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The New Economy

Palin misses mark on cap-and-trade critique

By / July 14, 2009

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin announced July 3 that she would step down as governor July 26.

Robert DeBerry/The Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman/AP

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Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has an uncanny knack for seizing the political moment. Can she keep it?

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After her surprise announcement early this month that she was resigning her governorship, she followed up Tuesday with an op-ed in the Washington Post attacking the global warming legislation now before Congress. [Editor's note: Text corrected to describe her piece as an op-ed; below, text changed to eliminate the political characterization of her blogger critics.]

It is a smart political move, showing she's ready to become an important conservative voice on policy debates. It's the right topic, because she's spent years dealing with energy policy. It's the right bill to attack, because the cap and trade system to curb greenhouse-gas emissions is a controversial and vulnerable proposal that would transform the rules of the road for the US economy if passed.

Conservatives have important economic arguments to make in this debate. But Governor Palin's Alaska-centric op-ed misses the mark.

She focuses on job losses and costs, which are real for energy-producing states but probably small nationally, and ignores the bill's more glaring weaknesses. In June, in the same op-ed pages of the Washington Post, Harvard economist Martin Feldstein made the much more compelling argument that the bill imposes costs with little environmental benefit unless China and other developing nations agree to cut their emissions, too. And he pointed out that by giving away 85 percent of the permits rather than auctioning them off, the government is cutting the revenue it could funnel to households to cushion the blow of higher energy prices.

By comparison, Palin's points in the op-ed are weaker:

There is no denying that as the world becomes more industrialized, we need to reform our energy policy and become less dependent on foreign energy sources. But the answer doesn't lie in making energy scarcer and more expensive!

And this:

We have an important choice to make. Do we want to control our energy supply and its environmental impact? Or, do we want to outsource it to China, Russia and Saudi Arabia?

Those are applause lines, red meat for the dinner circuit of hard-core conservatives. But will her arguments win over independents and centrists? They could be swayed on cap-and-trade (but might be a little puzzled about what exactly we would be outsourcing to China).

Bloggers have already attacked the op-ed.

The point, however, is that Palin needs to broaden her appeal and outlook if she wants to run for president. Perhaps, freed by the demands and distractions of the governorship, she will be able to buckle down, hone her economic rhetoric, and reach those crucial voters in the middle.

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