Sep 14, 2008

Sarah's secret life

The New York Times ran a lengthy story yesterday on Sarah Palin's governing style. The picture the story paints is one reminiscent of the ugly power grabs that have gone on over the last decade in the cities surrounding Los Angeles, as ambitious partisans ride into office on the crest of changing demographics and then begin to sweep out anyone not loyal to their partisan cause:
In 1997, Ms. Palin fired the longtime city attorney, Richard Deuser, after he issued the stop-work order on a home being built by Don Showers, another of her campaign supporters.
As new partisans try to cement their power, they sometimes find it more comfortable to surround themselves with friends:
The Wasilla High School yearbook archive now doubles as a veritable directory of state government. Ms. Palin appointed Mr. Bitney, her former junior high school band-mate, as her legislative director and chose another classmate, Joe Austerman, to manage the economic development office for $82,908 a year. Mr. Austerman had established an Alaska franchise for Mailboxes Etc.
Surrounded by friends, a desire for secrecy can start to creep in as the new partisans try to keep their friends shielded from criticism and their critics out of the conversation:
While Ms. Palin took office promising a more open government, her administration has battled to keep information secret. Her inner circle discussed the benefit of using private e-mail addresses. An assistant told her it appeared that such e-mail messages sent to a private address on a “personal device” like a BlackBerry “would be confidential and not subject to subpoena.”
In some cases, the culture of secrecy begins to dissolve as the new partisans become secure in their leadership and turn to policy-making. In other cases, insecurity builds and secrecy becomes a way to rationalize decision-making and squash dissent. In the echo chamber secrecy produces, derision builds for those outside of the inner circle:
The administration’s e-mail correspondence reveals a siege-like atmosphere. Top aides keep score, demean enemies and gloat over successes. Even some who helped engineer her rise have felt her wrath.
Unless there is a change of course, secrecy finally finds its way into decision-making. It becomes a shortcut to pesky deliberations that slow your path to getting what you want. It shields you from unwelcome opinions:
Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska professor, sought the e-mail messages of state scientists who had examined the effect of global warming on polar bears. (Ms. Palin said the scientists had found no ill effects, and she has sued the federal government to block the listing of the bears as endangered.) An administration official told Mr. Steiner that his request would cost $468,784 to process.

When Mr. Steiner finally obtained the e-mail messages — through a federal records request — he discovered that state scientists had in fact agreed that the bears were in danger, records show.

“Their secrecy is off the charts,” Mr. Steiner said.

The population of Alaska is about 670,000. That's about twice the size of the city of Riverside. So it's no surprise that the nuances of close-combat city politics would creep into the governor's mansion in Alaska. The question is whether Palin would replicate this level of secrecy in the White House.

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