There are already a number of Republican candidates for President, but it is difficult to take most of them very seriously. For example, Newt Gingrich's staff quit en masse this past week, basically because of his comment that Paul Ryan's Medicare plan amounted to "right wing social engineering." Then, Steven Colbert destroyed Herman Cain's idea that Congress should only pass bills limited to 3 pages in length.
Many Republicans are likely hoping that more promising candidates will declare their intentions to pursue the presidency, such as former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin or Texas Governor Rick Perry.
This weekend, I read two interesting pieces about these politicians and came away somewhat surprised about their relative strengths and weaknesses.
Joshua Green has a fairly sympathetic story about Sarah Palin in the June 2011 Atlantic Monthly. As Green notes, Palin genuinely did face down special interests during her truncated term as Alaska governor. Specifically, she confronted oil companies by proposing and getting both a new gas pipeline ("bid out" without oil company cooperation under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act) and a new oil resource tax -- dubbed Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES). The latter has meant billions of dollars for the Alaskan Treasury, though Sean Parnell, the Republican Governor that followed Palin, is working to gut it. Palin seemed to support the oil tax because of a populist urge -- the oil belonged to Alaskans, but they were not getting their fair share.
Green points out that Republican legislators in Alaska were opposed to Palin's ACES plan, so she had to turn to Democrats to get a bill passed. And thanks to that effort, the resulting law was more progressive than the one she originally proposed (and Republicans already opposed). It generates more revenues because of a higher base rate and accelerates that rate more quickly when oil prices surge.
That actually sounds like the achievement of a bipartisan maverick.
By contrast, Bob Moser has a devastating story about Perry in the May 30, 2011, issue of The Nation. While Texas has significant oil resources, Texas under Perry's leadership has taken the standard Republican line these days -- business deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy (and for business), and a conservative social agenda. This has meant huge deficits followed by gutting public services -- $23 billion cut in this case, which is about a quarter of the state's spending.
Worse, in comparison to Palin, Perry's "tax swap" reform plan led directly to $5 billion in structural deficits. Moser even quotes some Republicans in Texas who think the state has gone too far. Critics have not been kind at all, referencing some very disturbing data:
It makes little sense that for all of Texas’ abundant wealth and corporate bling, the state would rank thirty-eighth in per student spending, forty-fifth in SAT scores, third in teen pregnancies and dead last in the percentage of adults with high school diplomas. “Texas is setting a new standard by setting new lows,” says East Texas blogger Susan DuQuesnay Bankston....Moser points to a Business Insider piece by Joe Wiesenthal and Gus Lubin that refers to Texas as "America's Ireland." It originally looked like neoliberal economics was going to create an impressive economic leader, but then the state's wealth collapsed.
“If you wanted to destroy an enemy,” says former Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby, a Democrat, “you would do exactly what the Republicans are doing to the State of Texas.”
One shouldn't read too much into this comparison of Palin and Perry. It is certainly possible that a President Perry could govern as a "uniter, not a divider." Moreover, Green's piece is called "The Tragedy of Sarah Palin" because the Fox News talking head has basically rejected all that she achieved in Alaska in order to build on the image she developed in the 2008 campaign -- as a hard-right Republican ideologue. She may occasionally refer to herself as a maverick, but she does not trump her record raising taxes or working with Democrats. Also, many other observers have noted her problems with the truth.
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