Politicians spin for a living, but they’re rarely held accountable for what they say after the fact. So today I’m taking a look back on what they were saying about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin when she was announced as John McCain’s vice presidential running mate.
State Sen. Bill Baroni predicted that Palin would appeal to “a broad spectrum of New Jersey voters,” especially the state’s “vast independent voting bloc.” Asked about accusations that she pressured the former Commissioner of Public Safety to fire a state trooper, Baroni replied: “There’s no evidence of it. It will be completely vetted [in] the next 48 hours.”
In fact a bipartisan legislative panel found that Palin violated the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act when she “abused her power in pushing for the firing of an Alaska state trooper.”
Baroni wasn’t as far off on the other point, though. In the latest Survey USA poll, McCain leads among independents in New Jersey by 45 to 40 percent, although voters who identify as “moderate” break for Obama by 58 to 36 percent. Still, Obama has a 15 point lead in the poll.
State Sen. Kevin O’Toole called the Palin pick “a stroke of brilliance.” If this is his idea of brilliance, I don’t want to know what other good ideas O’Toole has in store.
Steve Lonegan said “I think it’s going to unite the party from one end to the other. She’s going to bring excitement and energy.”
This prediction seemed to be the most prescient at the time, and maybe it still is. Although Palin reinvigorated the social conservative base of the party, she also alienated some classical, small government, non-ideological (General Colin Powell) and libertarian conservatives, not to mention others within the traditional coalition who were simply embarrassed by the choice like George Will, Kathleen Parker and Chris Buckley.
“This is a governor who is a fiscal conservative,” said state Sen. Tom Kean, Jr. “I mean, wouldn’t it be great in this state to have someone who actually cuts spending?”
Whether or not she is a fiscal conservative depends on how one defines “conservative,” but contrary to Kean’s suggestion, Palin not only did not cut spending, she “presided over a dramatic increase [about 30 percent] in state spending in the last two years.” Kean’s enthusiasm should also be tempered a bit — it’s not as difficult to balance a budget when you’re sitting on a sea of black gold.
State Sen. Jennifer Beck said Palin “is exactly what John McCain needed on his ticket to bring some of the Hillary supporters to the Republican side of the aisle. I think there are going to be a lot of women who are not particularly partisan that are interested in seeing a fresh face like Gov. Palin on the ticket.”
But according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, “81 percent of Democrats and like-minded independents who favored Clinton said they now back Obama.”
Assemblyman Michael Doherty said he would need to reserve judgment on Palin until he learned where she stands on foreign policy. “I don’t know what she brings to the table regarding that issue. We’ll have to see.”
Imagine that — Mike Doherty stands out as the lone voice of sanity. Only in my wildest nightmares. Of course that was before he was informed about Alaska’s geographic proximity to Canada and Russia.
Former U.S. Rep. Dick Zimmer called Palin a “strong fiscal conservative [who] stood up against wasteful pork-barrel politics when she killed Alaska’s infamous ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ that was promoted by Senator Ted Stevens and supported by Senator Frank Lautenberg.” State Sen. Leonard Lance added: “Governor Palin is a principled and proven reformer who has fought against wasteful spending and pork barrel politics.”
Both statements are untrue. The non-partisan factcheck.org notes Palin hired the former chief of staff of the recently-indicted Stevens to successfully lobby for $27 million in pork for Wasilla, “which had not previously received significant federal funds.” She then supported the “Bridge to Nowhere” while running for governor, saying she “would not stand in the way of the progress toward that bridge.” As governor, she took the money that could have been used on the bridge and spent it on other projects.
Now put down your glass of milk. Here’s a bonus pre-Palin Lance prediction: “It’s clear Sen. McCain is going to carry both New Jersey and New York.” Spectacular.
“New Jersey is going to love Sarah Palin,” predicted state GOP chair Tom Wilson. “She is everything that Jon Corzine isn’t. She is a straight talking fiscally conservative reformer who has fought corruption, attacked wasteful government and delivered real results.”
All the talking points wrapped up into one neat statement, but none of them true. Palin increased spending, violated state ethics law, hired lobbyists to bring home pork, supported massive amounts of wasteful federal spending, and blatantly lies about her record almost daily even after she’s called on it.
To be fair, they weren’t the only ones who misjudged Palin. At the time I wrote: “Her religious fundamentalism and ideology aside, Palin appears to be a smart, tough and relatively accomplished politician.”
I was definitely wrong about her being tough. In two months she’s held as many press conferences as Joe the plumber did in a week (one) — and that’s only if you count the Tina Fey skit on SNL this weekend.
Instead, Palin’s been hidden away from tough questions like a “delicate flower.” That might be attractive to a segment of the Republican base that believes she’s doing this to take on the “liberal media,” but it’s frightening to everyone else who is looking for the most basic assurances that she is capable of serving as president. It’s why for the first time in a long time, the vice presidential pick could impact how people vote. Even if they like her personally, most people are not convinced that she is capable of serving as president, and realistically, that’s a non-starter given McCain’s age.
Juan Melli is Politicker.com’s associate editor.