Palin takes real risk for real change

Eric Kohn Sep. 14, 2008, 10:30am

Eric Kohn

That Barack Obama and his entire campaign can't stop taking about Sarah Palin only serves to demonstrate John McCain's deft savvy in selecting her as his running mate.

Once McCain shocked the world – and especially the Washington chattering class – by picking the Alaska governor, the immediate response from the Obama campaign was both dismissive and insulting.

Obama's media flack Bill Burton quipped that McCain had "put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency."

Burton's statement fails to acknowledge that Palin has served two remarkably successful years at her state's helm, earning approval ratings in the 80 percent range. That's something we can't quite relate to here in the land of Rod "12 Percent" Blagojevich, the nation's least popular governor.

But even beyond that, Burton's crack about Palin now being "a heartbeat away from the Presidency" only serves to beg this question of Democrats: "Have you looked at your candidate lately?" That McCain is able to run a television ad comparing the resumes of his VP pick and the Democrats' presidential nominee speaks volumes.

Palin may be a heartbeat away from assuming Commander-in-Chief duties, but Obama is now only a ballot election away. While McCain's heart MIGHT stop in the next four years, we know that Election Day WILL happen.

But while the battle over experience will wage on, it's the juxtaposition of Sarah Palin's political story with that of Obama that highlights a startling difference in their political courage.

Even prior to being elected governor, Palin showed she wasn't afraid to rile her own party. In 2003, she resigned from the state's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, frustrated by a fellow commissioner's "lack of ethics."

Palin filed a formal complaint against that commissioner – who just so happened to be Alaska GOP Chairman Randy Ruedrich – accusing him of conflict of interest in working with a company he was supposed to be regulating, as well as doing political work on public time. Ruedrich resigned his seat on the board and paid a record $12,000 fine while admitting his ethical lapses.

Palin would rile her party again by endorsing a good-government challenger against pork-barreling, 18-term incumbent GOP Congressman Don Young.

Clearly, Palin isn't afraid to shake things up.

But the same cannot be said of Barack Obama. And it's not as if Chicago and Illinois don't have their fair share of corruption.

In 2006, Democrat Cook County Commissioner Forrest Claypool mounted a reform bid against County Board President John Stroger, a paragon of patronage and corruption. In addition to being good friends, Claypool and Stroger shared another significant connection: Claypool's campaign guru was top Obama strategist David Axelrod.

The stage was set. Obama – arguably the most popular Democrat in the country – could aid his friend Claypool in reforming a region legendary for corruption. With Obama preaching a message of "change"
and "reform," it seemed like a no-brainer.

But Obama remained silent in the primary at a time when his overwhelming popularity could have easily helped put Claypool over the top.

John Stroger would defeat Claypool a week after suffering a severe stroke. Following a four-month absence from the public eye and a public relations odyssey, Stroger dropped out of the race and Chicago Democrat bosses gathered to pick a new nominee.

Their choice? Stroger's overwhelmingly underwhelming son, Todd Stroger.

After this nauseatingly nepotistic selection that the Chicago Sun-Times dubbed "the kind of politics that gives outrage a bad name,"
could the "reformer" Obama back the younger Stroger? No possible way, right?


On the eve of the 2006 election, Obama held a rally for Todd Stroger and endorsed him, calling him "a good, progressive Democrat."

If ignoring rampant waste and corruption and adding his friends and family to the county payroll define a "good, progressive Democrat," Stroger hasn't disappointed.

In a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune, Obama remarked, "I know that there are those like [Tribune columnist] John Kass who would like me to decry Chicago politics more frequently, and I'll leave that to his editorial commentary."

And then there are those like Sarah Palin who don't leave such matters as corruption to "editorial commentary." They risk their political necks to bring about, what's the word, "change."

That's something that can't be said about Barack Obama.

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