The Most Frightening Type Of Change

While listening to the criticism of Sarah Palin, I’ve paid attention to the things she is criticized for — and, in some way, even more closely to the things that are not brought up. And that, often, says more about the critics than what they do say.

To me, one of Palin’s most powerful credentials is how she has handled corruption within Alaskan government. After losing the race for Lieutenant Governor, she was offered a “consolation prize” as chair of the Alaska Oil And Gas Commission, as well as its Ethic Supervisor.

That was, apparently, meant to mollify her and keep her out of trouble. The problem was, she actually took it seriously. So seriously, she led an investigation into the chairman of the Alaskan Republican Party that ultimately cost him $12,000 in fines for conducting party business on the state dime. She also forced the resignation of the state’s Republican attorney general.

That didn’t go over so well, so the good-old-boy network decided to force her out. And they did — but that was probably the dumbest thing they could have done. (Almost as dumb as giving her that job in the first place.) She went, but she didn’t go quietly — her letter of resignation detailed just how much corruption she had uncovered, but hadn’t managed to resolve.

And she named names.

Suitably fired up, she then ran for governor against the incumbent Republican, Frank Murkowski, the very powerful former Senator. And in a very nasty primary, she won over half the votes in a five-way race that Murkowski himself came in third with less than 20 percent of the vote.

From there, she took on the Democrat, former governor Tony Knowles by over seven and a half point.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it here: to become governor, Palin had to take out both a sitting governor and a former governor — in the same year. And she did it.

She also led to major overhauls in government ethics and disclosure, reaching across the aisle, drawing together Republicans and Democrats to pass one of the strictest ethics laws in the nation.

As popular as reformers are with the people, they are anathema to most career politicians and partisan hacks. Their party mates fear that the reformer will draw a target on them, and worry about them becoming “loose cannons.”

It’s the members of the opposing party, though, that have an even more interesting attitude towards reformers. And that’s the insight Palin has given me.

(For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to use Palin as a specfic example. The converse holds true, but saying the following in a generic sense makes for cumbersome phrasing. Feel free to substitute a Democratic reformer for Palin, and reverse the parties in the following.)

The first reaction of the Democratic machine to someone like Palin has to be fear. After all, look at what she did to members of her own party. What sorts of restraint would she show towards Democrats?

The second reaction, though, is far more subtle and subversive, and escaped me until recently. Another reason the most partisan Democrats fear and resent Palin is that she is taking away their favorite toys.

They’ll never admit it, but the most partisan hacks of both parties LOVE IT when a member of the opposition is tainted with scandal. They love having that figure to constantly point at, to refer to, to mock and deride the corrupt pol and those associated with him or her, for as long as they can.

You want examples? Look at the most common names when it comes to political corruption and malfeasance. Representative William Jefferson. Jack Abramoff. Ted Kennedy. Duke Cunningham. Kwake Kilpatrick. Bob Ney. Bill Clinton.

For all the denouncements they collect, they serve a critical role for their political opponents as convenient punching bags and constant reminders that the other side can be horribly corrupt and venal and vile.

Well, Palin ruined that for her opponents in Alaska. She took on — and took out — the state’s attorney general, the chairman of the party, and the sitting governor. She took them off the board, depriving Democrats of the opportunity to use them against her, and Republicans in general. Her cleaning the Republicans’ house took away one of the Democrats’ favorite tactics.

And that’s what happens with reformers: they are a brutally Darwinian force in politics, tearing away at the weaker elements of their own party. But after the wounds they inflict heal, and end up stronger than they were before. And that is something that the most partisan people fear: while they revel in the exposure of corruption in their opponents, the last thing they want is for the corrupt to be purged. They want them to stick around, to continue being a festering open wound that will drain the strength and vitality of their opposition.

That, far more than anything else, explains just why so many Democratic party apparatchiks and activists and apologists fear people like Sarah Palin. And that is the reason that they will never confess to, because it reveals their true nature: how they almost always put party ahead of principle.

That’s the attitude Sarah Palin found when she was fobbed off on the Oil and Gas Commission, and found she was expected to “go along to get along.” She didn’t play that game now, and she shows no sign of being willing to play it now.

So that is why she must be stopped, at any cost. And that is why you will never, never, never hear the real reason from her staunchest critics — because she represents what they fear most.

Is it a valid fear? Is she really the champion riding to Washington on a white charger? (Or, perhaps, a white snow machine?) I don’t think so. I think she, like most people, is human, and while she has a particular bee in her bonnet for political corruption, that is not her sole purpose in life. She has other issues and priorities, and occasionally puts her attention on those as well.

But she could be that kind of nightmare, and that mere potential is more than sufficient to scare the crap out of some of her opponents.

And some of her nominal allies.

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