The Ex-Governor of Alaska

The Soon-to-be Ex-Governor of Alaska  Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 5:18pm
July 4 & 5, 2009

I am going to try to articulate my views on Sarah Palin, soon to be ex-governor of Alaska. I start with the premise that pretty much anyone can be president of the United States. This comes from a comment made by Omar Kader, BYU professor in my International Relations 170 class in 1978. He made this comment in an attempt to explain Jimmy Carter and did so in an almost apologetic way in the face of what he knew was an overwhelmingly Republican student body. Kader was one of the leaders of Democratic Party in Utah County, not a real large crowd. He explained that all you need to handle the actual job of President is a solid college education. Given that almost anyone could be President, the question remains whether one should

And then there is the philosophy articulated by Reagan and held by many in the modern Republican party and is the core of their current collapse because of its inherent inconsistency. “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.” And my question for several election cycles, although admittedly not developed concurrently with Reagan’s statement, is “How do you expect to govern if your core belief is that government is the problem?” George W. Bush is the answer to that question and the ultimate extension of W. Bush tipping the party over the edge is Palin.

Here’s how I see it. While it would be a fascinating process, I have no basis or credentials to conduct a psychological examination of Palin. What appears obvious to any observer is that she is a very self-confident woman with basic intelligence, and a college degree, thus meeting Kader’s qualification to function as President. She is ambitious and clearly motivated by conservative social principles that support family and individual freedoms as she sees them which seem to be more focused on her immediate concerns and people like her in “real” Alaska or “real” America as she, herself, has defined her interests.

And that’s where I start off. For my own reasons, and certainly protected by Constitutional freedoms of choosing whom I want to support politically, I decided to support the Democratic candidate for the presidency. Maybe I was wrong, but that was my free choice. In Palin’s masterfully written and presented acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, she sarcastically attacked my choice disparaging his experiences as a “community organizer” and promoting her own credentials as a mayor (of a small town in Alaska) wielding much more important and “real” executive power. It didn’t ring true.

And it also was personally offensive when she followed that through the campaign with her disrespectful disdain for those who did not agree with her, the opposite of her supporters which she characterized as the “Real America.” And, of course, she went further in her outrageous and unfounded attacks on my presidential candidate by repeatedly and dishonestly referring to “palling around with terrorists,” the worst kind of defamation in a post-9/11 world linking him to those suicide hijackers who had assumed the personification of hatred and destruction as the ultimate evil. It also played into the fears of the ignorant that as an African-American of Muslim ancestry, Obama was, of course, dangerous as the “other” not like “us.”

Then there were the family values – this bothered my wife more than it bothered me, but it did bother me. My wife’s reaction was more immediate and maternal watching the convention and wondering how Palin was going to be able to adequately take care of that large family, especially that special needs baby who was up way past his bedtime. My reaction was more frustrated resentment in that there is nothing wrong with large families (as should be evident from my own life) and nothing wrong with women seeking high position (which I don’t think I’ve ever had much problem with) but the incongruity of her shoving her family on stage and rather literally in our faces, promoting “family values” with the self-righteous indignation condemning all who did not agree with her interpretation of those values. And then there was the extreme pride beyond logic or normal sentiment of the pregnant daughter, her daughter’s “fiancé”, the special needs child, her “dude” husband, and soldier son. Not that there is anything wrong with any of these things, but the arrogance of her self-serving victimization in response to any question or the slightest of criticisms about the family that she was self-promoting was very strange and uncomfortable.

Her victimization by her choice to vilify the press was very unbecoming. The press, ugly as it is and always has and will be, yet serves a valid and constitutionally protected role of saying whatever the public is willing to listen to and buy in the marketplace. And in this case, while unfair, at times, to Palin and her family, the press clearly served its constitutionally protected process of questioning, analyzing and criticizing. As Truman said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” And no one more than Palin shoved her family into the limelight and the klieg lights. No wonder they all voted for her to resign as governor.

Recently, I made some comment to a conservative friend about Palin’s extraordinary announcement to resign from the governorship and the stated reasons that the press has been too hard on her family. He made the comment that the press has been unfair to her. I had to agree. What I should have gone on to say was that the press has been unfair to her and every other politician who has ever run for office. The difference is that she has encouraged it and relished in it by her vilification of the press and self-victimization of blaming the press for her inability to answer questions rather than accepting responsibility and for throwing her family up as a shield to deflect criticism. The tone is: “How dare they criticize me, the mother of a special needs child or my daughter, the unwed teen mother who didn’t get married like I said she was!” It staggers the mind.

As referred to above, the question as to whether anyone could be president is not the same as whether anyone should. I don’t know the reasons why John McCain chose Palin. What appears obvious from my observations is that McCain had a problem with the base of the Republican Party – not that they would have voted for the opposing candidate, but they needed to be energized to vote at all. He also saw the turmoil of the Democrats in their rejection of Hillary Clinton (That’s a story for another day). So Palin was actually a perfect pick for him – at first blush, which is apparently all it took. There was not a significant vetting (or more appropriately, perhaps, a psychological profiling – but them I’m no professional, nor is McCain). Palin was a popular governor, solid with the religious right of the Republican base, and a woman, it complimented McCain’s weaknesses as a “mavericky” moderate sometimes at odds with the Republican base (i.e., 2000 SC Primary).

What McCain and his advisors failed to discover, and they really should have, was that Palin was rather narrow, uneducated and basically lacking any position in many issues of national prominence that any one with a basic college education could learn and have some mastery. The principal one of these was foreign policy to which Palin apparently never gave much attention. This was revealed to all by the Gibson and Couric interviews. Charlie and Katie, two of the nicest people in a hard profession, were not baiting or trapping her as much as Palin was falling into their laps as overripe fruit. She was too easy a target. While Charlie may have gleefully taken advantage of his professional skills in setting up the “Bush Doctrine” question, Palin too easily fell into panic, then empty bluster when she, if she has any professional credentials at all, was supposed to be a journalist. The culmination of this was the skillful, but once again too easy, send-up of Palin by Tina Fey, who, with a striking resemblance and expert comedic wit, merely borrowed Palin’s own words with the slightest of twists for what may be the best political parodies in history.

Palin’s world view clearly originates with her beliefs in fundamental Christianity which I find to be a problem. The hypocrisy of the political religious right is something like Lincon’s argument condemning slavery and the divine right of kings “you work and I’ll eat the bread.” With the religious right it is, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Or actually worse, “What I do is OK because it is justified by the greater good of my righteous cause.” But ends justifying the means generally lead to no other place but arbitrary government, that is, right back to the divine right of kings.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have a firm belief in a divinely-inspired Constitution. And I believe that our Constitutional government should be based on Christian principles that admittedly were held by the vast majority of the founding fathers. But when I, and I think the founders were talking about “Christian” principles, it is in reference to general, universal principles of true religion, whether originating in Christianity or elsewhere. These are the Golden Rule and reliance on Faith in God, however one may conceive of God, or even if not God, faith in humanity or each other, along with Hope and Charity. To promote a list of good and bad beliefs and behaviors and to force this list on others contrary to their will is the antithesis of true religion and constitutional government and is more akin to the pharisaical rule condemned by the founder of Christianity.

There are good and bad beliefs and behaviors in this world and there are good and bad choices. To paraphrase Solzhenitsyn, that line runs through the heart of every human being and each human heart is capable of the greatest good and most horrific evil – and everything in between. I don’t believe in moral relativism but I do believe that Faith, Hope and Charity require tolerance and patience as we work through our philosophical, political and moral differences.

Now back to the Constitution which I believe lays out general principles of the process through checks and balances and limits on arbitrary power of government that we use to sort out our differences with regard to these basic principles of promoting life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the right to property, free press and expression, freedom of religion and protection from state religion, etc. It’s all about the process. The process is everything. And we have a structural process in place that actually works and has for over 220 years, in spite of the continual contest of opinions and even civil war. And often it works even without the Golden Rule.

These foundational principles have been debated and even fought over since the founding of our nation. No two people have the same view of how they are to be applied in everyday life. The problem comes when the arrogant on the right or the left assume that their way is the universal way. But to convince anyone else requires an appeal to reason through respect, that is, back to the Golden Rule and Faith, Hope and Charity – all principles of attitude and process, just like the Constitution itself.

But back to a bit of political analysis of current events. I believe that Palin is the tipping point in the religious right’s influence in the Republican Party and our national politics. Her over-the-top performance in McCain’s failed campaign for the presidency is clearly one of the deciding factors in the contest. The majority of the people of the U.S. finally figured W. Bush out even if it unfortunately took over five years. Palin was W. Bush on overdrive and with even less substance. In modern times elections are won by the moderate middle, the Independents and the moderates of both main parties. This would have been McCain’s natural base but he was threatened by lack of support in his own party base, hence, his choice of Palin to shore that up and it worked better than expected to his own detriment. Because by not only shoring up the base but energizing it with a lightweight yet brazenly arrogant and provincial politician, he totally turned off the moderate middle which assured Obama the victory.

The middle can shift again, especially if Obama is unable to turn the tide of the most disastrous financial crisis since the Great Depression. But I believe (and hope) that the middle will not go for the likes of Palin for a long, long time if ever.

What will Palin do now? Hard to tell. I have not accomplished that psychological profiling and have a hard time interpreting her message in that recent announcement. I think she loves the challenge of the fight more than the tedium of governance (remember, “government is the problem”). She will continue to seek influence on the national stage and maybe even run if it plays out well for her. This last time, she got a free ticket punched by McCain. She will not have it handed to her this time and it is doubtful that she can ride the religious right base to clinch it. First challenge is Huckabee on her own turf. Second is Gingrich, just off her turf. Then there is Romney who apparently is attempting to sew up the Republican establishment as he continues his so-far failed efforts to pander to the right (except in Utah). And who knows what other scandals lurk in the Republican field much less the Palin household. Politics is a tricky business to predict.

Professor Kader was right, and he had enough caveats in there that most people with a solid college education could be President. Fortunately, the question of whether someone actually should be president still resides with the people. And our Constitution still works. God Bless America!

24 January 2011
Sigh.  My views haven't changed much but have only been confirmed over and over again.  As of this writing, Palin appears to be plummeting in popularity.  She really blew the whole Tucson shooting issue.  Sure, she was wrongfully accused by some, but no-one mainstream directly charged her with causing the shooting.  The question was simply whether the impassioned rhetoric, some of it directly relating to gun violence, and Sarah was certainly a part of that, was in anyway a factor in this crazy guy going over the edge.  I mean the target was a Congresswoman who had expressed concern herself about Palin's gun sights.  The very ill-timed video on Palin's part - and even that was probably her own fault as she may have intentionally tried to get out ahead of the President's speech - was just the wrong tone.  It was all about her as most everything has been since Sen. John (should-have-known-better) McCain picked her as his running mate.

I have a friend with my work (so yes, she is a government bureaucrat) who gave me the best explanation of Sarah Palin.  This friend said that she had been a smart but nerdy kid in high school (probably the reason she went into government service).  And Palin reminded her of the "mean girls" in school who were pretty, and popular, and some of them even athletic, but they were all certainly mean to her.

5 February 2011

Still trying not to obsess about Ms. Palin, I find it absolutely fascinating that she is attempting to have her and Bristol's names trademarked.  I've had a little exposure to Intellectual Property Law from Law School and my career (I started in the Division of General Law in DC where one of our duties is to protect the official seals, etc. of the agencies of the Department of Interior as trademarks or official insignia under federal statute and regulation.)  It is an interesting area of law just to read the cases which help explain why "shredded wheat" cannot be trademarked because it is too generic a description.  Hence, the commercials that always say, "Nabisco Shredded Wheat" which can be trademarked.  (It's great for business, but hard to protect, when your corporate name becomes associated to identify the product as in Kleenex or Xerox, but not so great when you loose your corn flakes.)

There is a whole field of celebrity trademark law which is highly entertaining because it is all about movie stars and TV personalities - not politicians.  I can't remember the result now, but there was a case brought by Johnny Carson to prohibit a manufacture of a portable camping toilet advertised as "Here's Johnny!"  A lot of these cases are about the rights to an image when the individual has died.  The family or heirs who own the trademark in the star's name still try to protect it.  The I'm-pretty-sure-most-likely-really-dead Elvis is one of the big ones.  As the article linked above points out, politicians don't usually do this.

There is also a whole lot of case law about what is "fair use" or parody of a public figure or copyrighted work of (I wanted to say "art" but a lot of this is TV or movies that may not qualify).  So something like the classic Carol Burnett brief comedy sketch of Scarlett's curtain dress would be parody and fair use in its obvious parody of some other work, but you can't pretend to be the real "Gone with the Wind" in deceptive advertising or appropriate more than a reasonable amount of the original.  Political figures as public figures are the most available for parody as evidenced by Late Night TV hosts every night.  And there is a lot of "fair use" of their names.

So, this is the best evidence yet that Ms. Palin is not really interested in being President as the point of trademarking a name has a lot more to do with celebrity status than political office.  Based on her behavior of avoiding any actual press conferences and allowing only very limited press access (pretty much FOX), not to mention her frequent victimization as the press and public use her name in ways she doesn't appreciate, and the TV show, FOX News Consultant gig, speaking circuit gig, books, home studio, etc., it seem very clear that her intention continues to be to make a name for herself as profitably as she can.

It will be interesting to see if she brings legal challenges to the parodies and other appropriations of her name and image.  Of course, all Tina Fey will have to do is refer to herself in comedy routines as "Parah Salin."  Maybe Tina should go out and trademark that right now.