Politics

Palin More Reform-Minded than Obama?

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In an otherwise by-the-numbers pro-Sarah Palin editorial, The Wall Street Journal makes one very interesting point:

Mr. Obama rose through the Chicago Democratic machine without a peep of push-back. Alaska’s politics are deeply inbred and backed by energy-industry money. Mr. Obama slid past the kind of forces that Mrs. Palin took head on.

Palin became Alaska’s governor not by cozying up to the established powers in her party but by challenging the corruption of those established powers. She beat former Republican Governor Frank Murkowski in a primary mainly by calling-out Murkowski on a corrupt, sweet-heart pipeline deal he supported.

Obama, meanwhile, won his seat in the Illinois Senate by playing a bit of procedural hardball and forcing all his opponents off the ballot for improper signature gathering. You could claim that’s “fighting corruption” but there’s no evidence in Obama’s career to suggest he’s made any subsequent effort to reform signature gathering. His maneuver was tough Chicago politics, plain-and-simple.

But saying Obama has no reformist past is incorrect. As a young state legislator, he took on the role of ethics reform point man and helped pass key reforms including ones aimed at decreasing the influence of lobbyists. His ethics-focus was not exactly popular with his colleagues and not the kind of role you’d expect a young politician to take if he is simply “moving up through the system.” In the U.S. Senate, Obama has also made ethics reform one of the few focuses of his short tenure.

Palin, for her part, is undoubtedly a politician unafraid of challenging the status quo – probably more so than Obama who strikes me as inclined to compromise (on the Farm Bill, on wire-tapping, on offshore drilling) rather than directly challenge established interests. But we know Obama, just by virtue of being from a different party than the current president, will change things in Washington. Palin and, of course, McCain still have to convince us they will deliver Republican leadership substantially different from what we’ve received from George Bush and his administration.

A reformist past is nice. Plans for future reform are even better.