The longer America listened to Sarah Palin, the less it liked her a heart beat from the presidency. The antipathy wasn’t just a matter of expensive clothing from Nordstroms or Saks. Ted Stevens, Don Young, Sarah Palin; a majority may not clearly grasp it, but American voters will continue to push back against Alaskan conservatives if and when they reach for the presidency.
The allure of the Alaskan conservative to the Republican Party has to do with a fondness for wilderness that leaves democracy pure and undisturbed by government. It is a kind of romanticism, unfettered by clamoring masses, or, regulation.
No Republican can hear a tree fall in the forest in Alaska, whether it is brought down by a pine bark beetle, a private chainsaw on public land, or nature. It is a place where dissent echoes for miles; dissolved by the sibilant rush of oil hurrying through pipes to tankers idling off coast of Valdez. You see: two things are going on in Alaska– the kind of freedom that the Lower 48 ran out of as population ran in, and, lots of oil.
In both cases, once they’ve arrived in Congress, Alaskan conservatives are the proud expression of what drives the Republican agenda: remember, Don Young and George W. Bush dropped the “environment” from the House Natural Resources Committee. And if you dared visit Congressman Young’s office, you were greeted by an implacable though fully dead, fully stretched, snarling grizzly towering over any liberal ideas you might harbor. Romantic? You betcha.
Palin proved a quick study under a very harsh spotlight. But poorly qualified, attractive people elected on the basis of likability have gotten the US into enough trouble; can’t we have leaders of keen intelligence and sound learning? (Yes we can.) Then there is Palin’s naked ambition that John McCain reasonably tolerated until the end. That end was when Mark Salter told her at the stage steps in Phoenix on election eve, “No, Sarah, you can’t deliver a few words to the nation.”
We are all familiar with outsized ego from political candidates; they see see the blue tape marking their place on the stage and ignore it. But Palin was different: a pitbull in stilettos filtered through the cut of news anchor experience married to the cultural wars filtered through Beltway speechwriters. The bottom line: if Sarah Palin is Bill Kristol’s Eliza Doolittle, let him keep her to himself.
Palin was a dewey-eyed woman and mother with a hint of “Drill, baby, drill” and “USA! USA!”. The sexual and the jingoistic; whatever could frame her best. John McCain’s face couldn’t betray in his heart; he didn’t believe any of it. Still, it was the only blood that pulsed in his party and he allowed its toxic nature to sweep his campaign away. Though I didn’t support McCain, it seemed that on some level Palin supported him even less.
On the farewell stage, John McCain was honest, gracious and a statesman. Sarah Palin was just Sarah. She had studied the Tina Fey tapes and improved. John McCain made a mistake selecting her to be his running mate; but it was not his year or any Republican’s to be president. For that, the party can thank George W. Bush and Karl Rove who sailed the US economy straight onto the reef.
As Congress and a new president navigate an extraordinarily difficult passage, we should not forget what calculations pushed Sarah Palin forward; she is not our captain or our fair lady. We do best to remember that, the next time one is teed up for the highest office in the land.
ALAN FARAGO, who writes on the environment and politics from Coral Gables, Florida, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org