I utterly reject the notion that it’s “sexist” to vigorously question Sarah Palin’s qualifications. It’s my job as a journalist — and your job, dear reader, as an American — to question the qualifications of anyone who seeks any public office, regardless of race, age and gender. Nobody should get a free pass; to imply otherwise might be… well, sexist.
As governor, Palin has served more than 20 months at the helm of the nation’s fourth-least-populous state, with fewer residents than San Francisco; Alaska in 2007 ranked 45th among the 50 states by gross state product, a measure of economic activity (and for context, Alaska’s GSP was about 2.5 percent of California’s). She has racked up several accomplishments as governor, including an overhaul of state ethics laws; blindsiding lawmakers from both sides of the aisle by using her line-item veto power to make deep cuts in their state construction budget; and pushing to build a natural gas pipeline despite some big oil companies’ opposition.
She is, however, now the subject of an ethics investigation herself; the Alaska Legislature wants to know whether she abused her power in firing a cabinet member who claims she wanted him to fire her former brother-in-law, a state trooper involved in a messy divorce with her sister. An independent investigator’s report is due by Oct. 31, but while Palin initially had said she and her staff would cooperate fully, her lawyer is now questioning the Legislature’s jurisdiction and wants the probe delayed.
The notion that her status as head of Alaksa’s National Guard qualifies as military experience seems like an insult to people with actual military experience. I asked a spokesperson to send me a list of Alaska Army National Guard and Alaska Air National Guard activations and deployments since Palin took office, and here it is, verbatim:
1. The AKNG was trained up and on standby to provide military assistance for civil disturbance during the International Whaling Commission meeting in May 2007.
2. The AKNG provided aviation support (personnel and helicopters) to help fight the Mat-Su wildfires in June 2007.
3. The AKNG provided security forces for the Adjutants’ General Association of the United States conference in June 2007.
4. The AKNG provides on a daily basis search and rescue assets for civilian search and rescue missions across the state.
*since Dec. 2006:
ASSISTS: 77 (Lives assisted to safety)
Outside of Alaska … providing state-to-state assistance through EMAC
***5. The AKNG sent a C-17 with two HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters and Guard members to Mississippi to support search and rescue efforts expected in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav in September 2008.
All other deployments have been for federalized, overseas service — instances in which the Pentagon is in charge, and the governor really has nothing to do with it. And while I respect her son’s decision to enlist (he ships out to Iraq next week), this qualifies Palin no more than any of the other hundreds of thousands of U.S. parents who’ve seen their children go off to war in Iraq in the past five and a half years.
I’ll also venture to say that — contrary to statements made by Cindy McCain and John Bolton (who as the former U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations really should know better) — being a governor whose state is close to Russia and Canada doesn’t constitute “foreign-policy experience.”
As for her earlier experience, she was a city councilwoman and mayor in a town that at the time was about two-thirds the size of Emeryville. It’s a town that at the time (according to the 2000’s U.S. Census) was 85.46 percent white, 0.59 percent black, 5.25 percent Native American, 1.32 percent Asian, 0.13 percent Pacific Islander, 1.32 percent from other races and 5.94 percent from two or more races; 3.68 percent of the population was Latino. That’s no bastion of diversity, even by Alaskan standards – the same census found the state in its entirety was 69.3 percent white, 15.6 percent Native American, 3.7 percent black. She reportedly won the mayor’s office — in 1996, with 651 votes — by running an aggressively partisan, socially conservative race for a nonpartisan office. The biggest municipal budget she ever handled there was $14.4 million. And though she would later make waves as a reformer tough on lobbyists and earmarks, she was responsible for hiring lobbyists who brought that tiny town almost $27 million in federal earmarks, earning her town a place three years running on John McCain’s own annual lists of objectionable pork.
Education-wise, Palin holds a Bachelor’s degree in communications/journalism with a political science minor from the University of Idaho. Incidentally, I also have a Bachelor’s degree in journalism with a poli-sci minor; I’m proud of it — I think it fits my career — but I don’t think it’s all that impressive (or, at least, academically rigorous) for someone who’s supposed to be of the very best and brightest, seeking our nation’s second-highest office.
So, based on what we know of Sarah Palin from her background and from what we’ve seen and heard of her this week, everyone — Democrat, Republican or other — owes it to this country to ask himself or herself:
Do you think where she has been and what she has done gives her insight into the day-to-day lives of most Americans?
Are you OK with her making decisions that affect the lives of U.S. troops and the security of U.S. interests at home and abroad?
Can you comfortably envision her representing the United States before the United Nations General Assembly, or at a meeting of the G-8, or at some other international gathering or summit?
And, as a friend of mine put it, do you believe a person with these very same qualifications would’ve been picked as a vice-presidential nominee if that person was a man?