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Yes, Palin is Loyal, but to What and to Whom?

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Posted on April 7 2010 3:30 pm

Conflicting loyalties seem to have resulted in some surprising political decisions by Sarah Palin.

On Monday here at NewsReal Blog I argued that Govenor Sarah Palin’s active support of John McCain’s Senate reelection campaign makes no sense. Palin, after all, doesn’t owe McCain anything. Whatever debt she might have owed McCain she paid off during the 2008 presidential campaign.

In fact, if anything, it seems to me that McCain is indebted to Palin. This because his ’08 campaign really did her a disservice, and also because McCain staffers have since betrayed the former Alaska governor with malicious and disparaging leaks to the media.

Many of the commenters to my post don’t disagree. However, they write, there is one laudable reason why Palin is actively supporting McCain: loyalty.

Fair enough. Loyalty is important. But it seems to me that Palin has competing loyalty obligations; and that she chose to be loyal to McCain when she just as easily could have chosen to be loyal to other people and other principles instead.

For example, Palin knows that some of her most steadfast supporters in the conservative and Tea Party movements have very profound and important differences with McCain.

These Palin supporters believe that on too many critical issues — including free speech (aka “campaign finance reform”), military modernization, and illegal immigration – McCain is a liberal wolf in a conservative sheep’s clothing.

What about loyalty to these people? What about loyalty to their issues and concerns? Why does loyalty to one man, one politician, outweigh loyalty to millions of dedicated conservative and Tea Party activists?

And why does personal loyalty to a man (McCain) outweigh loyalty to a set of conservative political principles?

No one’s saying that Palin had to actively oppose McCain. That might, indeed, have been awkward and ill-advised given that she was his vice presidential running mate.

But why did Palin have to go out of her way to actively support and campaign for McCain? Why couldn’t she have praised both McCain and his challenger, Rep. J.D. Hayworth, while remaining neutral in the Arizona Senate race?

I can think of two possible explanations offered up, respectively, by journalists Conor Friedersdorf and Matthew Continetti.

Friedersdorf says that Palin simply may not be the conservative her steadfast supporters think she is. She may, in fact, be a John McCain Republican. This would mean that she is liberal on some issues, moderate on others, and conservative about a few things.

Continetti notes that since being thrust into the national limelight, Palin has “become incredibly rich.” It may be — and this is me speaking, not Continetti — that because of her newfound riches, Palin feels an understandable debt, literally and figuratively, to Sen. McCain.

If true, that’s fine. Making money to support one’s family is honorable. But that’s a different type of loyalty, I think, than many of the governor’s defenders have in mind.

John R. Guardiano is a writer and analyst in Arlington, Virginia. You can follow him on Twitter: @Guardian0

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