The NYT is appalled that Sarah Palin has enemies. They also find her to “put a premium on loyalty and secrecy.” They shake their pointy heads in dismay over her being “overly reliant on a small inner circle”. Even assuming that the Times is correct in its interpretation of local politics it is clearly unfamiliar with (the cultural distance between midtown Manhattan and Alaska is more than just 3,000 miles; it is light years apart), these characteristics the Times finds so “disturbing” are in fact further evidence of Sarah Palin’s authenticity. Far from troubling, having enemies and relying on a small circle of loyal subordinates are the hallmarks of a genuine reformer.
The nature of any system, be it in politics or elsewhere, is to reward those who follow it and play by its rules. Reform however, is a system’s greatest enemy. Reform’s goal is to change the system, essentially destroying it and creating a new one in its place. That those who benefit from and are part of the system, would push back aggressively at any attempt to change it, is a given. This is why more often than not, reform (and reformers) fail. It takes a special type of person, one with tremendous courage, tenacity, skill and integrity to stand up to the rushing waters when it would be so much easier to go with the flow. A reformer knows that it is impossible to reform an entrenched way of life or governance without making varied and powerful enemies. The system’s keepers and beneficiaries will fight long and hard for its preservation. For there to be any chance of success, the reformer cannot even attempt to avoid making enemies, to do so would guarantee the failure of the venture. On the contrary, the more enemies made, the greater the chance that reform is actually occurring. As pilots know, when you start getting flak, you know you’re over the target.
It is difficult to accomplish anything worthwhile in life without great effort. Creating a myriad of enemies along the way, as is the reformer’s lot, increases that difficulty exponentially. The only way to stay afloat is to surround yourself with like-minded people dedicated and loyal to you and your mission. They are the machinery that will allow the new system to take hold and bear fruit. The mainstays of a system are not so much the policies set forth, but the people put in place to execute them. A push for a strong military will most likely not succeed with Michael Moore as Secretary of Defense, official policy notwithstanding. The reformer seeking to implement an improved system will have to change policy platforms along with the people charged with enacting them. Leaving people who benefited from and were comfortable with the previous order is nothing but a recipe for backstabbing, deceit, inefficiency and failure.
The Times’ examination of Sarah Palin and a parallel review of Barack Obama’s record points clearly as to who is a true reformer and who is not. Sarah Palin has made enemies wherever she’s gone. A closer examination will reveal the offended to be those who were associated with the systems she has tried to reform. She shook up the hive and the bees are swarming. That she is unconcerned about ruffling feathers and continues to hack away at what she believes to be corrupt, inefficient and wrong, indicates one thing: she is in this for the long haul and has the tools to succeed. This is why she has surrounded herself with people she can trust who will help her accomplish her goals.
Barack Obama was a state senator for seven years and a US senator for the past three. He has no political enemies that can be pointed to (no friends either, but that is a topic for a different day). The reason? The system is not afraid of him. The “status quo” likes him. He has done nothing that would cause the corrupt and the complacent to be wary of him or his policies. In other words, the system was perfectly happy with Barack Obama as a state and US senator and would have no problem with him as president. He has proven himself to be part of the system, a team player. Does Tim Carper (D-Delaware) or Robert Bennet (R-Utah) for example, have enemies? No, and why should they? They go along with consensus, participate in the status quo and leave the tree-shaking for others, no doubt picking up many “friends” and few “enemies” in the process. But reformers they aren’t and change is not what they, or those like them, are likely to sell.
The life of a reformer is a difficult one, not for the faint-hearted or those who aim to please. One could begrudge Obama the desire to play ball and not rock the boat. Indeed, that is the road most often traveled by people in general and politicians in particular. But that is not change. Not change we can believe in.