton's.

Further, while Clinton tends to prevaricate and hedge on a number of issues, to the point where it is difficult to discern where she stands, Palin appears to hold convictions that she at least appears to have upheld in her own life, as evidenced by her decision to give birth to her youngest son who has Downs Syndrome. While it is true that she has offered only a faint outline of her policy positions-and those alone are enough to cause considerable concern-she is clear and fiery in her presentation. Indeed, Hillary (and a lot of other politicians) would do well to borrow a mere portion of Palin's charisma.


The Whole Palin