Sarah Palin Campaigns For Bridge To Nowhere 

Reihan asks:

So will we stop hearing that Palin “lied” about the Bridge to Nowhere? I’m guessing we won’t.

Well, Reihan, we will keep hearing about it because she has been lying. 

The relevant facts concerning Palin and her false “Bridge to Nowhere” claim are these.  As a gubernatorial candidate in 2006, she supported the project and objected to the derisive name that she now uses to score points.  At the time that she was a candidate, she said:

OK, you’ve got Valley trash standing here in the middle of nowhere…I think we’re going to make a good team as we progress that bridge project. 

In reaction to public criticism about the project, Congress still allocated the money to Alaska but not for the purposes of building the dreaded bridge.  Palin accepted the infusion of federal dollars for use on other projects.  When she said, ”Thanks, but no thanks” to the bridge, the feds had already pulled the money for that project, which means that she decided, abent federal pork, she would not go ahead with the project using only state money.  So her later rejection of the bridge project was a concession to political reality, and not the high-minded opposition to wasteful pork that she wants you to think that it was, since she was quite glad to take the money.  Here’s the main thing: no one would care whether she supported the bridge project or not, except that she and McCain have made her opposition to the bridge project the centerpiece of her public persona as a great reformer and fighter of government waste, and McCain insists that all earmark spending is inherently wasteful and wrong.  By McCain’s own standard, Palin’s eventual opposition to the bridge project is beside the point–it is federal pork as such that he finds offensive and which he now claims  Palin has combated as part of his effort to make Palin into a credible reformer of Washington.  It is hardly inspiring that she has to make false statements in order to make this central claim, and it is deeply troubling that the “reform” ticket is daily making claims about Palin’s record that only the most generous partisan could accept as honest. 

To hear her tell it, she was some bright-eyed champion of halting earmark spending who wanted nothing to do with that ridiculous “Bridge to Nowhere.”  The reality was that she very artfully changed her position to fit the new political circumstances.  Meanwhile, the people in Ketchikan (a.k.a., Nowhere) remember how she exploited Alaskan resentment at the national derision of their area to win support for her bid for governor, only to turn around on the national stage and use the same derision to put herself on the same page with McCain.  From the Reuters report:

During her first speech after being named as McCain’s surprise pick as a running mate, Palin said she had told Congress “‘thanks but no thanks’ on that bridge to nowhere.”

In the city Ketchikan, the planned site of the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere,” political leaders of both parties said the claim was false and a betrayal of their community, because she had supported the bridge and the earmark for it secured by Alaska’s Congressional delegation during her run for governor. The bridge, a span from the city to Gravina Island, home to only a few dozen people, secured a $223 million earmark in 2005. The pricey designation raised a furor and critics, including McCain, used the bridge as an example of wasteful federal spending on politicians’ pet projects. When she was running for governor in 2006, Palin said she was insulted by the term “bridge to nowhere,” according to Ketchikan Mayor Bob Weinstein, a Democrat, and Mike Elerding, a Republican who was Palin’s campaign coordinator in the southeast Alaska city. “People are learning that she pandered to us by saying, I’m for this’ … and then when she found it was politically advantageous for her nationally, abruptly she starts using the very term that she said was insulting,” Weinstein said.

The story goes on:

The state, however, never gave back any of the money that was originally earmarked for the Gravina Island bridge, said Weinstein and Elerding.

In fact, the Palin administration has spent “tens of millions of dollars” in federal funds to start building a road on Gravina Island that is supposed to link up to the yet-to-be-built bridge [bold mine-DL], Weinstein said.

“She said ‘thanks but no thanks,’ but they kept the money,” said Elerding about her applause line. Former state House Speaker Gail Phillips, a Republican who represented the Kenai Peninsula city of Homer, is also critical about Palin’s reversal on the bridge issue. “You don’t tell a group of Alaskans you support something and then go to someplace else and say you oppose it,” said Phillips, who supported Palin’s opponent, Democrat Tony Knowles, in the 2006 gubernatorial race.

A press release issued by the governor on September 21, 2007 said she decided to cancel state work on the project because of rising cost estimates. “It’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island,” Palin said in the news release. “Much of the public’s attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here.”

Perhaps the most damning part of this lie is that it shows that Palin has engaged in the same sort of derision of Ketchikan when she is on the national stage that she correctly identified in Obama’s San Francisco comments on small-town Americans.  You can say that this is simply the way of things, or you can say that this is just what politicians do, but you cannot say that she represents some burgeoning new reformism when she has not done the very things she is claiming as proof of her reform credentials. 

More to the point, if she has actually worked to reduce other earmark requests for Alaska, that is the sort of claim she ought to be making publicly.  Palin “stopped” the bridge after a significant component of its funding had been denied by Congress; she “stopped” the bridge when it had become a national symbol of wasteful pork and a target of derision.  In other words, right up until the project became politically radioactive her instinct and her public position was to support it.  It is true that Alaska Republicans supported the bridge and in zeroing out state funding Palin eventually broke with them, but it is equally true that she broke with her old position on the bridge, which had been identical with the position taken by the Alaska Congressional delegation.  Indeed, as she said during her race for governor, she supported state funding for the project and thought it important to get the federal funding while Alaska’s Republican representatives in Congress were still in the majority:

I would like to see Alaska’s infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later. The window is now – while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist. 

Give her credit for good political instincts, but please stop trying to say that she is being honest with the public about this issue.   

P.S.  Here is Factcheck.org’s assessment of Palin’s claims, including this important point:

Palin accepted non-earmarked money from Congress that could have been used for the bridge if she so desired. That she opted to use it for other state transportation purposes doesn’t qualify as standing up to Congress.

Of course, that doesn’t even begin to touch her remarkable success in securing earmarked spending for Wasilla, which she has very wisely avoided discussing since being named to the ticket. 

Update: One more thing.  As part of her announcement and convention speeches, Palin has said about the bridge project:

If we wanted that bridge, we’d build it ourselves.

But she did want that bridge (see the above quote), and given the choice of “building it ourselves” or not building it, she opted for not building it.  So even this little rationalization at the end is false.

Second Update: Reihan has a follow-up post.  I would still say that Palin and McCain have been lying about this, but I am glad to see Reihan say this much:

Palin’s approach to the Bridge to Nowhere smacks of rank opportunism, not unlike the use by some basically pro-trade candidates of harsh anti-trade rhetoric.

That’s not a bad comparison, but I think a better comparison would be Obama’s claims about his record on welfare reform.  His pandering on trade was pure primary gimmickry, which he abandoned as soon as necessary, but what Palin is doing is to take something imposed on her by political necessity and attempting to make it appear to be the result of her virtuous reformism.  Like Palin with the bridge, Obama can claim he technically supported it at some point despite his vociferous opposition to the substance of the legislation he was helping to authorize.  Obama supported “moving people from welfare to work” in just about the same way that Palin “stopped” the bridge project–he came around to supporting it after there was no other viable option.  There is some shred of truth to both claims wrapped up in giant balls of distortions and misrepresentations.  However, contra the good Prof. Ramey, her claim about stopping the bridge was not “entirely true” and not even close to it.  She said something that was much, much closer to being entirely false, and she had to know that this is what she was doing.  If that isn’t saying something that you know not to be true, I’m not sure what it is.