10/05/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Counter-Attack Leaves Palin's "Reformer" Image Intact

Outside of the liberal blogosphere, Democrats are responding gingerly to the challenge of attacking Sarah Palin directly. Instead, they"re largely tying Palin to failed McCain-Bush economic policies, but that's a strategy that leaves her maverick, reformer image intact and allows her charming, feisty persona to lure more voters. Once again, as in the failed presidential campaigns from Mondale through Kerry, Democrats are trying to win office based on appealing to the public on issues, while the Republicans are running on character and personality. Guess which approach usually wins?

What's Palin really like?

On the D"Antoni and Levine Show today, Alaska author Charles Wohlforth recounts how when he first met Palin, he didn't think she was up to the job -- of being mayor of Wasilla. He also points to abuses of power and her deceptive politicking on such issues as global-warming that makes her potentially "another Bush." And one secret of her popularity? He notes that one family gets $19,000 in oil resource funds and revenue, with added thousands for each of his children, a windfall that keeps many residents happy to see Palin in office -- instead of the government using those funds to invest in alternative energy or improved education and infrastructure. (You can find today's show and past segments here.

Palin's debut on the national stage is aided by the clever effort by the McCain camp to discredit all journalistic inquiry into her political career as the same as intrusive inquiries into her personal life and her daughter's pregnancy. And now, over 50% of the public agrees that reporters are trying to hurt Palin unfairly.

Some observers believe the focus of criticism should be on portraying her as an earmark-hustling political fixer, not a genuine reformer, as well as someone with extremist evangelical views that include banning abortions even for victims of rape and incest. That means, essentially, that she views rape and incest victims who have abortions as criminals who should be prosecuted.

Will the Obama campaign be willing to spend millions in ad dollars tearing down her appealing reformer and maverick image along with McCain's? Don't count on it. But in case they do go on the attack, here's some of the material they might draw on. (McCain's own flip-flop pattern is another line of attack that's rarely used by Democrats.) Some of Palin problems that may or not be driven home to the American public, as pulled together by such websites as TPM Muckraker, Think Progress and the National Jewish Democratic Council:

To be sure, Palin's claims to be a reformer aren't toally without merit. Before becoming governor, she went after the state GOP chair, Randy Ruedrich, for doing work for the party on public time and working closely with a company he was supposed to be regulating. She also filed a formal complaint against Attorney General Gregg Renkes for having investments in an energy company that stood to benefit from a state trade deal. Both Ruedrich and Renkes ultimately resigned their posts, and Ruedrich paid a $12,000 fine.

But let's look at the other side of the ledger. Both as mayor of Wasilla and as governor, Palin has aggressively sought federal earmarks, and has a friendlier relationship with indicted GOP senator Ted Stevens than one would expect for a good-government crusader. She has fired employees who she sees as disloyal. And, in a move reminiscent of the Bush-Cheney White House, she has stonewalled legitimate efforts by the legislature to uncover the truth in the Trooper-Gate affair.

Here's a sampling of reports that complicate Palin's reformist credentials:

* Last year, Palin requested more earmarks per person than any other state -- including some that were criticized by McCain himself.

* Even as mayor of Wasilla, Palin's pursuit of earmarks was aggressive. She oversaw the hiring of a Washington lobbyist -- who, as we reported yesterday, had ties to Jack Abramoff -- to go after federal pork.

* And though Palin touted her opposition to the "Bridge to Nowhere" just last week in her debut speech, she initially supported the project during her run for governor. It was only after the bridge became notorious as an example of pork barrel spending that she changed her position.

* In her run for governor, Palin was endorsed by now-indicted Sen. Ted Stevens. Video of the endorsement has been removed from her government website, but the two appeared together just two months ago at a press conference on energy. The friendly relationship between the embattled senator, who is accused of lying about gifts he recieved from an oil contractor, and the supposedly maverick governor is at odds with Palin's claim to dismantling the "old boys club" of Alaska government.

* As Wasilla mayor, Palin reportedly fired the police chief and attempted to fire the librarian, because she did not feel that she had their "full support in [her] efforts to govern the city of Wasilla." Former city officials allege that the attempts to remove the librarian were a result of her her refusal to censor books at Palin's request.

* Palin has been at the center of the Trooper-Gate scandal that alleges misuse of her gubernatorial power. The affair erupted in July when Palin fired the Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan. Monegan later claimed his firing was a result of his refusal to fire Palin's former brother-in-law and trooper Mike Wooten. Palin denied that she, her husband or her staff ever pressured Monegan, a statement she later had to retract when recorded phone calls revealed one of her aides, Frank Bailey, had called a troopers office pushing for Wooten's removal.

* Tonight, the Washington Post published emails from Palin to Monegan in which she appeared to complain that Wooten was still employed, apparently undercutting her claim that she discussed Wooten with Monegan only in the context of the security of her family.

* As a result of the Trooper-Gate allegations, an independent investigator has been appointed by the state legislature. In recent days, Palin has appeared to stonewall the probe. Her lawyer argued in a complaint filed last night that she wold not be made available for her deposition unless the probe were handed over to the state personnel board, whose members are appointed by the governor. Bailey, who had been suspended by Palin with pay for his actions, today backed out of his deposition.

* In a separate civil suit related to Wooten, Palin has claimed executive privilege on over a thousand emails between her and her staff, including Bailey.

On abortion, creationism and global-warming she has extreme beliefs not shared by most Americans, as pointed out by the National Jewish Democratic Council:

Palin believes that creationism should be taught in our public schools.

- Palin is against reproductive choice and is against abortion even in cases of rape and incest.

- Palin does not believe climate change is man-made.- Palin says she is against wasteful government spending, yet she endorsed the "bridge to nowhere" and then flip-flopped when it became a political liability.

Additionally, just last month, Palin was at her church, the Wasilla Bible Church, where she attended a speech by David Brickner, the Executive Director of Jews for Jesus. During the speech, Brickner described terrorist attacks on Israelis as God's "judgment of unbelief" of Jews who haven't embraced Christianity.

If she is such a supporter of Israel, why didn't she condemn Brickner's speech at the time?

Do we really want Palin to be one heartbeat away from the presidency?

And she's hardly the populist champion standing up to Big Oil:


Palin Is A Top Arctic Wildlife Refuge Drilling Advocate. Palin said she thinks McCain is "going to evolve into, eventually, supporting ANWR opening also" and "I'd like the opportunity to get to change his mind about ANWR." [Kudlow & Co., 6/25/08]

Palin Opposes Lieberman's Bill To Prevent Arctic Refuge Drilling. In a letter to Congress opposing the Arctic Wilderness Act (S. 2316), Palin wrote that "as a citizen of the United States" she believes "development [of the Refuge] should be authorized." [Letter to Sen. Akaka, 11/9/07]

Palin Dismisses Alternative Energy. Palin said that "Congress needs to lift the ban on drilling" because "alternative-energy solutions are far from imminent and would require more than 10 years to develop." [Charleston Post and Courier, 8/16/08]

Palin Believes It Is 'God's Will' To Build A Natural Gas Pipeline. Speaking to the Wasilla Assembly of God church in June, Palin said, "I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that," referring to a $30 billion national gas pipeline project. [Huffington Post, 9/2/08]

Palin's First Statewide Campaign Was Fueled By Veco. "While mayor of Wasilla, Palin ran for lieutenant governor in 2002. She gathered $5,000 -- or about 10 percent of her campaign fund -- from Veco officials or their wives along the way." [Anchorage Daily News, 9/6/06]

Palin's Inauguration Was Sponsored By BP. Beyond Petroleum Exploration Inc. is listed by the Alaska Inaugural Committee as a sponsor of Palin's 2007 Governor's Balls. [Alaska Inaugural Committee]

With the choice of Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) as his running mate, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is not backing down from oil drilling. Palin is a champion for drilling, the Bush-Cheney approach to energy policy that brought us $4.00-per-gallon gasoline and the rising threat of global warming.

Like McCain, Palin believes that oil drilling is the only solution to our energy problems. "I beg to disagree with any candidate who would say we can't drill our way out of our problem," she says. She supports more drilling in protected areas of the Outer Continental Shelf and the Alaska Natural Wildlife Refuge, once attacking McCain for his "close-mindedness on ANWR."

But the Department of Energy believes that offshore drilling "would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030." Moreover, about three-quarters of all the oil in public lands in the continental U.S. are already open to drilling - and yet only one quarter of this oil is under production. Opening the Arctic Refuge would cut gasoline prices by two cents in 17 years. For that, Palin would destroy the home of America's native polar bears. Not even T. Boone Pickens still thinks we can drill our way out of this crisis.

Palin rejects clean renewable energy that is an alternative to oil. Earlier this month, she claimed that "alternative-energy solutions are far from imminent and would require more than 10 years to develop."

Alaska has become the "poster state" for the threat of global warming as the climate gets hotter and dryer and sea levels rise. More than 100 towns are vulnerable due to eroding sea lines. Polar bears are threatened by the melting ice floas, and this month bears were spotted swimming as much as 50 miles offshore.

Nonetheless, like many other oil champions, Palin is skeptical of global warming. During her gubernatorial campaign, she said she was unconvinced about how much human emissions contribute to current global warming trends. Palin also opposes listing our polar bears as a threatened species because it could require action on climate change.

As Carl Pope of the Sierra Club says, "No one is closer to the oil industry than Governor Palin." Sarah Palin has taken positions that would ensure a continuation of the Bush-Cheney energy policies. She supports drilling everywhere and ignores the need for binding reductions in global warming pollution even though her state is melting. The continuation of these policies will continue higher energy costs, more severe hurricanes and droughts, and despoiled natural treasures.

So why is she continued to be portrayed as a maverick and a reformer -- and what will the Obama campaign do about undercutting that appealing image?