Monday, July 6, 2009

I'll Take "Objects Smarter Than Sarah Palin" For $200

[A big rock that sits along a trail in Ravenna Park, Seattle. Image credit: Cujo359]

Sarah Palin knows less about politics than this rock does, if her public statement on why she decided to resign as Alaska's governor is to be believed. As the Washington Post's Dan Balz explains:

Palin's explanation for stepping down was even more inexplicable. She described the abandonment of her duties almost in noble terms, saying that by leaving now she would avoid the temptation that she ascribed to others who have not run again.

"I thought about, well, how much fun some governors have as lame ducks," she said. "They maybe travel around their state, travel to other states, maybe take their overseas international trade missions. So many politicians do that. And then I thought, that's what is wrong. . . . They hit the road, they draw a paycheck, they kind of milk it, and I'm not going to put Alaskans through that."

That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the responsibilities of governing. Every president becomes a lame duck in his second term. The same for governors, since many are term-limited. Do they "milk it," as Palin put it, or do most continue working hard to the end to finish off their terms with real accomplishments?

Palin Opens Herself Up to Criticism

The answer to that rhetorical question is, yes, they can still do important work. A government executive doesn't become impotent when he is a lame duck. As Wikipedia explains:

Lame duck officials tend to have less political power, as other elected officials are less inclined to cooperate with them. However, lame ducks are also in the peculiar position of not facing the consequences of their actions in a subsequent election, giving them greater freedom to issue unpopular decisions or appointments.

Examples include last-minute midnight regulations issued by executive agencies of outgoing U.S. presidential administrations and executive orders issued by outgoing presidents. Such actions date back to the Judiciary Act of 1801 ("Midnight Judges Act"), in which Federalist President John Adams and the outgoing 6th Congress amended the Judiciary Act to create more federal judge seats for Adams to appoint and the Senate to confirm before the Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated and the Democratic-Republican majority 7th Congress convened.

Wikipedia: Lame Duck

[emphasis added]

It's harder for a lame duck to get legislation passed. It's harder to make some changes that require the cooperation of elected officials who intend to seek another term. There are still many things that a government executive can do. Here's what the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had to say about the lame duck term of Gary Locke, our most recent two-term governor (and our current Secretary of Commerce):

But 2003 was a turn-around of sorts. Many say that in shepherding the state through fiscal and political crises, Locke had his most successful year as governor. He won wide praise for his "Priorities of Government" budgeting process, which first identified critical services, then found money for them -- rather than simply adjusted previous budgets. Locke used the approach to help fill a $2.7 billion shortfall without major tax increases. But it caught him some grief among educators because it relied on suspending 2000's popular school spending initiatives.

Gary Locke: Fine-tuning a formula for success

This is certainly not high praise, but Locke's performance as a governor was not spectacular in any sense, good or bad. The year where he shined the most occurred when he decided not to run for governor again.

President Bush was certainly busy as a lame duck changing regulations and positioning his cronies. Maybe that's not as "fun" as enacting sweeping legislation, but many times even one term Presidents have had trouble with that. There are no guarantees.

There are many reasons to be appalled by the idea of Sarah Palin as President, but her ignorance of her world is what I find most appalling.

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