Page 13 Cartoons

Alaska: neither lipstick, nor pitbulls, nor Sarah Palin

January 15, 2009

The meaning of my Alaskan identity changed on a Friday afternoon last semester in Walsh 392. That day, John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential nominee. In a matter of mere hours, strangers and friends alike stopped asking me about frigid temperatures and polar bears, and began inquiring about my opinion of Sarah Palin.
For eight hours after the announcement, my politically-minded friends sought me out as a fountainhead of Sarah Palin-related knowledge. Few had ever heard of her, and I was delighted to talk. As a life-long Alaska resident, I followed her rise through Alaskan politics quite closely, at times by choice and at others by osmosis.
My father had been an Alaska State Trooper for 22 years before he retired last May. He followed every microscopic detail of the “Troopergate” scandal in Alaska as it broke over the summer, devouring each news update, every political blog and internet rumor. As far as I could tell, he was one of about 100 people who were even interested. Every day when I came home from work, he gave me the latest update.
Frankly, it bored me.
Sure, maybe she fired the commissioner improperly. Sure, her daughter was rumored to be pregnant. But who cared? After Sarah Palin became the VP nominee, the answer became: “everyone.”
While at first I knew much more about Ms. Palin than even Wikipedia could provide, the news media soon caught up. The headlines became packed with scandals that Alaskans never even knew about—or cared to know about. Sarah Palin tried to ban books, they said; she had her own tanning booth in the governor’s mansion; she charged the state per diem to live in her own home.
At first, I enjoyed all this attention heaped on my home state. This delight quickly faded, however, as the days after Sarah Palin’s disastrous interviews passed, and Alaska, my home and a place in which I take great pride, increasingly became the butt of the jokes dished by late-night talk show hosts.
Despite my general animosity toward Ms. Palin, I found myself growing increasingly defensive of her as my Georgetown friends poked fun at everything about her: her hairstyle, her accent, and, more fairly, her claim that her experience as Alaska’s Governor was sufficient to be the Vice President of the United States.
I don’t share many of Sarah Palin’s political views, but I think that, like many of her supporters, perhaps I felt defensive because I see something of myself in her. Sarah Palin and I are from similar backgrounds. Like Sarah Palin, I grew up in small-town Alaska with parents of modest means. Like Sarah Palin, I’m proud of that. My mom teaches science—so does Ms. Palin’s dad. While my father did not teach me to shoot or dress a moose (where I live, there are no moose), he did teach me to catch and gaff salmon, fire a gun, drive a skiff, navigate in the woods with a compass, and build an emergency shelter. I, too, remember the long ferry rides for sports trips, and while I certainly didn’t conduct church services on them, I can play a mean game of cribbage.
Sure, she’s a little bit off-the-wall. But so what? In Alaska, so-called oddities of Sarah Palin’s ilk—five kids, a pregnant teenage daughter, the casting-out of witches—is actually relatively mild. The man who lives down the street from me changed his name to “United Global Mankind,” after the religion he founded, “United Global Mankind-Divine Maintenance and Direction.” (He is currently the only member). Everyone calls him Mike. There is a woman in my town rumored to raise goats in her trailer. My family and I lived on a 42-foot boat for several years.
Alaskans are tolerant of a little bit of strangeness. To tell you the truth, I think you have to be a little bit odd to begin with in order to enjoy living in a place so isolated and cold .
As the campaign wore on, though, I found myself defending the indefensible. Ms. Palin became increasingly nasty and petty. Her lack of the most basic understanding of international issues became apparent, her trademark confidence often seemed inappropriate, her naïveté positively frightening. Sarah Palin’s political views differ greatly from mine, and I think that the last months on the campaign trail demonstrated that she doesn’t have the necessary knowledge to take national office. But I do share her pride in being from a great and unique state. I just wish she’d shut her mouth so I could be a little prouder.

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