Monday, September 15, 2008

The empress's new old clothes

Tonight, the alleged post-convention bounce for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin began to decay. The mainstream press, still fawning and swooning over her dazzling vault into the national political culture, may take a while to pick up on it, but Sarah Palin has become just another politician whose name attaches itself to the words “under investigation.”

In these high-scrutiny days and weeks after her coronation in St. Paul, it’s clear that the clothes are slipping from the shoulders of the Republican empress of the moment. As her scrappy, acerbic, Annie Oakley-in-mukluks mien has settled into the public consciousness, there’s a fresh narrative of Sarah Palin starting to emerge: one that reveals a tenacious, vindictive, secretive small-town politician whose take-no-prisoners style dovetails with the needs of a Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, badly in need of energy and novelty.

A story tonight by Gene Johnson of The Associated Press says Palin “is unlikely to speak with an independent counsel hired by Alaska lawmakers to review the firing of her public safety commissioner.”

Ed O'Callaghan, a spokesman for Republican presidential candidate John McCain told The AP that, while he hadn’t spoken with Palin, she was "unlikely to cooperate" with the inquiry "as long as it remains tainted."

McCain's campaign has claimed that the inquiry into Palin’s firing of Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan is nothing more a witch hunt, despite claims by Moneghan that he was dismissed because he refused to fire a state trooper who went through an acrimonious divorce from Palin's sister.

But politically “tainted”? It was a bipartisan panel of the Legislature (including three Republicans) that voted unanimously to authorize an investigation into the way Monegan was fired.

Palin had said she welcomed the investigation; that was until Aug. 29, when she became McCain's running mate. That was when her lawyer tried to have the state Personnel Board take over the investigation, alleging that statements made by Sen. Hollis French, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a Democrat, indicated a politically-motivated inquiry was coming.

"The partisan presidential campaign of McCain/Palin has interfered and is picking partisan targets to smear in order to make this investigation look like something it isn't," Patti Higgins, chairwoman of the Alaska Democratic Party, told AP.

Tonight’s revelation comes after a story in the Saturday New York Times that found the Palin administration in Juneau has been steeped in cronyism, hirings and firings based on flimsy qualifications, and a penchant for control and limitation to access that rivals that of the administration in Washington she’s hoping to replace.

“The Wasilla High School yearbook archive now doubles as a veritable directory of state government,” The Times reported in a piece that peeled back another layer of the carefully constructed political artichoke known as Sarah Palin.

“Throughout her political career, she has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance, according to a review of public records and interviews with 60 Republican and Democratic legislators and local officials,” The Times reported.

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We’ve seen her before: the diminutive, willfully abrasive middle manager out to make headway in the workplace, regardless of the bones and bodies and values trampled underfoot.

And let’s be clear: It won’t do to make too much of the pronoun “her.” There’s no ammunition for anyone to cry “Sexism!” Why? Because we’ve seen these relentless, passive-aggressive traits in men as well. Given the disparity of men and women at higher levels of corporate and political management, they're more often found in men than in women.

Which takes the issue of gender off the table. Sarah Palin might as well be Stanley Palin or Steven Palin or Sherman or Sid. For all the renegade political branding created by her and on her behalf, Sarah Palin is revealing herself to be a blazingly conventional politician regardless of gender.

“She may think of herself as a maverick, and she may be one, but the way she’s operated is in the best tradition of old, big-city politics,” Howard Fineman observed tonight on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.”

Which, at the end of the day, is why she’s on the Republican ticket. There’s nothing wrong or problematic with her that the GOP hasn’t had to deal with before. Despite her iconoclastic tendencies, despite her hoist of the “reformist” flag, they know: With Sarah Palin, they won’t encounter anything they can’t control.

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And now there’s less and less about her that we can’t see. The Spaceship Sarah that lifted off the national stage in St. Paul is coming back to earth, and that means enduring the heat of re-entry — the increase in scrutiny, the greater white-hot glare of the 24/7 media. More revelations like those of The Times and The AP.

The empress of the north who wowed the convention less than two weeks ago may be riding in the parade wearing a lot less than we first thought.

As the focus on Palin intensifies, in the wake of her own “Dynasty”-cum-train wreck of political leadership style, we can expect to hear more shouts from the crowd on the parade’s sidelines: “There’s nothing new here! Maverick? She's nothing of the kind!"
Image credit: Palin: Ttoes, repubilshed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license.

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