Sarah Palin: An Outsider in the White House?

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?

Libertarian Republican?

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.

Maverick Outsider?

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.

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