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.