Joshua Green’s Atlantic Monthly story on Sarah Palin’s brief stewardship of Alaska posits that, her reputation as an ill-tempered halfwit notwithstanding, she left her state in impressive fiscal health, thanks to an oil tax for which she collaborated with state Democrats and was opposed by Lisa Senator Murkowski and the plutocrats which have run Alaska since statehood. But even with these successes, Green writes, Palin can’t exorcise Palin:
Palin seems to have been driven by a will to advance herself and by a virulent animus against anyone who tried to impede her. But this didn’t prevent her from being an uncommonly effective governor, while she lasted. On the big issues, at least, she chose her enemies well, and left the state in better shape than most people, herself included, seem to realize or want to credit her for. It’s odd that someone so preoccupied with her image hasn’t gotten this across better. And it raises the question of what she could have achieved.
“The thing that strikes me again and again is that she was so single-minded when she got here,” Gregg Erickson, a former senior state economist and co-founder of the Alaska Budget Report, an influential political newsletter, told me. “The problem with amateurs in politics is that they often lack that focus. She had it. She was terrible at running a staff, and given that, it’s amazing she was successful. But on the issues she made the focus of her administration—the oil tax and the gas line—she had good staff, listened to them, and backed them up. She was a transformative governor, no question. If it hadn’t been for her stunning ability to confuse personal interests and her role as governor, she could have gone on to be tremendously successful.”
Green’s most sobering conclusion:
Palin’s achievement was to pull Alaska out of a dire, corrupt, enduring systemic crisis and return it to fiscal health and prosperity when many people believed that such a thing was impossible. She did this not by hewing to any ideological extreme but by setting a pragmatic course, applying a rigorous practicality to a set of problems that had seemed impervious to solution. She challenged supposedly inviolable political precepts, and embraced more-nuanced realities: Republicans sometimes must confront powerful business interests; to govern effectively, you have to cooperate with the other side; you sometimes must raise taxes to balance a budget; and doing these things can actually enhance rather than destroy your career, whatever anybody says.
I have written enough about how the Palin presence in political discourse represents boom times for liberal sanctimony — a woman who descends from the mountain to suffer martyrdom. I’ll accept responsibility for aiming an arrow.