When John McCain announced half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate, the American public let out a collective, “Who?” But small-government activists have been well-acquainted with Ms. Palin since at least two years ago, when she began her long-shot candidacy to defeat a corrupt governor from her own party.
Palin was a political outsider within Alaska—a state whose insiders are outsiders on the national scene. She has been described as a “libertarian Republican,” a “true fiscal conservative” and a “maverick,” but do any of these descriptions hold up to scrutiny?
Palin was endorsed by the Libertarian Party of Alaska in her 2006 bid for governor, and she went out of her way to thank the LP in her victory speech. As mayor of Wasilla, she reportedly spoke to two Libertarian Party meetings in 2004 and 2005. And in 2008, she had positive things to say about the presidential candidacy of libertarian icon Ron Paul. All of this has led the media to dub Sarah Palin a “libertarian Republican,” but is this an accurate classification?
Well, libertarians are generally thought to be liberal on social issues. To say Sarah Palin is a social conservative would be a bit of an understatement—she’s a tad to the right of Queen Isabella. Palin is anti-abortion, she opposes same-sex marriage and, ironically, as governor she endorsed abstinence-only sex education for Alaskan teens.
True Fiscal Conservative?
Okay, so Sarah Palin isn’t a libertarian by conventional standards, but is she a “true fiscal conservative”? Well, in 2007, she slashed the state budget by 10% and vetoed more than $268 million in spending bills. As the governor of a small state, Palin has been forced to make tough fiscal choices, and she “seems to operate from a small-government mindset,” says the Cato Institute’s Jeff Patch, who cautions that her record also features some economic “heresies.”
What are some of these “heresies”? As mayor of Wasilla, Palin raised taxes and still left the town $20 million in debt by the time she left office. As governor, she supported the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” a national symbol of the fiscal recklessness of the Republican Congress, although she eventually axed the project due to cost overruns. Palin signed a $1.5 billion tax hike on oil production, and worst of all, she has spoken favorably of the concept of “windfall profits taxes.”
Sarah Palin’s record on fiscal issues is a lot better than McCain’s and infinitely superior to either half of the Obama-Biden ticket, but is she a true fiscal conservative? Not unless you set the bar pretty low.
The biggest knock against Sarah Palin is that she lacks experience. But the founding fathers envisioned a nation governed by citizen-politicians a lot more like Palin than John McCain or Joe Biden. What have career politicians given us but a $10 trillion national debt, higher taxes and inflation and extra-constitutional monstrosities like the Patriot Act? There are plenty of people who think having a “maverick outsider” in the White House would be a good thing, but does Palin really fit the bill?
In addition to her support for and from the Libertarian Party, Palin and her husband have also flirted with the secessionist Alaska Independence Party. “Secession” is the ultimate dirty word to the political establishment, both left and right, so to the extent that she still has any sympathy for the AIP or its agenda, her claim of being an outsider has validity. But as popular libertarian and pro-secession blogger Lew Rockwell wrote, Palin’s GOP convention speech touted “nationalism, militarism, welfarism, and right-wing collectivism,” values entirely in line with the Republican Party mainstream.
A Vote for McCain Is a Vote for Palin?
John Adams, our first vice president, said this of his role in that office: “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.”
While it’s true that John McCain’s age and health history enhances the odds that Palin could become president in the next four years, banking on McCain’s death is a rather cynical strategy to employ in the voting booth. Realistically, a vote for McCain-Palin is a vote for McCain, and any impact that Palin might have on a McCain administration would be entirely at McCain’s discretion—Palin would in no way be a “check” on McCain unless he wanted her to be.
It could be argued that a McCain victory makes Palin the frontrunner in 2012 should McCain, as expected, choose not to seek re-election. This much is true, though one has to wonder how much of an outsider Palin would be after four years in the belly of the Washington beast. If she could somehow hold on to her integrity and values for an entire term as vice president, she would not only be a great candidate for president, she’d be a great candidate for sainthood.
By the time November rolls around, Americans will have heard more economic numbers crunched in more creative ways than anyone ever would have imagined possible. That’s the mathematical formula for recreating any candidate in the image of a populist hero: numbers and more numbers. Bury ‘em in numbers, and if they start asking questions, well, pull out some more numbers!
While Mark Twain’s infamous line about “liars, damn liars, and statistics” is more than apt here, it’s also true that sometimes numbers tell a story more powerfully than any orator. Such is the case with a pile of numbers put together in an article in the New York Times by Princeton economist Alan Binder, who took the time to discover that, statistically speaking, during the period from 1948 through 2007, the U.S. economy grew faster under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents. (See chart below right.)
Binder reports that “data for the whole period from 1948 to 2007, during which Republicans occupied the White House for 34 years and Democrats for 26, show average annual growth of real gross national product of 1.64 percent per capita under Republican presidents versus 2.78 percent under Democrats.” He continues that that statistical difference between parties of 1.14 points, “…if maintained for eight years, would yield 9.33 percent more income per person, which is a lot more than almost anyone can expect from a tax cut.”
In other words, what Binder is not-so-subtly suggesting is that if Americans had stayed with Democratic economic policies instead of experimenting with Republican supply-side theories, ordinary people would be a lot better off financially today: specifically, 9.33% better off. While hindsight is always 20/20, these numbers are interesting to say the least. And what’s more, they only tell half of the story.
The other half of the story, the half you may have heard much more about, is that income inequality has been steadily growing over the last 30 years, largely as a result of Republican economic policies. While the original idea was something to the effect of: more money at the top will result in more jobs and eventually more money for everyone; we know that in practice what has happened is that more money has simply floated to the top and stayed at the top. Real wages are falling, jobs are moving overseas, the middle class lifestyle that once flourished during the manufacturing era is showing signs of critical strain.
What’s worse, the trend is strengthening.
In 1947 the median family income in the U.S. was $23,400. By 2007 it had (roughly) doubled to $50,233, after hitting a pinnacle of $58,400 in 2005. During that same time period, the income of the top one tenth of one percent of all households has soared from $2 million to over $10 million. So, while the family smack in the middle of the census tables saw a doubling, more or less, of household income, the family at the very top 1/10th of 1% saw household income increase fivefold.
According to an AP article released on Labor Day, “all the data that Wall Street has seen lately seems to be pointing to a dual economy, one in which businesses are generally faring better than consumers.” The article continues, stating, “Evidence of this divergent economy keeps building — the average consumer is suffering, but business spending, particularly abroad, appears to be keeping the U.S. economy from sinking severely, even as the financial sector continues to struggle.”
In other words, yet another batch of numbers seem to show that U.S. businesses are holding up because exports and investment overseas are going well. Consumers, who have seen their jobs go overseas with all that corporate investment, are hurting. The fact that business has been able to thrive and prop up the economy while Americans wither on the vine is disturbing to say the least. That raw fact raises difficult questions about the capacity for the free market to self-regulate in ways that are not severely harmful to the U.S. populace at large. The mantra of the free market is sounding more and more hollow; and for sure it isn’t helpful at the grocery store or the pump these days.
If healthy businesses do not create healthy families, plentiful jobs, and consumers with money to spend, what interest should working Americans take in keeping business healthy? At the very least, the latest statistics indicate that issues of free trade, fair wage and labor laws, bankruptcy, and health are urgently in need of review and probably reform. The similarities to the the Depression era are striking.
The U.S. is not facing another Great Depression, or that, at least, is the consensus among experts. However, the U.S. working family is facing a painful protracted period of declining wages, increasing costs, and seeming governmental indifference.
When rhetoric, ad campaigns, and punditry grow tiresome (and do they ever), sometimes it helps to look at the numbers and ask yourself, am I voting my own interest? Am I better off than I was ten years ago? More and more Americans know the answer to that question without even having to think about it. They don’t need Alan Binder to prove it to them statistically, but it’s nice to know he can.
Recently I was aboard an international flight when they asked if a doctor or healthcare professional was on board. It was in the middle of a 12-hour flight, and the cabin was dim, and nearly everyone was asleep. I happened to hear the overhead call that a healthcare professional was needed and, per usual, hesitated for a few minutes to see if anybody was getting up. As I did not see anyone get up, I got out of my seat and informed the stewardess that I was a doctor and could help.
They had not found a healthcare professional yet and asked me to see a passenger in the back cabin. Luckily the passenger was merely having a bout of food poisoning. She had some diarrhea and vomiting while onboard the flight and had stomach pain. She appeared stable with good pulses and had abdominal discomfort. She had no history of prior surgeries and had never had her appendix removed. She made it through the flight with some discomfort until the paramedics greeted her at the gate.
This is not an often occurrence for me. However, these things do happen to doctors everyday. Although there are laws that protect us from malpractice, called “Good Samaritan Laws,” whenever I hear that call for help, my initial reaction is to do nothing. Then I feel guilty that I am doing nothing and someone may be dying or in serious medical need.
Everyday doctors are faced with internal struggle about how best to manage patients and their situations. Although we are all capable of being first responders, we do not necessarily have to be first responders. What we should do is always direct people to emergency responders and to places where they can get their definitive care. When there is a patient who needs emergent medical care, but we are not prepared to give it, we must direct them to someone who can.
Non-medical people might not understand how a doctor can sit by and not get engaged in an emergency situation. If this were the case, then we would not need emergency personnel or paramedics. The emergency response system is there for a reason. If I get into an accident, I certainly would not want some random doctor not trained in emergency care to look after me.