Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Maestro of Petropolitics (by Phila)

It's bothered me lately to see people on the left attacking Sarah Palin's "inexperience" though her stance on abortion, or same-sex marriage, or environmental protection would be more palatable if only she'd been governor for ten years, instead of two. It's a classic example of arguing within the right's frame, and it plays into their attempt to paint Palin as an uncorrupted outsider who'll shake up an ossified, elitist establishment.

I'm not surprised, of course. The left rarely misses an opportunity to live up to the right's charges of "elitism." Amazingly, there are still people who get righteously indignant when conservative politicians mispronounce words or mangle basic facts. I guess these people missed the last 28 years, during which one bumbling, invincibly ignorant, malapropism-spewing authoritarian after another was sworn in as president after defeating candidates who could speak intelligently, in complete sentences, about important subjects.

This isn't simply a matter of unsophistication or stupidity. It's a badge of honor that reinforces the GOP's brand, and gives voters the pleasant impression that they're not all that different from the person who seeks to rule them. Mockery of such a candidate, by people who seem to be comfortable and well educated, amounts to mockery of the voters themselves. Liberal rhetoric, too often, effectively demands that voters self-identify as failures and dupes (instead of keeping up appearances at all costs, as frightened and threatened people are naturally inclined to do). You might as well ask people to parade down Main Street in dunce caps.

Anyway, Palin has plenty of experience and skill, but it's of a highly specified type, as Michael Klare explains:
In the clinical terminology of political science, Alaska is a classic "petrostate." That is, its political system is geared toward the maximization of oil "rents"--royalties and other income derived from energy firms--to the neglect of all other economic activities. Such polities have an inherent tendency toward corruption because of the close ties that naturally develop between government officials and energy executives and because oil revenues replace taxation as a source of revenue (Alaska has no state income tax), insulating officials from the scrutiny of taxpayers....

The question thus arises: how does Palin's experience as a maestro of petropolitics bear on her candidacy for vice president? To begin with, it should be clear that she has nothing in common with the leaders of any other state. Although it is true that Texas produces more oil per day than Alaska, Texas is no longer a petrostate, since its economy has become so much more diversified. Alaska is virtually alone in possessing a large (oil-supplied) state budget surplus--now about $5 billion--at a time when most states and the federal government are facing massive deficits and citizen groups are rising up in fury at the prospect of budget cuts. Palin is simply unqualified to deal with the demanding economic realities of any nation that is not a petrostate.
Depends what you mean by "unqualified." In Palin's circles, the way to deal with "demanding economic realities" is to profit from them personally and politically, while blaming any negative outcome on people who are unpopular with their voters. If anything, someone who runs a petrostate needs to have a greater talent for scapegoating, identity politics, and distraction than the average politician. Palin's ample experience is demonstrated by the fact that despite everything, she and McCain still have more than a slight chance of winning.