Transcript #132

Right-Wing Deception Is Exemplified By Sarah Palin And John McCain: A Case Study In Earmarks


Partially hyperlinked to sources.  For all sources, see the data resources page.



Sources you'll hear include, and I almost hesitate to list these all, there are so many, maybe the longest list ever-- here goes: the Washington Post, CBS News, CNN,,, the Seattle Times,, the New York Times,,, the Associated Press, the US Census Bureau, Newsweek,, Rasmussen Reports, the Los Angeles Times, the Tax Foundation, and the Wall Street Journal.


Listener Alex K. from Santa Fe wrote in to ask:


Are you planning to do some kind of reassuring podcast for those of us who are extremely concerned about the hockey mom as president?

I replied that I didn't know if the next show would be reassuring, as much as a call to arms.


Here are the preliminaries to your call to battle stations!


A mantra on Blast The Right is, whatever a right-winger says, the exact opposite is true.  You've heard countless examples over the last three years.


The campaign '08 earmark issue provides the perfect illustration.  The right-wing is utilizing its entire playbook.


Think you already know about the earmark issue?


I did.


But when I started to do some research, I found myself in a much deeper, almost impenetrable thicket of distortions, half-truths, outright lies, lies about their lies, and assertions of a sequence of events that are impossible.


In other words, in rightwingworld.


This podcast today is about earmarks not because they're in and of themselves such an important issue.  They're not.  They're actually more of a distraction.  More on that later.


Rather, this is all geared towards giving you the ammo you need to take down any right-wingers you're unfortunate enough to encounter when they bring up earmarks.


And, providing fighting-the-right tools, to help you identify and counter right-wing deception on other issues in this campaign season and beyond.


First, let's be clear what an earmark is.  It's a money request by an elected official, for a home-state project, that is inserted into an often-unrelated government spending bill.


Some earmarks may be for a valid purpose, many are not.


A prime example of the latter, and probably the most famous earmark of all, is the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska.


The Bridge to Nowhere was a multi-hundred million dollar project to replace the ferry service between a tiny Alaskan town, Ketchikan, and the sparsely populated island, Gravina, where the town's airport was. 


Here's Governor Sarah Palin at the Republican National Convention:


audio1: Palin at RNC

I told the Congress "thanks, but no thanks," for that Bridge to Nowhere.

If our state wanted a bridge, we'd build it ourselves.

Wow, she's tough on the no earmarks, being independent thing.  So in her prior political activities she must have been tough as well. 


Let's take a look.  Let's trace Sarah Palin's electoral career.


From 1996-2002, Palin was the mayor of Wasilla, a small Alaskan town of 5-7000 people.


Certainly Palin must have disdained getting any earmarks for her town.


She and the townspeople, they're Red State, proud, independent Alaskans.


These rugged individualists, why they go out and shoot their own moose to make mooseburgers out of.


Anti-big government.  Surely such self-reliant people don't want anything from the evil federal government.


Let's take a look at the record.


Hmmm…Mayor Sarah Palin seems to have sought and received earmarks big time.


She actually went so far as to hire a Washington, DC lobbying firm to secure earmarks.  The firm was run by the former chief of staff to  Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens.  Yes, the one now under indictment in a far-reaching corruption probe.


Hired a lobbyist.


Palin raked in $27 million in earmarks for Wasilla.


The national average per person for earmarks is about $50.  Palin got her town $1000 per person.


Twenty times the national average.


Even before she had secured that amazingly disproportionate amount of federal pork for her tiny town, Palin had written in the margins of a City Council memo about federal funds "We did well."


I'll say.


Now, even though Palin plunged full throttle into the earmark game, surely as a conservative, Palin only requested absolutely necessary projects.  Nothing any watchdog could criticize.




About that same time there was a certain Senator who was on a crusade against earmarks.  And in 2001, for example, he cited as objectionable pork barrel spending some of Palin's very earmarks.


Who was that Senator, you may be wondering?


John McCain.


So I guess they'd sort of crossed paths before, huh?


You see the picture that's beginning to be drawn?


OK, Sarah Palin got a ton of earmarks, and for objectionable projects to boot, but that was as a small-town mayor.


She told the nation -- and has since often repeated on the campaign trail -- that as governor she stopped the Bridge to Nowhere.


So you can be sure that when she ran for governor, she campaigned against it.  At the time, it had already been the subject of national ridicule as a wasteful boondoggle.


Let's see.


In a debate, Palin pledged to fightfor the earmark for the bridge.


Here's literally what she said during an October 2006 campaign stop in the Bridge to Nowhere town of Ketchikan, which is in the southeast part of the state:


Part of my agenda is making sure that southeast is heard.

That your projects are important. That we go to bat for southeast when we're up against federal influences that aren't in the best interest of southeast.

We need to come to the defense of southeast Alaska when proposals are on the table like the bridge and not allow the spin-meisters to turn this project or any other into something that's so negative.

The leader of those spin-meisters was, of course, John McCain.


Does it sound to you like Palin opposed the bridge?  Not to me either.


Up next, more on the Bridge to Nowhere, and Palin's ever-more-curious relationship to earmarks once she actually became Governor.




Ok, here's an interesting wrinkle.


A year before Palin took office as governor, Congress had killed the specific earmark for the Bridge to Nowhere.  Congress told Alaska that it could still have the money and spend it however it wanted.


Listen to Palin again:


audio1: Palin at RNC

I told the Congress "thanks, but no thanks," for that Bridge to Nowhere.

If our state wanted a bridge, we'd build it ourselves.

How do right-wingers fit so many lies into so few words?


She makes it sound like she refused money from Congress for a bad project that Congress was trying to foist on her.


When in reality she had supported the project.


And Palin couldn't have told Congress no thanks.  Before she was elected governor, Congress had already told her state no thanks, we don't want to be associated with directing funding towards this boondoggle.


And as far as "we'll build it ourselves," Governor Palin kept all the money.


She did eventually discard the Bridge to Nowhere project as its costs ballooned and the ridicule didn't stop.


But only, as you've just heard, after vigorously supporting it.


And keeping the federal government money anyway.


She took the federal money and just used it for other things.


I love the way author and columnist Joe Conanson put it:


Two years ago, she portrayed herself as a straight-talking populist who supported the Ketchikan bridge. Now she portrays herself as a straight-talking populist who stopped the same bridge.


So far you've seen that as a small-town mayor, and gubernatorial candidate, Sarah Palin was a big, big fan of earmarks, including some real bad ones.


But surely once she became governor, she fell into line, and joined the anti-earmark crusade.


That's certainly what she's been claiming.


She told Charlie Gibson in her ABC news interview:


audio2: Palin ABC interview

The abuse of earmarks, it's un-American, it's undemocratic, and it's not going to be accepted in a McCain-Palin administration. Earmark abuse will stop.

Sorry , I can't tell you that her actions match her words.


An indication of the truth might be, that Palin hasn't yet even stopped a second Bridge to Nowhere, in her own Wasilla home town region.  This one was also condemned by McCain back in the day.  But so far, Palin has only ordered a review of the project.


The cold hard truth is, Sarah Palin is actually the Pork Barrel Queen of all governors.


Her current request is for $197 million dollars in earmarks.


This is more per person, than any other state in the nation!


Among her requested earmarks are devising ways to improve recreational halibut fishing, and "studying the mating habits of crabs and the DNA of harbor seals." 


This very year in a newspaper column, Palin wrote that "the federal budget, in its various manifestations, is incredibly important to us, and congressional earmarks are one aspect of this relationship."


"Undemocratic" and "un-American" she calls them, yet Sarah Palin is the biggest abuser of earmarks of all!


If you come away from this podcast with one fact today, let it be this: Palin is #1 in the nation in per capita pork barrel requests.


You can ask your friendly local right-winger what he or she thinks about that.



Now, if you're a long-time listener, you know I like to analyze how right-wingers try to spin whatever issue we're talking about.  To paraphrase the wolf to Little Red Riding Hood, all the better to sharpen your analytical skills, my dear.


So let me tell you how Palin and the McCain campaign and other right-wingers are trying to spin this unflattering fact, that she's the Pork Barrel Queen of the nation, which of course flies in the face of the claimed "reform" nature of GOP ticket.


First, by exaggeration, tripling her supposed earmark reduction rate.


Palin bragged to a local newspaper that she had cut Alaska's requests for earmarks by nearly two-thirds, from $550 million to that $197 million figure.


Oops, turns out the prior year was only $254 million, so her reduction was about one-fifth, not two-thirds.


Caught in her lie, Palin's office said they would have to look into the discrepancy.


Now, Palin has indeed cut Alaska's earmark requests by over 20% each of her first two years in office.


Problem is, she's still number one in the nation!


She told Charlie Gibson


audio3: Palin ABC interview

We have drastically, drastically reduced our earmark request since I came into office…This is what I've been telling Alaskans for these years that I've been in office, is no more.

Call me a stickler for details, but "drastically, drastically," and "no more" means you end the practice.


But she's still #1 in the nation.



Here are some more real doozies of spin:


One McCain spokesman said in effect that Palin's prior experience as an abuser of the process is why she now knows that earmarks must be stopped.  She was "disgusted" that her small town had to depend on earmarks, and this


was one of the formative experiences that led her toward the reform-oriented stance that she has taken as her career has progressed.

Yeah, she was so disgusted by it, she jumped right in and became the best one of all at it!


Not just as the small town mayor, but continuing to the present day as governor.


Senator Lindsay Graham became even more graphic, likening Palin's transformation to that undergone by John McCain after being tarnished by the Keating Five corruption scandal.


Ouch!  With friends like this, John McCain doesn't need any enemies.


Up next, more right-wing spin, including trying to make out Obama as the worst earmark abuser.




You may enjoy listening to these further attempts by the right-wing to spin away Palin's Queen of Pork credentials.


South Carolina Republican Senator Jim Demint was amazingly got-everything-backwards in his spin.  He claimed that Palin


is one of the strongest anti-earmark governors in America. If more governors around the country would do what she has done, we would be much closer to fixing our nation's fiscal problems than we are.

Huh?  If every governor requested earmarks at the rate Sarah Palin does, earmark requests would soar into the stratosphere.


The award for lying, however, goes to John McCain.


Not for merely claiming that Sarah Palin has "learned that earmarks are bad."


No, it's for also claiming on the television program The View that Sarah Palin has requested no earmarks as governor.  He's in an exchange with Barbara Walters:


audio4: McCain on The View

Walters: reform the government.  Who is she going to reform?

McCain:  That's what she's going to ...

Walters:  Who is it--you chose her just to reform?

McCain:  ...the Republican party, the Democrat party, even independents...she'll reform all of Washington...

Walters:  How? 

McCain:  By doing what she did in Alaska...

Walters:  What is she going to reform specifically, Senator?

McCain:  Well, first of all, earmark spending, which she vetoed a half a billion dollars' worth in the state of  Alaska. 

Walters:  She also took some earmark spending.

McCain:  No, not as Governor, she didn't--she vetoed...the fact is, she was a reform governor, she took on the Republican...

A McCain campaign spokesman said that


If he gave viewers a mistaken impression, it certainly wasn't intentional."

Oh, he just doesn't know what's going on?


I said earlier if you come away with one fact today, let it be that Sarah Palin is #1 in pork barrel requests per capita of all governors.  If you come away with two facts, add this: that John McCain seems oblivious to that fact.



Surely, with as sad and embarrassing a record on earmarks as Sarah Palin has, you'd think she and McCain would hesitate before criticizing others about earmarks.


You'd think wrong.


Listen to McCain recently:


audio5: McCain

McCain:  Here's an interesting fact.  Governor Palin just mentioned she vetoed a half a billion dollars in earmark pork-barrel spending, and Sen. Obama asked for nearly a billion dollars in earmark pork-barrel spending!  932 million dollars, almost a million dollars for every single day he was in the United States Senate.  It's remarkable!      

The cold hard numbers make a mockery of what McCain said.


First of all, Obama's state, Illinois, has about 13 million people.  Alaska has 670,000.  You do the math.


Ok, I'll do it for you.


What that means is, Sarah Palin's earmark requests as Governor average $330 per Alaskan each year.  Obama's average $18 per Illinois resident each year.


$330 Palin, and $18 Obama.  And McCain condemns Obama?!  Is McCain just confused again?


Second, for the next fiscal year, Obama has requested no earmarks, zero, nada, zilch.


Is Palin going to match that?


Indeed, along those lines, McCain back in March called upon Obama --and Hillary Clinton, who was still a candidate at the time -- he called on them to ask for unspent earmark money to be returned to the Treasury:


audio6: McCain

McCain:  They've requested earmarks, and they have used earmarks, some of them, in a manner that I don't think the taxpayers would at all approve of, and in both cases, it's hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that are absolutely, outrageously wasted.

Questioner:  Would you still--

McCain:  I think they should ask that those earmarks that they have asked for and obtained, and the money hasn't been spent yet, ask them to turn that money back to the treasury.

… Ask that that money not be spent.  I call on them to say "Hey, don't spend that money."  Because they're earmarks; they didn't go through the proper process; and the taxpayers can't afford them.

Ok, John McCain, why don't you ask that of Sarah Palin?  Return all unspent Alaska earmarks.  And pledge no more earmark requests, just like Obama.


Now, you should watch out for a cute trick.  Palin has started talking about "earmark abuse."  Sort of, some earmarks are ok.  No, McCain has made it clear, no earmarks are ok, even if he hasn't applied that standard to Palin. 


"If they're worthy projects they can be authorized and appropriated in a New York minute," he explained on his campaign bus earlier this year, before Gov. Palin joined the ticket. "If they're worthy projects I know they'd be funded." [source]

Coming right up, in the last segment, you'll hear me expand the frame to encompass the entire '08 campaign.




Let's expand the frame a bit, with a couple of brief but important points.


I said at the top of the show that I thought earmarks were essentially a distraction issue.  That's because the best estimate of total earmark spending is $20 billion dollars a year.  The federal budget is $3.1 trillion.  Earmarks are less than 1% of the federal budget.


Yet McCain goes around making crazy statements.  He's blamed earmarks for high food and gasoline prices and the trouble people have making mortgage payments.


How moronic.  Less than 1% of the federal budget is causing all those problems.


McCain has even claimed he can save $100 billion a year by eliminating earmarks.  Where he gets that number from, nobody knows.


Next point: this earmark issue calls into question McCain's mental processes.


He's been railing against earmarks for years.  Yet he picked as his  running mate the worst earmark abuser in the entire country.


And McCain doesn't even seem to know it.


How can you reform Washington if you can't even reform your own running mate?


Is he going to pick someone he thinks espouses one policy, perhaps in a life and death issue, a war and peace situation, only to find out the opposite is true?


Another important point:


Each year the non-partisan Tax Foundation computes how much money each state sends to Washington, and how much it receives.


Can you guess what I'm going to say?


For every dollar Alaska sends to Washington, it gets $1.84 back.


It's the #3 Taker state in the country.  And that's even though it's flush with oil money, and has no state income tax or sales tax to burden its citizens.


And check this out:


Nine out of the Top Ten taker states are red states.


And seven out of the Top Ten Giver states are blue states.  For example: for every dollar that the evil liberal states of Massachusetts, New York and California send to D.C., they get back only about 80 cents!


Subsidizing Alaska and the other Red states.


As a New York Times op-ed put it:


Voters in red states like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are some of the country's fiercest critics of government, yet they're also among the biggest recipients of federal largess. Meanwhile, Democratic voters in the coastal blue states -- the ones who are often portrayed as shiftless moochers -- are left to carry the load.

The right-wing screams about welfare.  I get letters from right-wingers about it all the time.


Yet they're the true welfare kings and queens big time, on a multi-tens or hundreds of billions of dollar scale!


Led by Sarah Palin, Empress of Earmarks.


A final brief point:


This earmark issue exemplifies the current political climate, where lying seems to be ok.


Longtime political analyst Charlie Cook:


We have created a system where there is not a lot of shame in stretching the truth

John Feehery, Republican strategist:


The more the New York Times and The Washington Post go after Sarah Palin, the better off she is, because there's a bigger truth out there and the bigger truths are she's new, she's popular in Alaska and she is an insurgent

As long as those are out there, these little facts don't really matter.

Facts don't really matter.




Unfortunately, Feehery may be correct.



Let's sum up:


Palin's a phony.  A liar.  Not what she says she is.


In other words, a right-winger.


She turns out to be just another in a long line of right-wing liars and hypocrites.  Liars and hypocrites who proclaim their own rugged individualism, espouse a philosophy of personal responsibility.  But at the drop of a hat, will run to gobble up those earmark welfare payments.  And take far more from the federal treasury than they put in.


Personal responsibility?  I guess it's my personal responsibility to pay for Alaskans to figure out how to improve their recreational halibut fishing.


But -- does the public know about all this?  No.


You've heard me point out a million times that Obama's tax plans only raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year.  That's the richest 3% of the population.  Yet in a recent poll, 51% of voters said Obama would raise their taxes.


This is similar to what I imagine to be the public's being unaware of the real story about Palin and earmarks, not to mention a million other issues about the McCain/Palin ticket. 


If the public holds views at variance with the facts, where else can they have gotten those erroneous views other than from watching and listening to the corporate owned media?


You and I have a lot of educating and other work to do in the next several weeks!


Volunteer to phone bank.  Volunteer to register voters.  Volunteer to poll watch.


Just voting wont' be enough this year!


To your battle stations!  Move it on out!!


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