Sarah Palin’s Federal Employee-Assisted Vacation

Sarah Palin visiting the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Associated Press.

Distaste for government employees has been part of Sarah Palin’s brand since she stepped on to the national political stage in 2008. “She’s fought oil companies and party bosses and do-nothing bureaucrats, and anyone who puts their interests before the interests of the people she swore an oath to serve,” John McCain said when he introduced her as his running mate. In her speech at the Republican National Convention, she complained that Obama would “make government bigger…take more of your money…give you more orders from Washington.” Her “death panels” allegation about President Obama’s health care plan was based on the idea that “faceless bureaucrats” would deny her son Trig care on the grounds that he wasn’t productive. Last fall she blamed a “faceless bureaucrat” for taking environmental protection measures that impacted the San Joaquin Valley fishing industry. More recently, she has said that she’s looking for Republican candidates “who do not believe in big government and that bureaucrats can plan our economy and plan our futures for us”

All of which makes it simultaneously hilarious and depressing that what’s keeping Palin’s summer vacation/whistle stop campaign tour going smoothly is, in part, federal employees — though maybe when they’re helping her out, they don’t count as “faceless?” The Washington Post noted that the National Park Service (NPS) has been prepared to set up event logistics for Palin even though the family’s staff hasn’t sent out advance itineraries. The National Archives opened early for the Palins. They’ve gotten private tours and gotten to skip lines at NPS facilities. It’s doesn’t seem like Palin’s asked for special treatment (though showing up on a several-hours notice actually seems more inconvenient than sending out a schedule and coordinating weeks in advance), but the Park Service does stuff like this because it’s a courtesy and helps preserve the experience for everyone else.

The trip is doubly hypocritical given that she’s long been on the conservative bandwagon of targeting federal arts and humanities funding. When she turned down half of the stimulus funding allocated for Alaska in 2009, she cited potential growth in the National Endowment for the Arts as one reason for rejecting the money. In March, she told Sean Hannity that “NPR, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, all those kind of frivolous things that government shouldn’t be in the business of funding with tax dollars — those should all be on the chopping block as we talk about the $14-trillion debt that we’re going to hand to our kids and our grandkids.”

And of course, historic preservation is part of the mission of both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Those agencies that Palin thinks are so wasteful are part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Save America’s Treasures Program. Among the things the program funded in 2011? Efforts to stabilize the foundation of Robert E. Lee’s Arlington House, the Civil War Battle Flag Collection in Arkansas, and physical plant repairs to the Washington National Cathedral. If Palin wants to argue that visiting America’s historic sites and learning about the country’s past is something everyone ought to be doing, something that might help Americans rediscover the country’s core values, she should acknowledge that federal employees and federal funding are often what keep those landmarks standing and their collections on display.