Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin: dope-smokin', straight-shootin' book burner?

I put Democratic VP hopeful Joe Biden under the microscope last week, so it's only fair that I give his counterpart, Sarah Palin, similar treatment on civil liberties issues.

Unfortunately, since Palin went directly from local office to the governorship without a stay in the legislature, she has no record of up-and-down votes on legislation to assess. That means no rating from the ACLU, among other things. But she has taken public positions we can examine.

On privacy, Palin bucked the Bush administration by allowing a bill to pass barring Alaska's compliance with the federal government's Real ID scheme to impose a national identification card (she allowed the bill to become law by default, dodging a formal challenge to the White House). "Alaska has joined a growing nationwide movement against Real ID, and by allowing this legislation to become law, Governor Palin has made Alaska the 9th state to pass a law prohibiting compliance," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU Technology and Liberty Program.

Palin opposes granting same-sex relationships the same formal recognition -- marriage -- as heterosexual relationships, but she did veto a bill that would have banned Alaska from giving benefits to same-sex couples. Rather than an act of respect for gays and lesbians this appears to be a simple acknowledgment that the bill was unconstitutional.

She's a drug warrior, as you'd expect from either major party these days, but she actually may be a bit less rabid about it than most politicians with national pretensions. When she was running for governor in 2006. the Anchorage Daily News reported:

Palin doesn't support legalizing marijuana, worrying about the message it would send to her four kids. But when it comes to cracking down on drugs, she says methamphetamines are the greater threat and should have a higher priority.

Palin said she has smoked marijuana -- remember, it was legal under state law, she said, even if illegal under U.S. law -- but says she didn't like it and doesn't smoke it now.

"I can't claim a Bill Clinton and say that I never inhaled."

Not surprisingly for an Alaskan, Palin has a history of supporting the right to bear arms and an A+ rating from the NRA. The gun rights organization boasts, "Gov. Sarah Palin would be one of the most pro-gun vice-presidents in American history, and Joe Biden would definitely be the most anti-gun."

It's probably no shocker that a candidate who opposes same-sex marriage is no fan of reproductive rights. During the 2006 governor's race, she was quoted on the issue:

The candidates were pressed on their stances on abortion and were even asked what they would do if their own daughters were raped and became pregnant. Palin said she would support abortion only if the mother's life was in danger. When it came to her daughter, she said, "I would choose life."

At least she walks the walk on her abortion position. Palin declined to terminate the pregnancy when she was told that her child would be born with Down Syndrome.

More troubling are reports that Palin may be weak in terms of respect for free speech. Time examined her record as mayor of Wasilla and reports:

Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.

Note, though, that the claims of attempted censorship have come from Palin's political opponents -- she defeated Stein to become mayor and the story has otherwise been spread by Anne Kilkenny, a Wasilla Democrat. I'd like to see stronger sources for those charges.

In fact, the hard-line social-conservative stances may have a strong element of posturing to them. The AP reports:

Palin's children attend public schools and Palin has made no push to have creationism taught in them.

Neither have Palin's socially conservative personal views on issues like abortion and gay marriage been translated into policies during her 20 months as Alaska's chief executive. It reflects a hands-off attitude toward mixing government and religion by most Alaskans.

"She has basically ignored social issues, period," said Gregg Erickson, an economist and columnist for the Alaska Budget Report.

Is that reassuring? In a cynical way, I think it is. Better a candidate who blows smoke up your butt on her authoritarianism than one who follows through. [Update: This is probably a bit unfair of me. Palin deserves praise, not snark, for refraining from jamming her personal views down people's throats.]

But this brings me back to what I wrote on August 26: "[A]ll those positions the candidates take mean very little until they've actually been tested and had to make some hard choices. When President Bush was put to the test, it turned out that legal niceties like due process, privacy and the humane treatment of prisoners didn't matter to him much at all. But we had no way of knowing that until he was put in a position to respond to a crisis."

We're talking about people who respond to the situations they're actually in, not just what has gone before. And we're talking about politicians, who are perfectly capable of saying one thing and doing another.

But we still have to play this game.

So where does Palin stand on the PATRIOT ACT, warrantless spying, military tribunals, Gitmo and other national civil liberties issues that have become so important in recent years?

We don't know yet. We'll have to watch as she gets pressed on these issues in the course of the election campaign.

And then we'll have to decide if her responses -- and those of Biden, Obama and McCain -- really tell us how the candidates will actually perform once they win office.

Update: By the way, while it's not related to civil liberties as such, I consider Palin's maybe/maybe not affiliation with the Alaska Independence Party to be a mark in her favor. It's encouraging to see a candidate break away from the Washington D.C.-worship that's endemic in the major parties.

Let's see, support local self-determination so that people can choose the government under which they live? Oh no! What a terrible idea.


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Anonymous Chad said...

What most people DO NOT realize is that she potentially is not merely the next Vice President, she could be the next President. Imagine a scenario where McCain is elected in November and the next day he keels over dead from his health and age issues. This is VERY likely, Palin is voted in as President, and now we have a 44 year old beauty pageant winner from the sticks in Alaska as our national leader. SHE is NOT qualified for this and it scares me to death to think that American policy is dictated by a woman that has more interest in how her daughter is raising her illegitimate child than how we as a nation are going to fix the tsunami of economic problems that are coming as we speak. McCain was quoted "She is either going to be a wild success or a spectacular failure."... WAIT!! Um, I am speechless! Is no one else concerned that this potentially spectacular failure may happen while she is president? I dont oppose a woman in the office, I have to say I MUCH prefer Hillary with Bill's experience behind her in the White House over someone who has been selling fishing licenses to eskimos for the past 10 years.

September 3, 2008 12:29 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...


Actually, I'm not terribly worried about Palin's qualifications. She is a state governor, after all -- and the fact that the state is Alaska, where government is considered skeptically is a mark in her favor. McCain, Obama and Biden have all spent their careers as legislators -- one among many. None of them are probably really qualified, in any real sense, for the demands of the presidency, but Palin may come the closest.

I also find Palin rather authentic as a human being compared to the others. The pregnant daughter, the small businesses ... These all make her life experiences rather more like those of the people I know than do the experiences of the senatorial trio. Her origins in "the sticks" are a net positive for me.

So I focus on her views. You can see my take on her civil liberties stances above. I'll look at economics and foreign police another time.

September 3, 2008 12:52 PM  

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