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The Constrained Vision, Palin-Style

By Thomas J. Cole
Journal Staff Writer
          I went in search of Sarah Palin this week.
        I didn't attend her book signing Tuesday evening at the Hastings Entertainment store in Roswell but did buy a copy of "Going Rogue."
        In the book, Palin tells her compelling life story: Hockey mom gets elected mayor of her hometown, becomes governor of Alaska, then is selected as the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008.
        But "An American Life" — as the book is subtitled — will take you only so far in national politics.
        Substance, ideas and vision also matter, but we didn't learn much about Palin in those areas last year. Blame it on the news media if you wish, or the management of Palin by aides to GOP president hopeful John McCain, or the candidate herself.
        For millions of Americans, their first introduction to Palin came in her speech at the Republican National Convention.
        And what do you remember about that speech? The remark about pit bulls with lipstick? Her putting the state jet for sale on eBay? Her flippant attacks on Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, the Washington elite, the media and the good old boys of Juneau?
        The speech was the first of many missteps by the McCain/Palin camp in trying to portray Palin as a serious candidate. Critics were much more successful in painting her as "Caribou Barbie."
        During the speech and later during the campaign, we did learn about Palin's politics: against abortion and gun control, for smaller government, free markets and a strong military.
        You'll find those positions repeated in her book, but I was looking for something deeper when I read "Going Rogue."
        I wanted to know what informs her positions, the ideas that are the building blocks of her politics, the philosophies that would guide her in making the serious decisions required of these serious times.
        I found what I was looking for on Page 385.
        Palin wrote: "I do believe in a few timeless and unchanging truths, and chief among those is that man is fallen. This world is not perfect, and politicians will never make it so. This, above all, is what informs my pragmatic approach to politics."
        She then hitches her wagon to the "constrained" political vision as explained by economist and commentator Thomas Sowell in his book "A Conflict of Visions," first published in 1987.
        Politicians with the constrained vision believe that human nature is flawed, that war, poverty and crime, for example, are inevitable and that our flaws cannot be fixed.
        Those politicians believe in building institutions that constrain the flaws of human nature and in leaving it to the public to express their interests in free markets.
        On the other hand, as Sowell tells it, politicians with the "unconstrained" vision seek to explain our flaws and believe that institutions can cause them. They believe that government can decide what it is in the public's interest.
        "Commonsense Conservatives (that's what Palin calls herself) deal with human nature as it is with its unavoidable weaknesses and its potential for goodness," she wrote.
        "We don't trust utopian promises from politicians. The role of government is not to perfect us but to protect us — to protect our inalienable rights."
        So, how would Palin's constrained political vision play out in terms of the major issues of our day?
        Let's take the health care debate.
        Politicians with the constrained vision believe that if Americans wanted more affordable health care, they would get it by expressing that interest in the marketplace.
        Politicians with the unconstrained vision believe the public interest lies in reducing health care costs, having more Americans covered and not forcing people into bankruptcy because of medical bills.
        On the issue of the economy, there would be no more Chrysler or General Motors under the constrained political vision. Through the marketplace, the public had decided it wasn't in its interest to save the companies and their tens of thousands of jobs.
        Politicians with the constrained vision don't believe in addressing the abuses on Wall Street that led to our financial crisis or in stemming the tide of home foreclosures.
        On the evening of Palin's book signing in Roswell, President Obama addressed the nation on his plan for Afghanistan.
        Palin wrote on her Facebook page that evening that she supported Obama's action, although she wanted him to commit more troops.
        Her position wasn't surprising, given that politicians with the constrained vision believe making war is unavoidable and rational because that's just what countries do.
        Palin may make a political comeback in the coming years. Maybe then we'll have a debate about her vision and skip the talk about lipstick, moose hunting and her wardrobe.
        Ideas do — and should — matter.
        UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Thom Cole can be reached in Santa Fe at 505-992-6280 or at tcole@abqjournal.com.

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