Sarah Palin is unique in American politics now because she is the only leader to have taken action in a fundamentally radical way to share the wealth. She doubled the taxes on the oil companies and then sent checks to the residents of Alaska from the oil revenues. Huey Long advocated the same sort of thing. He said Americans needed to "share the wealth." Roosevelt saw him as his biggest threat because Long was going where Roosevelt would never go. Roosevelt was a patrician aristocrat who feared this sort of economic redistribution. It is astonishing, then, that she is on the Republican ticket with a candidate from the WASP establishment, which, throughout American history, has done whatever was necessary to not share the wealth.
Should McCain die in office, America would have its first truly radical president, to the left, economically, of the liberals. The conservative Republicans are using her to keep power, just as the conservatives in Italy thought they were using Benito Mussolini. But beyond her Huey Long radicalism, she is basically a Peronist in the sense that Bush is a Peronist. What they advocated is the "ownership society," much as Peron did with his philosophy of Justicialism. Peron concluded that if everyone owned his own home, no one would be a Communist. And the Bush-Palin brand of Peronism has led America into the same crisis that plagued Argentina under his rule. Sub-prime mortgages are a form of Peronism to give a home ownership stake in the society, so that a deep conservatism would take hold and forever defeat the Democrats. Peron, using his wife Evita to attract the working class into the fold, took what had been a sound economy and trashed it, turning Argentina into a Third World country when it previously had been considered a developed nation.
This is precisely what has happened in America. Our once great economy has been trashed beyond recognition, with wild spending and cheap mortgages with ever-increasing interest rates because of the very inflation that these policies have inevitably engendered. Using social conservatism, much as Peron did, to whip up hostility to the left, Palin has managed to sell her brand of populist radical economics while still posing as a conservative. But however much she opposes abortion and gay marriage and advocates the teaching of creationism in science classes, the real Sarah Palin is Eva Peron with an Alaskan accent and without the high fashion, although now, she has a much better hairdresser and her clothes have dramatically improved.
But there is an underside to Palin’s populism and this is its inevitable authoritarianism. Her interest in banning books is just the tip of the iceberg. When she spoke at the Republican convention, she accused Barack Obama of worrying about their civil liberties while the Al Queda terrorists wanted to blow us up. The crowd cheered wildly as though they were at a Peron rally, shouting "Sarah! Sarah!" the way the Argentineans shouted "Evita! Evita!"
Then, there is the matter of "Troopergate." Her defenders now say that she had every right to try to get her former brother-in-law fired as a state trooper because of his drinking, his abusive behavior and his threats to her parents. But that is precisely the point. She had no interest in calling for a hearing so he could defend himself against these allegations. Moreover, if he were fired and had no job, the question of custody of the children would have been clear-cut. He would not have had a chance to get custody. Now, she and her husband, Todd, have announced their refusal to cooperate with an investigation that had been authorized by both Democratic and Republican legislators.
But we know the defense. "It is a political circus." Palin has enemies not only among the Democrats, but also among the Republicans because of her efforts to weed out corruption in her own party. Everyone in the legislature is out to get her and only a hearing before the Ethics Board would be fair. But since she has appointed the members of the Ethics Board, how fair and impartial could that hearing be?
The answer is that she is a reformer. As a reformer she would not go against her own principles. But here, once again, there is a similarity to Huey Long, who created Louisiana State University, the first public university in the state so the less fortunate in the state could get a college education, and then, shut down the student newspaper for criticizing his authoritarian methods. Can a reformer abuse power? Of course. Just look at what Eliot Spitzer did in going after Senate Majority leader Joseph Bruno.
Her strategy, that McCain has embraced, is to keep stalling and denying until the presidential election is over. Once elected, she will be beyond the reach of the Alaska legislature because she will be leaving the governorship and Troopergate will be mute, particularly because the trooper in question has managed, thanks to his union, to keep his job. But is this what America needs now, a regime with no respect for this constitution? After all, if the rule of law doesn’t apply to the government, it doesn’t exist. The Bush administration had already interpreted the constitution to justify unbridled executive power, something they call the "unified executive." Madison did not create the separation of powers to allow this kind of approach to government, and Jefferson didn’t insist upon a Bill of Rights so America could have a dictatorship, however populist it might be.
That we have come this far is appalling, with John Marshall being relegated to the ash heap of history. William Buckley said his philosophy, which led him to found the National Review, was to hold up his hands and yell, "Stop!" That is precisely what America must do now.
Richard Cummings [send him mail] taught international law at the Haile Selassie I University and before that, was Attorney-Advisor with the Office of General Counsel of the Near East South Asia region of U.S.A.I.D, where he was responsible for the legal work pertaining to the aid program in Israel, Jordan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is the author of a new novel, The Immortalists, as well as The Pied Piper — Allard K. Lowenstein and the Liberal Dream, and the comedy, Soccer Moms From Hell. He holds a Ph.D. in Social and Political Sciences from Cambridge University and is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. He is writing a new book, The Road To Baghdad — The Money Trail Behind The War In Iraq. He is a contribution editor for The American Conservative.