What Is 'The Tragedy of Sarah Palin'?

An article so titled in the June issue of the Atlantic is composed in an interesting new key of Palin attack. The author, the unabashedly liberal journalist Joshua Green, doesn’t do the usual cheap jokes nor dismiss Palin as a ninny or a figurehead; instead he respectfully reviews her accomplishments in Alaska, where he spent a week reporting, and supposes that she could have been a welcome figure on the national stage (to people like Joshua Green, at least) if only she had continued down the same path she trod in Juneau. Which Green says was a path of raising taxes and remaining silent on social issues.

In other words: Sarah Palin is secretly and heroically a liberal, and it’s a shame she can’t acknowledge that.

Green explains that there is only one important industry in Alaska: oil. “Oil taxes supply almost 90 percent of the general revenue, so oil is the central arena of state politics.” Republicans, Green says, tend to let oil companies dictate oil policy, whereas Democrats call for more oversight and taxation of big oil. Palin, of course, came to prominence by unseating then-Gov. Frank Murkowski in a Republican primary by opposing his crony-capitalist plan for dealing with the oil companies. Then she raised oil taxes, against the opposition of her own party, by allying with the Democrats.  A Democratic state senator is quoted as praising her “moral courage.” Alaska came out of the affair with a AAA bond rating and a $12 billion budget surplus.

Yet as Green also notes, Alaska’s politics are much to the right of the nation’s, and even an Alaska Democrat rates as considerably more oil-friendly than most of his counterparts in Washington. Moreover, the notion that nationally prominent Republicans are advocating Murkowski-style sweetheart deals for oil is mere liberal paranoia.

What really stings Green is that she was the first, and remains the best, at demolishing and mocking the absurd mythology of Barack Obama. Wisely, Green does not quote at length anything Palin said at her uproarious, galvanizing and tremendously successful 2008 Republican National Convention address. To quote her words would be too hurtful to an Obama lover. Green calls the speech a “full-throated assault on Barack Obama, rooted in deep cultural resentment....what resonate are her charges that Obama wanted to ‘forfeit’ the war in Iraq and that he condescended to ‘working people’ with talk of ‘how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns.’”

Green provides no evidence that “cultural resentment” (code for racism, I suppose, but if Green wants to call her a racist he should be a man about it and say so; his subject, after all, has done us all the favor of never mincing words) rather than a difference in political philosophy was behind her remarks, but then liberals invariably grow queasy when ideals are in play. They’d much rather retreat to name calling: “Down with racists! I mean, cultural resenters!”