Riffing on Clint Eastwood's bizarre "empty chair" routine at the Republican National Convention, Sarah Palin sent a tweet accusing President Obama of an "Empty Chair Style of Leadership" with a link to a child's high chair.
That jab was classic Palin: scoring a political point with a gratuitous personal insult. It was also ironic, since Palin often faced similar criticism about her own leadership as governor.
After all, she was the woman who left her chair in the Alaska governor's office empty for the last 17 months of her term.
Even before she quit, legislators of both parties complained Palin was not sufficiently engaged in the normal day-to-day work a governor does with the legislature.
You might say legislators complained about her "empty chair" style of leadership.
When I was at the Anchorage Daily News, I helped produce an editorial saying this about Palin's leadership style:
Palin racked up her legislative victories even though her allies in the Legislature criticized her lobbying effort. Here at the Daily News, we repeatedly heard the complaint: The governor is missing in action; her staffers aren't working the halls the way they should be.
The New York Times offered a similar perspective shortly after she was nominated for vice president:
Democrats and Republicans alike describe her as often missing in action. During the last legislative session, some lawmakers became so frustrated with her absences that they took to wearing 'Where's Sarah?' pins.
The New Yorker found similar reactions, with this account from Palin's fellow Republican, senate president Lyda Green:
Green says Palin, unlike her predecessors -- Democrats and Republicans -- has ignored leaders in the legislature.
The newspaper in Alaska's capital, the Juneau Empire, reported this:
During a recent [summer 2008] special session called by Palin herself, she faced criticism from several legislators for not showing up personally to push for her agenda.
Andrea Doll, a Juneau Democrat in the state house, told the Empire, "At a time when her leadership was truly needed, we didn't know where she was."
I discuss more about Palin's hands-off 'leadership' style in my book about her time as governor, in a chapter entitled, "Where's Sarah?"
The link to a child's high chair in her tweet was a vintage Palin touch, the kind of zinger a smart-aleck teenager might deliver, provoking cackles of approval from her pals. As I write in a chapter entitled, "This May Sound Familiar from High School":
Alaskans did see signs of the political pettiness that would go on display in her memoir and her postings on Facebook and Twitter. As governor, she let personal considerations drive political decisions, treated political differences as a personal insult, and made a point of settling scores.
The New Yorker piece again cited Palin's fellow Republican, Senate President Lyda Green, this time saying that Palin "turned every policy disagreement . . . into a personal vendetta."
Palin's memoir, Going Rogue, is full of similar put-downs. Her arch-nemesis, the fiscally conservative, pro-oil Republican Andrew Halcro, is "an effete chap." Her former legislative lobbyist was a "BlackBerry games addict" who couldn't keep food off his tie and his shirt buttoned properly. She referred to a former Democratic ally as "Gunny," a jab based on a trumped-up Republican attack about how the former ally had described his military record.
While today's Palin, the conservative rock star, has left behind many of the more liberal parts of her record as governor, her 'empty chair' tweet shows one part of her persona that hasn't changed.
Matthew Zencey is author of the forthcoming book, "Unlikely Liberal: Sarah Palin's Curious Record as Alaska's Governor," from Potomac Books.
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