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Opinion: Sarah Palin's Beautiful, Socialist Alaska

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Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin speaks at a Tea Party Express rally on September 5, 2011 at Veteran's Memorial Park in Manchester, New Hampshire.

The only question about Sarah Palin is the one that never really goes away.  Was she qualified?  We got yet another comment on the matter Sunday, when former Vice President Dick Cheney told ABC News that the selection of Alaska's former governor had been 'a mistake.' 

"I like Governor Palin," Cheney said. "I've met her. I know her. She's an attractive candidate. But based on her background, she'd only been governor for, what, two years. I don't think she passed that test ... of being ready to take over,"

Just for a second, let’s forget about all the peripheral stuff that gets forced into the argument every time Sarah Palin’s name or career is brought up. Let’s forget the movie on HBO, let’s forget about the interviews with Katie Couric, let’s forget about the winking and the northern colloquialisms, let’s forget about Bristol and Levi and the hockey and the wolves and the helicopters and the rest of it, and let’s instead focus on a question that hardly gets asked at all when conservatives mention Sarah Palin.

How can any politician from Alaska, Republican or Democrat, put on a straight face and claim to be the epitome of conservative ideals? How can the governor of a state absolutely up to its hips in federal loot and absolutely dependent on said loot claim to want the government out of the lives of her fellow citizens? How can any Alaskan politician decry socialism and the redistribution of wealth while not making any move to stop the sanctioned redistribution of wealth that has been going on for decades in Alaska?

The narrative that everybody was fed about Sarah Palin in particular and Alaskans in general is that they are rugged individualists, scornful of government interference and indignant that any bureaucrat from Washington would try to stick their craws in where they don’t belong.  But Alaska has been very much a dependency state, receiving almost $2 for every  single tax dollar sent to the IRS.

In her first year in office as Governor, Alaska requested $550 million in federal money for projects. To her credit, she turned off the spigot somewhat during year two, with only $200 million worth of requests, but $750 million worth of federal money over two years doesn’t exactly say “rugged individualism” to me. Maybe she found religion between the second year of her term and the time she hired lobbyists to get $27 million worth of goodies for Wasilla when she was the mayor.

I don’t have a problem with states doing the earmark tango. It’s actually part of the job of politicians to do that sort of thing. States need money too, and sometimes they don’t have it. Not all earmarks are useless extravagancies. I’m sure that a lot of that federal money was put to good and admirable use, and word up to Alaska for getting what they needed. But don’t paint yourself as the model of independence from the Federal coffers when you run a state that clearly is not.

It also seemed particularly strange to hear Sarah Palin decry socialism and the redistribution of wealth when Alaska is the home of quite literally the only state-sanctioned wealth redistribution program in the country. Every year, Alaska citizens receive checks from the Alaska Permanent Fund, which takes oil revenue money and divvies it up amongst the citizens. Every Alaskan citizen, whether hard working or slothful, whether he’s a neurosurgeon or the guy that runs the Zamboni at the ice rink, gets around $1000 every year for simply living there. To quote Joe the Plumber, “That sounds like socialism to me.”

What steps did Sarah Palin take to stop this practice during her tenure as governor? As far as I can tell, none at all. Maybe she donated the checks her and her family received to charity or something, but wouldn’t a real gumption and bootstraps conservative at least make an attempt to end the Alaska Permanent Fund?

All of the personality-driven stuff about her did not and does not matter in the slightest. What matters is that she was put forward as the real conservative on the 2008 ticket, even though she governed her state in a manner that was about as conservative as a New Hampshire tofu co-op.