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'Corporate cronyism,' Palin's 2011 version of 'death panels'

On the national stage, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has hit big on the public-relations front with these phrases: "Pallin' around with terrorists,"  "death panels," and "lamestream media."

Now, she's got a new catchphrase: "Corporate cronyism," as in "I want all of our GOP candidates to take the opportunity to kill corporate capitalism that is leading to this cronyism, which is ruining our economy."

Political bogeymen are Palin's touchstones. She's tried her hand with a variety of these to varying success. Not that long ago, Palin said it was the federal deficit that was ruining the economy. But having now lost the budget ceiling fight, she appears to have abandoned the deficit. It appears she believes the answer is to warn of capitalism as the root cause of America's downward spiral.

This message has the dirty word "socialism" written all over it. It sounds in fact a lot like what presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs was saying in 1912. Could Sarah Palin run for president based on the platform of the Social Democratic Party of the United States? Or is it that attacking "crony capitalism" is just another easy for Palin to appeal to the masses?

Quick: what do "pallin' around with terrorists," "death panels," "lamestream media," and "crony capitalism" all have in common? Fear mongering.

Palin might not know much about what she reads, as she made evident in the infamous Katie Couric interview of long ago. But she clearly understands how to capitalize on the fears of Americans. When she was running for governor of Alaska, Palin instinctively perceived Alaskans were fed up with what they took to be a rotten establishment controlled by the "Corrupt Bastards Club," filthy-rich Big Oil and an arrogant governor who thought he deserved a private jet.

And when she quit as governor, there were new fears toward which to turn the people's attention. It was in her resignation that she warned of the "political operatives (who) descended on Alaska."

Nonresidents of Alaska might not fully understand the appeal to provincial fears inherent in the latter statement, but Alaskans live in a land where it is normal to despise and fear Outside interests. Palin's husband, Todd, is a former member and current supporter of the Alaska Independence Party, an organization that began by advocating secession from the United States. It has since tempered that view somewhat, but still wants to keep the federal government at arm's length. Alaskans really would like to be a foreign country north of Canada receiving a ton of U.S. foreign aid and advice, but not having to take any of the latter. Think of the place as sort of the Pakistan of the Arctic and you'll get the idea.

And that is the environment that forged Palin. She knows all about playing people's fears. She first ran for mayor of Wasilla on the issues of gun control and abortion. The city of Wasilla was not involved in either issue. The city had no gun control. The city wasn't financing any abortion. But Palin understood she could whip up the fears among the electorate by suggesting her opponents might be for the former and against the latter.

Bogeymen helped Sarah get elected mayor and then governor. This she obviously understands. Since she quit office, she's been trying to play the Alaska game on a bigger stage by whipping up national fears.

In 2009, it was "death panels," and who wouldn't be afraid of a health care policy like that?

"My parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of … so [Obama's] bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil," she said via Facebook.

Such a system -- had such as system ever been proposed -- would be downright evil. But it was patently false, a gross mischaracterization of an amendment introduced by U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, which allowed for Medicare and Medicaid funds to be used for doctor-patient counseling over end-of-life prognoses.

But "death panels" sounded horrible and was a perfect made-for-TV scare for a nation gripped in debate over health care reform.

Fast forward to 2011, and it now appears Palin believes "corporate cronyism" is the perfect scare for a country facing high joblessness and the potential of a double-dip recession. With almost 1-in-10 Americans out of work and looking for a job, who better to hate than corporations with lean payrolls, overpaid CEOs and their filthy-rich lobbyists, whispering in the ears of federal lawmakers?

Never mind that thousands of small and midsize corporations in this country are the backbone of the economy.

Sadly, most of them employ some form of cronyism -- the practice of hiring people you know or people of the people you know. Polite people now call this practice "networking." Jack gets hired because Johnny says he'd be good at the job. Perfect meritocracies are rare because most business people don't have the time to spend scouring the world for employees and vetting all the potential hires.

It wouldn't be surprising if Joe Andreas down at Great Northern Guns Inc. -- the best little gun store in Alaska and an incorporated business -- doesn't have a crony or two working for him. Note here the definition of the root word crony: "a longtime close friend."

Cronyism isn't necessarily a bad thing. It only becomes so when the friends of the corporate boss, or for that matter, the governor, happen to be crooks, liars or incompetents. Palin herself is really not one to be talking about cronyism, either, given her record in this regard. Government, which has more time and energy to vet people than business, is supposed to be a meritocracy in this country, and at least one branch of government -- the U.S. military -- has done a decent job seeing to that.

Palin as governor failed. The political definition of cronyism is "the practice of appointing friends to high-level posts regardless of their suitability," and that is a description that in large part describes the administration of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. But that doesn't matter. That was then and this is now.

"Crony capitalism" has a scary ring to it even if the phrase is largely redundant, and scaring people is what mama grizzlies do. Mama grizzlies, as Alaskans know better than most Americans, don't try to reason with people; they try to scare them into doing what the mama grizzlies wants done. And if that doesn't work, they attack.

Could this have been what Palin was really thinking when she labeled herself the queen of a new gang of political Mama Grizzlies?

Alaska Dispatch encourages a diversity of opinion and community perspectives. The opinions expressed herein are those of the contributor and are not necessarily endorsed or condoned by Alaska Dispatch. Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com