Wednesday, July 1, 2009

VF On Sarah Palin: It Came From Wasilla

Many of you might have heard about Todd S. Purdum's recent article about the former Republican vice-presidential nominee in this month's Vanity Fair (or you at least heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth coming from the right-wing blogosphere). This is one of my favorite passages from Purdum's deconstruction of the woman:

The first thing McCain could have learned about Palin is what it means that she is from Alaska. More than 30 years ago, John McPhee wrote, “Alaska is a foreign country significantly populated with Americans. Its languages extend to English. Its nature is its own. Nothing seems so unexpected as the boxes marked ‘U.S. Mail.’” That description still fits. The state capital, Juneau, is 600 miles from the principal city, Anchorage, and is reachable only by air or sea. Alaskan politicians list the length of their residency in the state (if they were not born there) at the top of their biographies, and are careful to specify whether they like hunting, fishing, or both. There is little sense of government as an enduring institution: when the annual 90-day legislative session is over, the legislators pack up their offices, files, and computers, and take everything home. Alaska’s largest newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News, maintains no full-time bureau in Juneau to cover the statehouse. As in any resource-rich developing country with weak institutions and woeful oversight, corruption and official misconduct go easily unchecked. Scrutiny is not welcome, and Alaskans of every age and station, of every race and political stripe, unself-consciously refer to every other place on earth with a single word: Outside.

So, of all the puzzling things that Sarah Palin told the American public last fall, perhaps the most puzzling was this: “Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.”

Believe me, it is not.

But Sarah Palin herself is a microcosm of Alaska, or at least of the fastest-growing and politically crucial part of it, which stretches up the broad Matanuska-Susitna Valley, north of Anchorage, where she came of age and cut her political teeth in her now famous hometown, Wasilla. In the same way that Lyndon Johnson could only have come from Texas, or Bill Clinton from Arkansas, Palin and all that she is could only have come from Wasilla. It is a place of breathtaking scenery and virtually no zoning. The view along Wasilla’s main drag is of Chili’s, ihop, Home Depot, Target, and Arby’s, and yet the view from the Palins’ front yard, on Lake Lucille, recalls the Alpine splendor visible from Captain Von Trapp’s terrace in The Sound of Music. It is culturally conservative: the local newspaper recently published an article that asked, “Will the Antichrist be a Homosexual?” It is in this Alaska—where it is possible to be both a conservative Republican and a pothead, or a foursquare Democrat and a gun nut—that Sarah Palin learned everything she knows about politics, and about life. It was in this environment that her ambition first found an outlet in public office, and where she first tasted the 151-proof Everclear that is power.

If you followed the last presidential election closely (and if you read Brain Rage the entire time, you did) there are not many revelations in this piece that have not been made public already but I'd still recommend reading the entire article as I did find a few surprises and it's a pretty comprehensive look at this incurious yet resilient public figure.

Personally, despite all of the talk of her making a run at the presidency in 2012 (and my own desire to see such a farce play itself out) I think that she's pretty much done on a national scale. Her pathological antics and absurdly transparent lies since she emerged onto the national stage have reduced her supporters to the hard-core, culturally conservative wing of the Republican party. No one is going to win the presidency with only that crazy cadre at their back and the more realistic, fiscally conservative Republicans know this.

My favorite part of (trying) to discuss her with neoconservatives is their constant refrain of, "You guys on the left are just scared of her, that's why you hate her so much!" Again, we're not scared and we don't hate her. As I've said, I hope she does run and I hope she gets the nomination. Every flirtatious wink and folksy "you betcha!" is another nail in the coffin for her competence and legitimacy to hold that office. Golly.

[Update: A Daily Dish reader offers this insightful analysis of Palin's continued popularity with her religious conservative base:
Part of Sarah Palin's irresistible appeal to her fundamentalist base is her ability to look at the camera with utter conviction and declare black to be white.

The ability to lie well is a valuable part of the fundamentalist psychology. My son isn't gay, he just hasn't found the right woman! Those rocks aren't 50 million years old, they just look like it as a test of our faith! My sexless marriage isn't foundering, it is filled with God's spirit! The minister isn't molesting little Maria, they're just very close! It isn't torture, it is being tough on terrorists!

Fundamentalists can recognize a truly audacious and talented liar from miles away. Instead of running the other way, as you might expect, they gather around the powerful liar, for they know that their own lies will be respected and protected by a leader who understands the paramount importance of preserving their whole system of denial.
Makes sense to me but I'm a godless heathen who prefers facts rather than faith, so what do I know?]


Kevin Robbins said...

Time for the Republicans to decide whether to fish or cut bait, be a freak show or a viable political party. Unfortunately, with the crazies in the base, no respectable Republican can make any headway. That's likely why Huntsman took the China job, in hopes that sanity will return by 2016.

JBW said...

I'm skeptical as to whether the return of that sanity is even possible at this point, ex DLB. The extreme right of their party, while not a majority, is substantial enough that the only way I can foresee a sane, moderate Republican ascending to the White House is if the Democrats piss off enough of their own base (entirely possible, per their bungling in the past) or if enough conservative wingnuts compromise their insanity and vote for someone who doesn't vow to destroy all abortionists and gays (and many of those who did so in the last election already feel like they got burned by McCain). This is Karl Rove's legacy to his party.

magpie said...

Huntsman getting the China job was also smart politics by Obama - he gets a more-credible-than-Palin opposition out of the country and looks bipartisan at the same time. One can't ignore that Huntsman can speak Mandarin though, and making inroads with China would be a big career feather in cap.
His name always makes me think of the harmless species of large spider, of which we have a variant in large numbers. Big, hairy and creepy - like the Republican party - but actually benign. And we also tend to throw them outside.

Kevin Robbins said...

QMP, you Australians are made of stern stuff. I went to wiki to look up Huntsman spiders and I'm not sure I would ever re-enter my apartment if I found one of those in it.

As to Huntsman the human, I have some hopes for him. I figure the Democratic party will have imploded by 2016, and he'll have gained some experience, in addition to having been a governor (always a plus). Granted, I know little of his views on much of anything. But, a Republican that learns Mandarin is at least interesting.

magpie said...

Not that stern, mate. Nothing like spotting one these guys crawling up the front of your shirt to make you move...

Huntsman is conservative on social issues, but supports civil unions for gay couples (as does AmPow as I recall... not defending him, just saying...). He's not a climate change skeptic. Has active religious affiliations. Bit of a mixed bag. Not moderate enough for my taste but no Palin. Conservatives might be abstractly leery of someone who speaks Mandarin.
I bet he can spell "conference" too.

JBW said...

quietmagpie, when you say "Huntsman is conservative on social issues" I assume that you're talking about the human and not the radioactive spider I referred to in my post. I swear that I wrote that last night before I read your comments. Great minds, eh?

magpie said...

I had a similar moment of parallel thought when I commented on the Megan as Mona post..
I had just put the first uncomplicated "hot girl" pic on my blog (drop in from time to time...) and then flicked across to here and saw the new Da Vinci.

No mistake, Huntsman the politician is NOT my cup of tea. But I can see how he could potentially be a presentable candidate.