It’s official. Sarah Palin was found to have abused her authority in the firing of a public official who would not fire her state trooper ex-brother-in-law, according to the probe released Friday.
Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan refused to fire Trooper Michael Wooten, who was involved in a divorce and custody dispute with Palin’s sister. The report cites repeated attempts and pressure by Palin’s husband, Todd, the “first dude” of Alaska, to have Wooten removed from his job.
The real question is, is this having any effect on the race?
The investigation has been under way since July, and Palin originally promised to cooperate. Yet after McCain asked her to join his ticket, Republicans began to claim that the investigation was politically motivated, even despite Republican dominance in Alaskan politics.
The Wooten probe has been, until now, just another punchline in the story of McCain’s largely unvetted Veep pick: the pretty conservative with the sharp tongue and folksy manner who couldn’t name a single newspaper she reads and didn’t know what the Bush Doctrine is.
Now that it’s out, will it change anyone’s mind?
Palin, I’ve already noted, has become a much more polarizing figure than McCain. Her hard-core supporters are unlikely to be swayed by an investigation that they already think is politically motivated. And those who already dislike her will chalk this up as one more reason that McCain’s choice was a bad one.
The mythical “swing voter” seems, by recent polls anyway, to be swinging away from McCain/Palin, as their rallies have turned into more and more negative, even bloodthirsty pits of race-baiting and name-calling.
Ethics scandals have had negligible effects on past presidents, with Clinton’s ratings remaining in the 60% range all through the Lewinsky drama, and Nixon even retaining 24% support at the height of Watergate. That may seem like a pretty low number, but that’s approximately one in four people polled during the worst scandal of the modern presidency. It’s not for nothing that the press loves to tag the word “gate” onto the end of anything remotely smelling like trouble around the political sphere.
Palin’s own ethical scandal has of course been dubbed “Troopergate.”
It’s more of a reflection on the nature of the news media that even while the title “-gate” is tagged onto the end of any minor scandal, they fail to follow up. The New York Times and Washington Post on Sunday morning both carried no major stories following up on the Palin ethics probe. The story breaks, and it’s on to the next one.
But abuse of power by Vice Presidents is a very serious issue. Dick Cheney is widely considered to be the most powerful Veep in history, and in the debate, Palin said that she agreed with Cheney’s theory that the Vice President has authority outside of the executive branch.
McCain, as it has been repeatedly noted, would be the oldest first-term president elected to serve. His health problems have also been remarked upon, as have his gaffes on the campaign trail – gaffes that seem to be memory lapses rather than actual mistakes.
Palin would be in a position to become President if the worst should happen. Not only that, she would have the opportunity to step into Cheney’s shoes and have influence much like Cheney’s own, particularly since the religious right that has become the root of the Republican party would consider McCain’s election more evidence that favors are owed them.
This scandal should show everyone that Palin did mean it when she said the Vice President’s office should have expanded powers. It should also show people exactly what she thinks of the rule of law.
We’ve already had eight years of politically motivated firings and questionable appointments . We’ve had questions for a while about Cheney assuming powers not granted him by the Constitution.
No longer can we assume that the VP is just there to balance the ticket. Yet the more we find out about Sarah Palin, the more we can see that that is exactly what John McCain was looking for when he shopped for a running mate.
This scandal may well get washed out of the news by the next in a long string of sad stories on the failing economy. But we would do well to remember in the days to come that Sarah Palin isn’t just a punch line for David Letterman or Tina Fey.
The question we need to ask ourselves is whether or not we need another Dick Cheney in the White House.