Oversimplification and Sarah Palin

On Wednesday, Minnesota’s local-boy-made-good Tom Friedman wrote in his New York Times column that:

“With his choice of Sarah Palin — the Alaska governor who has advocated drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and does not believe mankind is playing any role in climate change — for vice president, John McCain has completed his makeover from the greenest Republican to run for president to just another representative of big oil.”

On Thursday, my buddy Tom Hamburger of the L.A. Times wrote a front-page story headlined:

“Sarah Palin, as governor, takes on energy companies” a subhead: “A hard-line supporter of state controls, she’s earned public acclaim, angered industry giants, allied with Democrats and alienated fellow Republicans.”

The “nut section” (believe it or not, “nut section” is an actual term of journalistic art) backing up that headline went thus:

“Since becoming governor in December 2006, Palin has tripled production taxes on oil and seized control of a proposed $30-billion natural gas pipeline from the traditional oil giants.

“The Palin administration now stands in a nerve-racking faceoff with the multibillion-dollar oil industry interests that have for 40 years been the bedrock of the state’s politics and economy. Who blinks first — Palin, or companies like BP Alaska, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil — will determine who controls transport of Alaska’s massive untapped gas resources and future tax revenues for a state dependent on petroleum revenues for 85% of its budget. Most analysts are predicting that it won’t be Palin who yields.

“‘She has been more adversarial with the producers than any previous governor,’ said Democratic state Rep. Mike Doogan, whom Palin courted — with cupcakes — to power her oil program through the Legislature this year.

“Palin’s showdown with the oil companies has earned her enormous public acclaim but alienated her from all but a handful of Republican legislators and forced her to develop working alliances with Democrats.'”

The horrors of complexity
Friedman and Hamburger are both right, although I would say Friedman is guilty of oversimplification. We are dealing here with the horrors of complexity, and doing so during the silly season when partisans of all stripes are interested only in facts and arguments that are good for their side. Palin, who went from total obscurity to national obsession very suddenly last week, is more complicated than the cartoon of pure good and pure evil that the two parties are constructing.

The Alaska oil interests hate her because she slammed them with a big tax hike and took control away from them on the pipeline question. This fits with the portion of the Republican cartoon that wants you to think of her as fearless and willing to stand up to the entrenched power structure, although you will note that when Republicans tout this chapter they tend not to emphasize that she did it with a big tax increase on corporations.

On the other hand, the energy industry in general loves her environmental policies (and environmentalists hate her policies). She wants to drill everywhere, including the sacrosanct Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) where John McCain opposes it, and because she disputes the role of human activity in global warming (another issue conflict with McCain).

Friedman, Minnesota’s local-boy-made-good, is crusading for energy conservation and the development of alternative fuels. Good on him. And he makes many good arguments for that cause.

McCain doesn’t have a very good environmental record. But he has opposed ANWR drilling and he is not a global warming denier (which is the basis for the setup of Friedman’s piece, that he thought Obama-McCain would be a contest between two green candidates).

Friedman’s implication that McCain’s choice of Palin amounts to a reversal on those issues is kind of silly. When a presidential nominee and his running-mate disagree on an issue, as they inevitably do, it’s best to assume that the top of the ticket overrules the veep on setting administration policy.

Need to know more
To suggest that the choice of Palin, scourge of the Alaska oil companies, reflects a cave-in to those companies, is at least an oversimplification, although Friedman does half-heartedly acknowledge the problem in the same column, when he writes:

“Palin’s much ballyhooed confrontations with the oil industry have all been about who should get more of the windfall profits, not how to end our addiction.”

But it’s still tough to square her complete record with Friedman’s “just another representative of big oil” nut graph.

We are just getting to know Gov. Palin. Many of her views are extremely troubling. The unwillingness of Team McCain to subject her to the horrors of the Sunday talk shows is a sad admission that she isn’t ready for prime time without a script.

As a member of the endangered species that cares about policy substance, I need to see her lay out her views on important issues (and I don’t mean her daughter’s pregnancy nor whether her ex-brother-in-law is fit to serve on the State Police).

Until she takes those questions, I’m glad that a small army of journalists is up in Alaska trying to find out what she has done and why she is so popular.

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/08/2008 - 02:37 pm.

    Mr. Kelliher: Please visit the obamaforamerica.com web site and read the extensive “issues” section for detailed proposals describing Senator Obama’s foreign and domestic policies.

    The great personality is a bonus.

  2. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 09/08/2008 - 07:17 pm.

    Palin did get that tax on the oil companies through, the bad part is that its a state tax that the can be deducted from oil companies fed taxes so in a way the lower 48 is paying the tax. At a time when “Independent” Alaskans are getting $2 in federal funds for every $1 that they send in, that sounds a little unfair.

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/08/2008 - 11:15 am.

    The problem is that the Republicans (as has been their practice since St. Ronald) are running on personalities rather than policies.
    They are counting on most people (or a plurality of voters) being too lazy to concern themselves with what the people that they vote for will actually DO, and content themselves with voting for the person that they find most congenial.
    They won’t be bothered by inconsistencies; either between McCain and Palin, or within either candidates’ records.

    “We have met the enemy and they is us.”
    Pogo Possum (Walt Kelley)

    Add your favorite H.L.Mencken quote here….

  4. Submitted by Mike Keliher on 09/08/2008 - 01:16 pm.

    “The problem is that the Republicans (as has been their practice since St. Ronald) are running on personalities rather than policies.” Gimmie a break. If the current Democratic presidential campaign isn’t one based on personality, I don’t know what is.

  5. Submitted by stephen winnick on 09/08/2008 - 02:53 pm.

    More to Mr. Keliher, et al – She isn’t a personality plus? I think of her as the darling of the LensCrafter set…but as to issues, we have only seen her position on this one: her response to the big oil powerplay. Today on NPR, a GOP policy type said she is up to speed on foreign policy issues because of her state’s many military bases and her two foreign borders:Canada and Russia. Has that entire party drank the KoolAid?

  6. Submitted by John E Iacono on 09/08/2008 - 02:42 pm.

    I believe, when they put the pen to the paper, the voters tend to choose the candidates they feel most comfortable with — those seen as like themselves, or in other words those they like.

    The future is unknown, as are future policies and decisions. People tend to trust more those they see as like themselves, and so more likely to judge as they themselves would judge. A classic example might be Truman vs Dewey. Another, Kennedy vs Nixon.

    Talk about issues is fine, but only to the degree that it gives insight into what the candidate is like, and how he/she thinks. Today’s issues are tomorrows forgotten items. Few remember the issues in the two Clinto elections.

    Candidates with issues that may lose votes prefer to talk about themselves rather than issues. But if the position of the opponent on issues may bring to light problems for him/her, his/her opponent will certainly focus on “Let’s keep our eye on the issues.”

    So, to make sense of it all, when a candidate focuses on personality of his opponent, he does not see gain in issues discussion, and wants to paint him/her as “different from you” or “unlikeable”.

    And when a candidate cries for discussion of the issues, he is hoping to alienate his opponent’s support by bringing some unpopular issue stands to the fore.

    In order to play the game, it helps to know the rules.

  7. Submitted by John E Iacono on 09/13/2008 - 11:13 am.

    On the subject of “unfair.”

    In Minnesota, we have a number of counties with large land area and small populations (Cook County on the North Shore, for example).

    Those spread-out populations need good roads even more than those in high density areas, and on a per capita basis they get it from MinnDot.

    Truckers and those of us who travel those roads on vacation or on the way to somewhere else all benefit as well, but the money goes there because it is needed.

    Per capita measures of infrastructure funding from the federal government seem to me an unfair yardstick.

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