Jonathan Raban has written an astute article on Palin in a recent LRB -- it's now over a month old, and so a bit dated in terms of analyzing the latest "Palin Effect", but it frames her antics (campaign and pre-campaign as well), while historically contextualizing her political/personal m.o. with dismal clarity. There's no question that she's way ahead of the curve when it comes to strategizing her future in politics... (in other words, it's not about *this* election, it's all about 2012)
via LRB - Vol. 30 No. 19 · 9 October 2008 / pages 7-10:
Jonathan Raban, September 26
Sarah Palin has put a new face and voice to the long-standing, powerful, but inchoate movement in US political life that one might see as a mutant variety of Poujadism, inflected with a modern American accent. There are echoes of the Poujadist agenda of 1950s France in its contempt for metropolitan elites, fuelling the resentment of the provinces towards the capital and the countryside towards the city, in its xenophobic strain of nationalism, sturdy, paysan resistance to taxation, hostility to big business, and conviction that politicians are out to exploit the common man. In 1980, Ronald Reagan profitably tapped the movement with his promises of states’ rights, low taxes and a shrunken government in Washington; the ‘Reagan Democrats’ who crossed party lines to vote for him are still the most targeted demographic in the country. In 1992, Ross ‘Clean out the Barn’ Perot and his United We Stand America followers looked for a while as if they were going to up-end the two-party system, with Perot leading George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton in the midsummer polls. In 1996, Pat Buchanan (‘The peasants are coming with pitchforks’) appealed to the same bloc of voters with a programme that was militantly Christian, white, nativist, provincial, protectionist and anti-Washington. In 2000, Karl Rove cleverly enrolled this quasi-Poujadist faction in his grand alliance of libertarians, born-agains and corporate interests. It’s worth remembering that in 2004 every American city with a population of more than 500,000 voted for Kerry, and that the election was won for Bush in the outer suburbs, exurbia and the countryside – peasants with pitchforks territory. For an organisation so wedded to its big-city corporate clients, the Republican Party has been hugely successful in mopping up the votes of low-income, lightly educated rural and exurban residents.
Most large American cities, especially in the West, are situated in counties that extend far beyond the city limits. Liberal urban governments with high property-tax rates and progressive environmental policies wield great power (some say tyranny) over their rural hinterlands, delivering ukases about land use and conservation: brush-cutting is to be limited to 40 per cent of the property; ‘setbacks’ of 100 feet are required from streams and wetlands; new churches are denied building permission because they are deemed ‘large footprint items’ in ‘critical habitat areas’ etc. So the householder or farmer sees ‘the city’ making unwarranted infringements of his God-given right to manage his land as he pleases, and imagines his precious tax-dollars being squandered on such urban fripperies as streetcar lines and monorails. These local quarrels spread to infect whole states. In Washington state, where I live, almost every ill that befalls people in the timberlands and agricultural regions, far from any city, is confidently attributed to ‘liberals from Seattle’, a nefarious conspiracy of wealthy, tree-hugging elitists with law degrees from East Coast universities, whose chief aim is to destroy the traditional livelihoods of honest citizens living on either side of the Puget Sound urban corridor. Poujade – and Jean-Marie Le Pen – would have had a field day here; as, I’m afraid, will the McCain-Palin ticket in November.
Until now, the political leaders who’ve used the movement to their electoral advantage have come to it as outsiders. Reagan the Hollywood actor, Perot the data-processing billionaire, Buchanan the DC journalist, and George W. Bush the energy-industry scion and owner of a merely recreational ranch in Crawford, Texas, have had very little in common with their rural and exurban constituents, and their gestures at farmyard, strip-mall or cowboy-boot cred have tended to come across as phoney and embarrassing. Photographed inside J.C. Penney’s or Costco or Safeway, they’ve looked hardly less exotic than poor Michael Dukakis did on board his ill-advised tank. But the moment that Sarah Palin stepped up to the mike at the Republican Convention in St Paul, and began talking in her homely, mezzo-soprano, Far Western twang, she showed herself to be incontestably the real thing. Americans, starved of völkisch authenticity in their national politicians, thrilled to her presence on the stage. Forty million people watched her speech on television. When she said, ‘Difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull? Lipstick!’ even in the liberal redoubt of Seattle I thought I heard a roar of delighted recognition coming from my neighbours on the hill. Palin doesn’t need to say what Poujade used to tell his listeners, ‘Look me in the eye, and you will see yourself,’ and ‘I’m just le petit Poujade, an ordinary Frenchman like you’: all she needed was her trademark blink from behind her librarian glasses, and to turn on her pert, wrinkle-nosed smile, in order to convince a crucial sector of the American electorate, male and female, that it sees in her a looking-glass reflection, suitably flattering in both form and content, of itself. Sarah, c’est moi.
Found image Via Nicole (thanks!) - link
Like Wally the Green Monster, Baxter the Bobcat, the Mariner Moose and other giant furry creatures who accompany major-league baseball teams from game to game, Palin is the adored mascot of the anti-fiscal crowd. Her actual performance as mayor and governor counts for little beside her capacity to keep the fans happy during the intervals between play, which she does in the style she developed as mayor of Wasilla and then perfected in her triumphant gubernatorial campaign in 2006. Transcripts and videos from her time in Alaska show her parlaying the barest minimum of rhetorical and intellectual resources into a formidable electoral weapon. The least one can say of her is that she quickly learned how to make the most of herself.
What is most striking about her is that she seems perfectly untroubled by either curiosity or the usual processes of thought. When answering questions, both Obama and Joe Biden have an unfortunate tendency to think on their feet and thereby tie themselves in knots: Palin never thinks. Instead, she relies on a limited stock of facts, bright generalities and pokerwork maxims, all as familiar and well-worn as old pennies. Given any question, she reaches into her bag for the readymade sentence that sounds most nearly proximate to an answer, and, rather than speaking it, recites it, in the upsy-downsy voice of a middle-schooler pronouncing the letters of a word in a spelling bee. She then fixes her lips in a terminal smile. In the televised game shows that pass for political debates in the US, it’s a winning technique: told that she has 15 seconds in which to answer, Palin invariably beats the clock, and her concision and fluency more than compensate for her unrelenting triteness.
She has great political gifts, combining the competitive instincts of a Filipino gamecock with the native gumption she first displayed in her 1996 race to become mayor of Wasilla, when she blindsided the incumbent mayor by running not on local but on state and national issues, as the pro-gun and pro-life candidate. Mayors have no say on abortion or on gun laws, but Palin got the support of the local Evangelicals (it greatly helped that her – Lutheran – opponent’s surname was Stein and her backers put it about that he was a Jew) and of gun-owners who keenly supported a bill, then pending in the state legislature, that would affirm the right of Alaskans to carry concealed weapons into public buildings. On more typical mayoral concerns, she promised to halve Wasilla’s property tax and ‘cut out things that are not necessary’, citing the bloated budgets for the museum, the library and arts and recreation. She won the election with 616 votes to Stein’s 413.
There followed what some Wasillaites saw as her reign of terror. She demanded resignation letters from all the city managers, ridding herself of the museum director, the librarian (whom she was later forced to rehire), the public works director, the city planner and the police chief, who’d argued against the concealed weapons bill and had supported a measure to close the town’s bars at 2.30 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. at weekends (the owners of the Mug-Shot Saloon and the Wasilla Bar had given money to Palin’s campaign). City employees were forbidden by her to speak to the press, and during her first four months in office she provoked a string of appalled editorials in the local paper, the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman:
Wasilla found out it has a new mayor with either little understanding or little regard for the city’s own laws.
Palin seems to have assumed her election was indeed a coronation. Welcome to Kingdom Palin, the land of no accountability.
Mayor Palin fails to have a firm grasp of something very simple: the truth . . . Wasilla residents have been subjected to attempts to unlawfully appoint council members, statements that have been shown to be patently untrue, unrepentant backpedalling, and incessant whining that her only enemies are the press and a few disgruntled supporters of former mayor John Stein.
Surrounding herself with fellow congregants from the Pentecostalist Wasilla Assembly of God and old school chums from Wasilla High, the 32-year-old mayor set about turning the town into the kind of enterprise society that Margaret Thatcher used to extol. She abolished its building codes and signed a series of ordinances that re-zoned residential property for commercial and industrial use. When the city attorney ordered construction to stop on a house being built by one of her campaign contributors, she sacked him.
Having come to power saying that her agenda was to pare down Wasilla to ‘the basic necessities, the bare bones’, she surprised its citizens when she redecorated the mayor’s office at a reported cost of $50,000 salvaged from the highways budget; its new red flock wallpaper matched her bold, rouge-et-noir taste in personal outfits. Another $24,000 of city money went on a white Chevy Suburban, known around Wasilla, without affection, as the mayormobile. She hired a city administrator to deputise for her in the day-to-day running of Wasilla’s affairs and employed a lobbyist in DC to wheedle lawmakers into meeting the town’s ever-expanding list of claims for congressional ‘pork’ (so named from the antebellum custom of rewarding slaves with barrels of salt pork). That expenditure, at least, paid off: during Palin’s six-year tenure as mayor, the federal government doled out more than $1000 for every man, woman and child in Wasilla. Her pet project was a $14.7m ice rink and sports complex, which opened in 2004. It is said to be lightly used, it has left the city servicing a massive debt, and a Jarndyce and Jarndyce lawsuit continues over the bungled way in which Palin acquired the land on which it’s built.
Present-day Wasilla is Palin’s lasting monument. It sits in a broad alluvial valley, puddled with lakes, boxed in on three sides by sawtoothed Jurassic mountains, and fringed with woods of spruce and birch. Visitors usually aim their cameras at the town’s natural surroundings, for Wasilla itself – quite unlike its rival and contemporary in the valley, Palmer, 11 miles to the east – is a centreless, sprawling ribbon of deregulated development along a four-lane highway, backed on both sides by subdivisions occupied by trailer-homes, cabins, tract-housing and ranch-style bungalows, most built since 1990. It’s a generic Western settlement, and one sees Wasillas in every state this side of the 100th meridian: the same competing gas stations, fast-food outlets, strip malls and ‘big box’ stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Fred Meyer and Home Depot, each with a vast parking lot out front, on which human figures scuttle with their shopping trolleys like coloured ants, robbed of their proper scale. (It has to be said that Pierre Poujade, champion of the small shopkeeper, would have been outraged by this sight.)
Wasilla is what inevitably happens when there are no codes, no civic oversight, no planning, when the only governing principle in a community is a naive and superstitious trust in the benevolent authority of the free market. Palin’s view of aesthetics was nicely highlighted in 1996, a few months before she ran for mayor, when a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News happened to light on her in an excited crowd of five hundred women queuing up in the Anchorage J.C. Penney’s, waiting to snag the autograph of Ivana Trump, who was in town to hawk her eponymous line of scent.
‘We want to see Ivana,’ Palin said, who admittedly smells like a salmon for a large part of the summer, ‘because we are so desperate in Alaska for any semblance of glamour and culture.’
The blot on the Alaskan landscape that is Wasilla is the natural consequence of a mindset that mistakes Ivana Trump for culture.