Friday, August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin, Todd Palin, and the benefits of Increasing Domestic Energy Production

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, John McCain's surprise VP pick, is in at least one sense a refreshing change from the usual sort of politician we've seen on a national ticket: someone who has done some blue collar work in her life, when she worked in commercial fishing. Her husband has gotten his hands dirty as well, both as a fisherman and while working in the oil fields for BP (NYSE: BP) on Alaska's North Slope1. According to this article in the Anchorage Daily News from last year, "Todd Palin Unique Among Nation's 5 First Husbands" (hat tip to Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg),

Until recently, he earned hourly wages as a production operator in a BP-run facility that separates oil from gas and water. Palin was making between $100,000 and $120,000 a year before he went on leave in December to make more time for his family and avoid potential conflicts of interest. London-based BP is heavily involved in the gas pipeline negotiations with his wife's administration.

That's good money for honest work, and, as I've pointed out in comments on some political blogs, it's another benefit of increasing domestic energy production: more high-paying blue collar jobs for Americans2. To his credit, Mr. Palin has encouraged young Alaskans to consider the same line of work. From the article,

Like other first spouses around the country, Palin has been asked to champion an array of causes or institutions since his wife took office in December.

His favorite is steering young Alaskans toward stable jobs in the oil and gas industry. It's a singular choice among his counterparts, whose pet issues include schools, public health, domestic violence, poverty or the arts.

That's the sort of pragmatic career advice you don't hear much of from many politicians, particularly those on the left, many of whom seem to consider access to a college education to be a panacea for economic advancement. In reality, a lot of Americans don't have the interest or aptitude for college (hence the high dropout rates), or the sorts of jobs a college degree often leads to, and there are plenty of Americans with college degrees sitting in cubicles making a third of what Palin was making for BP, or serving lattes for $8 per hour.

Regarding the politics of the Palin pick, a flurry of comments on the Atlantic blogs argue that this is an attempt by McCain to woo women voters. I doubt that. Most single women vote for Democrats, and most married women vote for Republicans; I don't see this pick changing those trends much. If anything, McCain's selection of Sarah Palin is an appeal to the sort of Reagan Democrats that Barack Obama had difficulty winning over in states like Pennsylvania. While Republican politicians generally feel compelled to be seen hunting or clearing brush or otherwise acting as if they enjoy outdoorsy activities, Sarah Palin seems to be the real deal on that score, having grown up hunting moose with her father. She and her husband ought to be able to connect more easily with rural voters than, say, Mitt Romney. Louisiana's impressive young governor, Bobby Jindal, might have contributed more in policy terms, but Palin probably gives McCain a better shot of winning in November.

1A royalty trust that pays out distributions based on production from BP's Prudhoe Bay field on the north slope is a holding of mine I've mentioned here before, BP Prudhoe Bay Royalty Trust (NYSE: BPT)

2There are other benefits, of course. Every barrel of foreign oil that we can replace with a barrel of domestic oil helps reduce our trade deficit and our fiscal deficit as well (by the increased tax and royalty revenues domestic energy production generates). No, increasing domestic energy production will not make us energy independent -- we will still need to import oil from Canada, Saudi Arabia, etc. But the more energy we can produce here, the better off we will be.


Anonymous said...

Seriously? McCain has hammered on Obama for months because of his inexperience, and his choice to replace him in case his 72 year-old ticker doesn't hold up has experience as a one-term mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (??) and two years as governor? I agree- it's a refreshing change to see someone with some real-world experience running for office. But this choice doesn't exactly fill me with confidence about his decision-making skills. Rather, it looks pandering and desperate. He would've been better off trying to get inject some Joementum into his campaign.

DaveinHackensack said...

The pick isn't without its downsides or risks, as you note, but this looks like the best of several imperfect choices. Picking Joe Lieberman (who, despite sharing McCain's hawkishness on foreign policy is a liberal on economic and social issues) would have outraged the GOP base, and it wouldn't have won more than a token number of Dems on the other side.

J K said...

I doubt she'd have too much influence in a McCain administration, to me its clear he's pandering for Hillary votes (many of whom were socially conservative but bought into her identity-politicking). That's why she kept talking about Hillary when she was brought out, even though they have nothing in common politically except they are both women. But it could backfire, PUMA's warned Obama that Sebelus would be seen as pandering. Given her very strident pro-life beliefs and past support for the (now mellowed) extremist Pat Buchannan it could backfire among centrist women, and centrists period.

Biden will have her for lunch in a VP debate. Strategically, McCain should have picked Pawlenty, Romney, or Crist, imo. This is kind of mean and only my opinion, but next to most women in national politics I've seen, she comes off a bit bimbo-ish. Most people I've talked to are scratching their heads over this.

But its not the worst pick for him either, a Ridge/Leiberman VP would have sent southerners running to Barr and had little impact outside of PA or upstate NY. I agree with Dave's assessment of Leiberman. He's reviled by many Dems and not trusted by conservatives.

We'll see. I won't vote Republican either way, but it will be a dramatic election season no matter how it turns out. Grab the popcorn.

Anonymous said...

I like her and I like McCain. They both seam sincere but Palin touts a status quo energy policy. For the good of our society, expansion of conventional energy sources has to be positioned as a STEPPING STONE to cushion a transition into a sustainable energy system. Every time they mention offshore or north slope they should say "to ease the change into a better system because even Anwar won't last forever at our current price/rate of consumption."

Obama at least GETS that much; and has the ability to mindlessly inspire the younger generation, which is one of the many things good leaders do.

I'm feeling more like this is a "no lose" election whereas most elections I hold my nose and vote for the least worst candidate.

I really like McCain's history of fighting lobbyists and the fact that both republicans have skin in the game in Iraq (i.e. their own kids). I also like the nude picts of Palin that are already floating around on the web. Benjamin Franklin, the greatest American ever, was a nudist. AMERICA IS GREAT! God Bless this wonderful place!

DaveinHackensack said...


Fossil fuels will be needed to provide the majority of the world's energy needs for decades -- that's the reality. With $100+ oil, there is plenty of research on alternative sources of energy being conducted in university labs, in corporate research departments, etc., and that's great (for example, a publicly-traded venture capital company I own a few shares of, Harris & Harris Co., has been pursuing alternative energy technology via nanotechnology. You can read about their "cleantech" approach in this PDF: Energy Paper). But you can't legislate the speed of technological progress; you have deal with current reality and current needs, which includes a need for more fossil fuels (and nuclear, wind, etc.).

As for Palin supporting the status quo on energy, that's incorrect. The status quo includes keeping ANWR and 85% of the outer continental shelf off-limits to energy exploration and production; she has advocated drilling in ANWR, and I assume would be in favor of drilling in the OCS as well.

DaveinHackensack said...


As I mentioned, I think this was more a play for Reagan Dems that PUMAs, but I wouldn't doubt that the PUMA element influenced the choice. I'm not so sure about Biden eating her for lunch in a debate. I think he gets a little too much credit for having foreign policy chops; he's actually not that sharp. We'll see though. Palin certainly has some studying to do between now and then.

Pawlenty or Crist were options, but I think once McCain started getting tagged for the seven houses, Romney was out of the running. It's too bad that he's not more popular, because I think he would have been better qualified to deal with economic issues than most other candidates.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. Our country is in the predicament it is in now because our leadership hasn't the guts to come up with an energy policy that is sensible (and that's an optimistic evaluation).

The "status quo" is keeping energy costs low in the near term at the expense of the longer term and the environment.

Of course they can legislate the speed of change! Look at zoning laws. They can stop allowing sprawl and the development of car-centered societies (Boulder did it). They can raise taxes on oil (instead of the silly tax holiday) to the point that it makes battery powered cars cheaper to operate. Why do you think Germany, with their 3 hours of sunlight per day, is the world leader in solar energy? (answer: legislation). I could go on with a zillion examples of how legislation sped up change.

Our leaders need to be leaders and think about the future... NOT pander to perceived discomforts of the suv driving soccer moms living in the suburbs.

I hope whomever gets the next job as president will think about this and not pull this populist nonsense.

DaveinHackensack said...


You are right that you can certainly legislate ways to make energy more expensive, and that seems to be the goal of many on the left. The odd thing about this to me is that the same folks on the left are typically in favor of making our tax system more progressive, i.e., they want those earning less to pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes. How they reconcile their progressive impulse on taxes with regressive proposals on energy, I don't understand. Using taxes to make energy more expensive would hurt lower income earners the most, because energy costs consume a greater percentage of their incomes than is the case for higher earners.

Anonymous said...

Good thing republicans are looking out for low income people. Whew! I can sleep now!

J K said...

Yeah I figured Romney was out, not only because of the houses thing, but also when McCain made ads taunting Obama for Joe's criticism of him during the primaries. That told me that McCain wouldn't pick someone who taunted him during the primaries either.

As far as Joe, while it may be true he isn't the "book smart" leader of the pack, he's street smart and off the cuff I think he'll run circles around her. I was very impressed with Joe during the Dem debates, and people I know who have worked for him say he's a great guy. But even the "insider talk" that he's not the sharpest tool in the shed may be just a result of him talking so damn much all the time. Typically the more people talk the less smart they appear.
I thought Biden's plan to partition Iraq was comprehensive and well thought out. If he came up with that himself then the political circle talk about his smarts is probably too harsh. But it does also sound like something Brzezinski would have come up with (he's a fan of breaking up former colonies to more natural typically smaller ethnic-based states), so I'm not sure if Joe really gets all the credit for that. If Brzezinski did come up with it, then it makes sense that Biden is the VP seeing as how Z-Big is Obama's foreign policy guy.

DaveinHackensack said...


The perception about Biden's intelligence doesn't just come from his tendency to ramble and pontificate; it also comes from his fairly modest academic achievements, and his past attempts to inflate them. It is true that he performed well during the Dem debates though.

I disagree that his Iraq proposal was particularly well thought out. I think it ignored some of the complexities of the country, particularly the extent to which there is intermarriage and kinship ties between Shia and Sunni. The other big problem with it was that the Iraqis weren't too enthusiastic about it. Fortunately, given the space to do so by the decline in violence, the Iraqis seem to be working out their own modus vivendi. There's a better chance of that leading to a settlement suitable for Iraqis, I think, than there would have been had we attempted to impose Biden's partition plan on them.

As for Z-Big being a foreign policy adviser, that probably doesn't bode well for our relations with Russia. That's one area, unfortunately, where there is too little disagreement between the major party candidates. It's one thing, IMO, to defend former Warsaw Pact countries such as Poland, but when you're dealing with countries that used to be part of the USSR itself such as Stalin's homeland of Georgia, perhaps a different approach is warranted.

J K said...

Yes, and there are thousands of Iraqis dying as a result of those ties. What you have there now is a tyranny of the majority (wherever the majority exists and whoever it consists of) and without a strong dictator to hold it together, the country is being shaken apart. To me its good that the Iraqis aren't crazy about it, we have plenty of evidence of the kind of things they ARE (literally) crazy about. Right now you have whole national beuracracies in the control of one extremist religious faction or another, whereas with the country split up each ethnic group would have control of its own basic services. With borders enforced by each ethnic group's military, it could cut down a lot of deaths. The Kurds right now are already practically autonomous, thanks to their well funded washington lobbyists.

I agree with you that Z-Big's involvement doesn't bode well for our relations with Russia. Between Putin's pride and ambition, and the Brzezinski hatred of Russia, there could be a mini-cold war on the horizon.
There is some speculation among academics who follow all this that the next move on the Grand Chessboard is to pit China against Russia.

Anonymous said...

I normally wouldn't post a URL from a lefty blog like Kos, but this was enlightening. Particularly the Bush-like way she campaigned vs. the reality of her governing.

About Sarah Palin, from someone who knows her: