Saturday, August 30, 2008

"A Reform Ticket"

"For starters, we'd say Governor Palin's credentials as an agent of reform exceed Barack Obama's." -- The Wall Street Journal

"A Reform Ticket"
The Wall Street Journal
August 30, 2008

If any doubt remained that former fighter pilot John McCain loves to take unconventional risks, he put them to bed Friday by picking Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Introduced in Dayton by Mr. McCain, Governor Palin swung the bat pretty well. We'll now see if she can hit curve balls.

It's a daring pick because Mrs. Palin has never faced national scrutiny and hasn't had to deal with foreign policy. Most VP choices are designed to do no harm, and we tend to agree with the maxim. Democrats are already saying they can't wait for Mrs. Palin's debate against "statesman" Joe Biden. On the other hand, the record shows that Sarah Palin's political career is a case study in taking on the big boys. We suspect her record of fighting the status quo was uppermost in John McCain's decision.

Barack Obama aside, Senator McCain's biggest problem is a Republican brand that has suffered -- both among independents and the GOP base -- from the party's business-as-usual mentality in Washington. The public wants change. This pick could prove Mr. McCain is serious about changing his party.

Sarah Palin's reform resume would be remarkable in any political career. She entered politics at 28, winning a seat on the Wasilla city council as an opponent of tax increases. After she defeated Wasilla's three-term incumbent mayor four years later, she swept the mayor's cronies out of the bureaucracy.

In 2003, Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski appointed her to the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Bear in mind that Mr. Murkowski had already served as junior U.S. Senator from Alaska for 22 years. Mr. Murkowski was junior senator for so long because Senator Ted Stevens (who was recently indicted for corruption) had lifetime tenure in the senior post.
Shortly after joining the oil and gas commission, Mrs. Palin commenced an ethics probe of the state's Republican party chairman, Randy Ruedrich, involving conflicts of interest with oil companies. The probe resulted in a $12,000 fine for the party chair.

She crossed party lines in 2004 to join a Democratic representative's ethics complaint over an international trade deal against the Republican Attorney General Gregg Renkes, who had ties to the Murkowski machine. Mr. Renkes resigned.

In late 2005, Mrs. Palin announced her run for Governor before then-Governor Murkowski had announced his intention to stand for re-election. In a three-way primary, Mrs. Palin got 51% to Mr. Murkowski's 19%. At the center of this campaign was a debate over competing proposals to build a natural gas pipeline across Alaska.

These columns wrote about Gov. Murkowski's smashing defeat by Mrs. Palin, noting that his pipeline proposal had been tainted by reports of sweetheart deals with energy companies. The editorial ended: "If Republicans are run out of Congress in November, one big reason will be that, like Mr. Murkowski, they have become far more comfortable running the government than reforming it." That is what happened, as disgusted GOP voters turned away from their own party and ceded control of Congress to the Democrats.

Against the odds, Mrs. Palin won that 2006 election against the state's former Democratic governor Tony Knowles. Most recently, she promoted the effort of her GOP lieutenant governor to unseat U.S. Congressman Don Young, who with Senator Stevens created the earmark that sank the GOP, the notorious "bridge to nowhere."


For starters, we'd say Governor Palin's credentials as an agent of reform exceed Barack Obama's. Mr. Obama rose through the Chicago Democratic machine without a peep of push-back. Alaska's politics are deeply inbred and backed by energy-industry money. Mr. Obama slid past the kind of forces that Mrs. Palin took head on. This is one reason her selection -- despite its campaign risks -- seems to have been so well received by Republicans yesterday. They are looking for a new generation of leaders.

Don't expect this remarkable personal Palin narrative to get an Obama-like break from the national media. Their main focus will be her lack of experience, claiming it undercuts Mr. McCain's criticism of Barack Obama. One mispronounced foreign leader's name, and she's going to be hammered.

If she can survive this gantlet, Governor Palin could help Mr. McCain with some liabilities of his own. The alternative would have been a ticket of two familiar GOP names in a political cycle where the Democrats have seemed to be the party of energy and freshness. A self-described "hockey mom" with a commercial-fisherman husband, Governor Palin will have more credibility with families than a Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee. With energy supplies and prices one of the top issues, Alaska's Governor also should bring some first-hand realism to the debate over drilling and the environment.

* * *

Senator Obama's acceptance speech made it clear that his campaign strategy is pegged to linking Mr. McCain to the Beltway Republicans and the struggling economy. It's a powerful argument, and John McCain needs an answer to Mr. Obama's list of Democratic bromides. The vulnerability in the Obama plan is there's little in it that is new. He'd mostly replace one status quo with an earlier status quo of government spending schemes. Joe Biden is no help on that.
Mr. McCain's instinct clearly is to offer himself to voters as a reformer. With Sarah Palin, a genuine reformer, Mr. McCain may have found the right idea and the right person to make his run.

Read The Editorial

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