Sarah Palin, good ol’ boy

She is reported to be smart, tough and a politically savvy working mother.

She has become the subject of celebrity-style media interest and of an astonishing barrage of stories and photos about her and her family — some real and some fabricated — winging across the internet.

Her arrival on the scene has triggered endless kitchen table discussions about parenting, work, teenage pregnancy and feminism. Her name has outpaced Google hits for “Paris Hilton” and “Michael Phelps.”

Her speech to the Republican convention met with such breath less excitement from the mostly male delegates that I wondered if she had appeared, as depicted in that now-famously faked photo, in a flag bikini with a rifle rakishly held aloft.

The McCain team has worked tirelessly to project its vice presidential choice, Sarah Palin, as a “reformer” and a tough, whistle- blowing politician who took on the “old boys” in Alaska and won. But the reality is that Palin is herself completely entrenched in the “old boys network” it claims she fought.

Worse, Palin’s policies, which are far to the right of the majority in this country, would not help women but would roll feminism backward and the “old boys” for ward.

Facing Barack Obama’s popularity with women and blue-collar voters, the demographic that could likely decide this election, the McCain team needed a way to lift its campaign from its narcoleptic stupor. The surprising and risky choice of a nearly unknown Alaskan governor as McCain’s running mate seemed like an ill-advised, ob vious attempt to capitalize on and lure discontented Hillary Clinton supporters who had fervently hoped to see a woman on the presidential ticket.

The notion that women who might have voted for Clinton would now vote for Palin (and McCain) simply because they share a gender seems preposterous. Yet one re cent ABC News-Washington Post poll suggests that on the heels of the Palin pick, white women have moved from backing Obama by eight points to supporting McCain by 12 points.

It’s still unknown whether those poll numbers reflect a shift among women voters or whether they are a wild swing. What is becoming clearer, as Palin’s past slowly surfaces, is that she is perfectly comfortable exchanging favors and playing by the “old boys club” rules — seemingly with their playbook.

Palin has not been shy about accepting or giving political plums. In 2002, shortly after an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor, she was appointed by former Gov. Frank Murkowski to chair the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and given a six-figure salary despite the fact that she had no background in such issues.

After Palin unseated Murkowski as governor, she handed out the plums herself. One plum — a paid position as director of the $35 billion Alaska Permanent Fund, which rebates oil royalties to residents — went to Palin’s close friend Debbie Richter, who also served as treasurer of Palin’s gubernatorial campaign committee. Another went to Aryne Randall, branch manager of the Wells Fargo bank that gave the Palins and Richters loans for their properties. Palin’s tendencies toward cronyism and a heavy-handed management style have pockmarked her political as cent, and she has left a string of questionable firings and resignations in her wake.

Once elected mayor of Wasilla in 1996, Palin fired the police chief, demanded the resignations of all other department heads, including the city planner and finance direc tor, and attempted to fire the city’s librarian — who refused to remove books from the town library — re lenting only when the town op posed her action.

Local critics charge that Palin replaced the “old boys club” with a “new set of old boys,” hiring inexperienced staff and a town administrator to do the work of running the small town while she still ac cepted her mayoral salary.

While governor, she fired the state’s public safety commissioner, allegedly because he refused to dismiss her ex-brother-in-law, a state trooper engaged in a custody battle with Palin’s sister. An investiga tion into “troopergate” continues. Last year, Palin abruptly fired her longtime aide and legislative direc tor, John Bitney, just weeks after her friend Scott Richter told her that Bitney was having an affair with Richter’s now ex-wife, Debbie.

While there is still little known about Palin, we do know that McCain has selected a running mate who, as a potential leader of the Free World, holds positions on women’s issues that are out of touch with the majority of voters. That’s especially true of her pro-life stance, which would deny women abortions even in cases of rape and incest.

We know that the swirling accusations of abuse of power, cronyism and a legacy of firings have infected her political life. We also know that the “old boys’ network” lets women play if they play by the rules, and Palin seems to have mastered them.

Sarah Palin, good ol’ boy