Once embedded in the popular consciousness, certain themes are hard to dislodge. Somebody starts a rumor or recounts a fable or embellishes an anecdote, and the next thing you know it's a fact: 'gators in the sewers or how a guy named Esteban (or maybe it was Bob) found a treasure map and buried it at the turn of the century somewhere in those hills up behind the high school. Debunk these tales 'til you're blue in the face, but often they simply cannot be uprooted.
During the campaign season, scores of such stories come to light. Some stick, some don't. Many are, of course, pure fabrications. Others are only half lies. And still others merely fudge the truth around the edges in the interests of creating a solid applause line.
The latter seems to be the case in regards to the eBay jet.
That would be the used Westwind II 10-seat jet bought by the state of Alaska in late 2005. The jet that played a prominent role as object and symbol of what Sarah S. Palin called the state's culture of corruption in her successful 2006 primary campaign against Governor Frank Murkowski.
As she said in her speech to the Republican National Committee Wednesday night to a roar of cheers: "That luxury jet was over the top. I put it on eBay."
But as Adam Raymond at Radar's Fresh Intelligence pointed out Thursday, Palin failed to mention that the plane didn't sell on eBay.
After going unsold for months, the jet was put into the hands of Turbo North Aviation, an Anchorage aircraft broker, which put an asking price of $2.45 million on the nearly $2.7 million jet. It quickly sold to Alaska businessman Larry Reynolds for $2.1 million ($31,000 of which went to Turbo Aviation). Today the Westwind II jet spends its days ushering wealthy hunters around Alaska and Russia.
A small matter? No doubt. But as Jason George and Andrew Zajac of the Chicago Tribune write today:
Palin's statement implied the plane was sold through the online auction site revered for empowering millions of small entrepreneurs, and Palin's spokeswoman insisted Thursday that the transaction occurred. But the plane failed to sell on eBay. ...
Also, while Palin characterized the plane as an extravagance of former Gov. Frank Murkowski, who arranged for its purchase in November 2005, the plane saw heavy use transporting Alaskan convicts.
Alaska does not have adequate prison capacity and contracts for space with a private facility near Phoenix. On Thursday, 24 percent of the 4,546 Alaskans in jail or in prison were serving their time at Arizona's Red Rock Correctional Center, said a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Corrections.
When the state first began using the plane in November 2005, prisoner transport accounted for 58 percent of the jet's use, and Murkowski's office used it 23 percent of the time. Over time, Murkowski's usage increased.
In a crucial campaign at a time we're in crisis over the economy, the environment, energy, foreign and military policy, globalization, health care, education, human rights, civil rights and the Constitution itself, harping over such a small matter may be seen as petty, partisan carping. Indeed, Palin didn't lie - she did try to auction the plane on-line. And there are plenty of actual lies to follow up on.
But the eBay jet does matter. Part of John McCain's whole effort to remaverick himself despite being Mister Bush's 90% man is to attach himself firmly to his running mate's supposed maverickness. Thus, whether it's stances on earmarks, or reversals on bridges to nowhere, or fudged tales of executive derring-do, they ought to be disembedded from the national consciousness before they become unshakable truths.
[Update]: While Palin only fudged the truth by omission, John McCain is working heartily on embedding a falsehood derived from that omission: "You know what I enjoyed the most? She took the luxury jet that was acquired by her predecessor and sold it on eBay -- made a profit," he said, introducing Palin.