As I See It: Cynthia Tucker

Some members of the chattering classes — pinot-swilling, arugula-chomping snobs — seem to think Sarah Palin is not qualified to be vice president. Well, that's not fair.

Any thorough study of Palin's record reveals that she has modeled her style of governance after Dick Cheney, whose authoritarian principles of leadership rely heavily on lying, secrecy and vindictiveness. Though Palin's public career has been much shorter than Cheney's, she has nevertheless shown a genuine flair for those same traits — telling lie after lie to conceal her misdeeds from public view and trying to destroy those who dare disagree with her. She has proven a quick study of the Sith lord.

And Palin has tools in her arsenal that the grumpy Cheney lacks: She's a charming and attractive woman, with legions of loyal supporters willing to yell "Sexism!" whenever her record is questioned or her credentials challenged. It's a brazen claim for conservatives, who didn't even believe in sexism — they dismissed it as "the politics of victimization" — until a few weeks ago.

Now, it's true that not many politicians have mastered the fine arts of manipulation and mendacity as well as Cheney has. But Palin has a gift for dissembling with a straight face, even when she's called on it.

In her national debut — her well-received acceptance speech — she claimed that she had said "thanks but no thanks" to the infamous Bridge to Nowhere, a line she has repeated on the stump. But she was for it before she was against it; when she ran for governor in 2006, she supported the project, which would have linked the town of Ketchikan, population 7,500, to an airport on Gravina Island.

"We need to come to the defense of Southeast Alaska when proposals are on the table like the bridge and not allow spinmeisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative," she said two years ago. She dropped her support only when the issue became radioactive, instead using the money for a different Alaska project.

Her claim to a history of fighting earmarks is similarly fabricated. As mayor of the small town of Wasilla, she hired a lobbyist to bring home the pork, a move which paid off spectacularly. For a couple of years during her tenure, the town received more than $1,000 per person in earmarks. (In 2008, the average state received about $50 per person.)

Her public image as a moderate politician who respects dissent is also, well, largely apocryphal. Early in her tenure as mayor of Wasilla, Palin showed she knew how to fight dirty and vanquish her opponents. She succeeded, eventually, in running off the popular Wasilla librarian, who didn't take kindly to the mayor's inquiries about banning books. Palin fired the city attorney when he issued a stop-work order on a home being built by one of her campaign supporters, according to The New York Times.

As governor, Palin stepped up her game, cloaking her actions in secrecy, using private e-mail accounts to shield her official communications from public records and putting a premium on loyalty among her staff. And she has used every Cheney-like maneuver at her disposal to try to quash an official investigation into charges that she improperly fired Walt Monegan, former state commissioner of public safety, because he refused to do Palin's bidding — firing her ex-brother-in-law, state trooper Mike Wooten, who had been through a nasty divorce from Palin's sister.

Last week, Dan Fagan, a conservative talk radio host in Anchorage, took Palin to task in a column in the Anchorage Daily News, reminding readers that "eight Republicans and four Democrats" launched the independent investigation earlier this year.

"My fellow conservatives, remember how frustrating it was when Bill Clinton committed perjury and liberals looked the other way. As conservatives, we are no better unless we demand full disclosure from our governor when it comes to Troopergate. No politician is so popular and charismatic that they should be above accountability and telling the truth. Not even Sarah Palin."

Palin begs to disagree. She's read the playbook, and, like the current vice president, she believes she's above the law. Who says she's not qualified to fill Cheney's shoes?

Cynthia Tucker is the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of the opinion page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Reach her at cynthia@ajc.com.