Commentary

What does Sarah Palin want?

An angry, angry woman got on a stage in Iowa this week to endorse Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Almost vibrating in the lights that shimmered off the silvery, chain-mail blouse she wore, Alaska’s Sarah Palin launched into a rambling, near 20-minute-long, stream-of-consciousness tirade against all that is wrong in the world today from the “community organizer” occupying the White House to the Islamic extremists fighting “squirmishes that have been going on for centuries.”

The crowd appeared to love it. The reaction of the media was oh-so predictable. One Alaska blogger immediately attacked the speech as “word salad, ” which accurately describes most Palin speeches. The New York Times, the old grey lady of American journalism, devoted an entire story to “The Most Mystifying Lines of Sarah Palin’s Endorsement Speech.

Our Sarah has certainly come a long way from the woman who somewhat nervously stood before a microphone in Fairbanks a decade ago and launched herself onto the political scene by asking Alaskans for help in “putting pettiness aside.” On that cold day in the country’s northernmost urban area with only a handful of reporters, none of them national, on hand she called on Alaska voters to be “united with one heart”  to join in “progressing” the 49th state.

Palin was at the time a little known former mayor from Wasilla. The Palin name was arguably more famous for her husband, Todd, winning the Iron Dog than for Sarah watching over a town of fewer than 5,000 people or later forcing Randy Ruedrich to chose between his $118,000 per year job with the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission or the unpaid post of Alaska Republican Party chairman.

Palin said the two jobs posed a conflict of interest for the political wheeler-dealer. Ruderich said they didn’t. Palin said the state had a “good old boy” system. The good old boys denied it.

Palin later ran for governor on a platform of cleaning up political corruption. It got her elected, and Alaskans fell in love. Absolutely fell in love.

In one May 2007 poll of Alaska voters, she had an unheard of approval rating of 93 percent. She wasn’t just the “uniter not a divider,” future president George W. Bush claimed he wanted to be in 1999, she was a true and almost universally beloved uniter.

For better or worse, she got there with a huge Alaska oil tax increase called Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share (ACES), the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act (AGIA) which promised to secure the state’s economic future by forcing Big Oil to build a natural gas pipeline across Canada to the U.S., and a $3,200 payment to every Alaskan that was part annual Permanent Fund Dividend and part energy rebate.

Self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders, now a Democrat candidate for president, would have been proud. And even today, Palin and Sanders don’t seem that far apart on economic issues with her continuing populist attacks on “crony capitalists,” while he pounds away at the equally populist theme of “income inequality.”

So what was Palin doing on the stump in Iowa for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who could be a poster boy for crony capitalism? The National Review, a very conservative publication, less than a year ago described Trump this way:

“He is a tax-happy crony capitalist (italics added) who is hostile to free trade but very enthusiastic about using state violence to homejack private citizens….”

You would think Trump the sort of guy crony-bashing Palin would detest. You would be wrong.

The two faces of Sarah

On the day Republican Presidential candidate John McCain snatched Sarah Palin from the backwoods of Alaska to be his vice presidential running mate in 2008, there was a born a new Sarah — a more experienced, more conservative, more aggressive Sarah.

At least on paper.

McCain established the narrative in announcing her with a flurry of Conservative catch phrases: “An outstanding reputation for standing up to special interests and entrenched bureaucracies….someone who stopped government from wasting taxpayers’ money on things they don’t want or need, and put it back to work for the people; someone with executive experience who has shown great tenacity and skill in tackling tough problems, especially our dangerous dependence on foreign oil…someone with strong principles, a fighting spirit and deep compassion; someone who grew up in a decent, hard-working middle-class family, whose father was an elementary school teacher and mother was the school’s secretary.”

About all that was missing from the McCain announcement was that historically famous “respectable Republican cloth coat” that Pat Nixon, wife of then Republican VP candidate Richard Nixon, wore instead of a fancy Democrat mink.

The only  problem with the McCain announcement was that little of it was true. Palin hadn’t stood up to bureaucracies in Alaska; she’d grown them. She didn’t stop government spending on anything; she encouraged it. Her executive experience was obviously limited; at Alaska press conferences she often had to call on staff to answer questions. She hadn’t done anything to decrease American dependence on foreign oil; if anything the taxes Alaska imposed under her leadership had served as a disincentive to domestic production. She didn’t have particularly strong principles.

Aside from her left-of-center stand on oil taxes and the gas line plan she thought would force Big Oil to build a natural gas pipeline, she’d been far more pragmatic than dogmatic as a politician. She was a poor public speaker, a little thinker as opposed to a big one, and truth be told, she didn’t seem to enjoy governing that much. Even before McCain hoisted her onto the national stage, questions were being raised about just how much effort Palin put into the job of Alaska governor.

All of this might have escaped the national press before the announcement. There was no way all of it was going to get past them after.

They wanted to know, and rightly, who was this Sarah Palin? They put her under the microscope from which few emerge unmarked. Palin — who’d previously enjoyed a friendly relationship with a press that always gave her the benefit of the doubt on policy and regularly cleaned up her laughably bad grammar — was suddenly facing a media horde turned ugly.

She was on the defensive before her first big, national  interview with ABC news anchorage Charlie Gibson in which stumbled on a question about the “Bush doctrine.” Her supporters later cleaned things up a bit, pushing the point of columnist Charles Krauthammer that “there is no single meaning of the Bush doctrine.”

Then along came CBS anchor Katie Couric.

BC (Before Couric) Versus AC (After Couric)

After Couric there was no saving Palin. Couric embarrassed the Alaska governor. Couric pushed Palin on her foreign policy credentials, and Palin flew into some sort of Alaska air defense NeverNever Land.

Even watching the interview now all these years later, it’s remains unsettling or hilarious depending on how you feel about Palin:

Couric: Have you ever been involved in any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

“Palin: We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state.”

Alaskans, or at least Alaskans who’d lived through the Cold War, quickly recognized that Palin was trying to make a reference to U.S. fighter jets rising from U.S. Air Force bases in the state to intercept bombers from the Soviet Union, the predecessor to modern Russia, probing U.S. air space around the northern edge of the continent. Most people were left clueless.

Among the intelligensia, Palin became a laughingstock. Saturday Night Live pretty well summed things up when comic Tina Fey, artfully mimicking Palin, observed how “I can see Russia from my house.”  The SNL audience cracked up. Many later assume that Fey’s parody of what Palin actually said, that from the most remote western corners of Alaska you can see Russia, was an actual Palin claim.

To be mocked in this way hurts. It hurts anyone. Palin’s response as she’d later state it herself, was “Don’t retreat; reload.”

Couric and all that followed sparked the rebirth of “Sarah Barracuda,” the one-time point guard for the Wasilla Warriors high school basketball team who would rather attack than defend. Pretty much from AC on, Palin was on the attack.

Gone was any thought of being a uniter. This was Sarah the Ultimate Divider, lashing out constantly at the “lamestream media” as she called any media that failed to support her; accusing then presidential candidate Obama of “pallin’ around with terrorists,” and proclaiming herself a pit bull with lipstick, as if that was a good thing.

All of this craziness might have ended quickly had it not resonated so well among middle Americans. Palin arrived at a time when a lot of the country was tired of the nation’s most powerful media talking down to them. Citizens in flyover country still considered firearms as tools,  like drills or table saws. They really didn’t need to hear the likes of the New York Times suggesting new laws that would make it hard to buy tools because city folk didn’t know how to handle them.

Nor did they want to hear that their religion was somehow foolish, or that they were bad people for preferring less government over more government. Shot down by the intelligensia over the coasts, Palin came down in Middle America, where she was quickly accepted as a cultural hero.

The country is still dealing with the consequences. Palin might have lost an election eight years ago, but she remains in the battle. Some thought her appeal would eventually fade with the downward slide of the Tea Party, but the culture war that spawned the Tea Party never went away.

The split between urban and rural values is still out there. Palin’s tribe still needs someone to embrace. Where she came from and what she believed in Alaska is now irrelevant. She is one of the embattled American rural now. It’s about kin, not ideology.

I dare you to try to tell a Palin supporter from the lower 48 that she is anything other than a keenly intelligent, bible-thumbing, gun-loving conservative’s conservative. Trust me. I’ve tried. Not only do they not care about her record in Alaska, they don’t believe it no matter what sources you point them to do.

There is a segment of America to whom Sarah Palin is a God.

Heaven or hell

Just as to another segment of America, Sarah Palin is the devil. Plenty of those in the press strafed Palin after the Trump endorsement. It’s a tough temptation to avoid. I know; I’ve fallen for it myself in the past.

“The arrival of Sarah Palin brings a special something to the 2016 campaign, like a little LSD added to the punch bowl. Are we watching C-SPAN, or a reality TV show, or a “Saturday Night Live” skit? It is impossible to tell without consulting the channel guide,” wrote Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson.

“The GOP candidates have been competing to see who can spew the most nonsense, but they’ll never top Palin,” chimed in the Post’s Eugene Robinson. “Geniuses of the Dada movement would have been humbled by her deconstruction of the language and her obliteration of the bourgeois concept we call logic.”

I admit here to empathizing with Robinson. We watched part of the Palin endorsement at home, and I’m pretty sure I observed that “well, it’s obvious she hasn’t been spending her time out of the spotlight studying grammar.”

It was a cheap shot. It’s so easy to pick on Palin. So, so easy.

She has the speaking skills of what some call “trailer trash,” not to bad mouth “trailer trash.” I used to live in a mobile home in an old-fashioned “trailer park,” and in many ways I remember the others living there as more honest and trustworthy than well-educated media acquaintances you couldn’t trust to walk your dog.

And Palin isn’t wrong about everything she says no matter how wrong she sometimes sounds. Crony capitalism is a reality in this country. Most of us are guilty. We’re a lot more likely to help out our friends — ie. cronies — than those we don’t know. The only difference between you, me and big times cronies is that they have different friends and a lot more money.

Some of Palin’s complaints about the “lamestream media” are equally true. There is bias; it is unavoidable. Major media players do try to control the narrative. There is a clear cultural war between urban and rural values the media often ignores.

Palin has played to the latter only to inflame it.

So what does Sarah Palin want?

Follow the money

Palin is first and foremost a capitalist herself. She wants to make money. Who doesn’t?

The biggest economic engine at her disposal is her name. She’s an extremely well-known public figure, and she’s done business on that alone. There are the TV shows — “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” “Amazing America with Sarah Palin,” “Bristol Palin: Life’s a Tripp,” “Stars Earn Stripes” — the books, the speeches, the stint as a commentator on Fox News, the failed attempt at the Sarah Palin Network on the internet, and the Sarah Palin bus tour, wherein SarahPAC, her political action committee raised money while financing a vacation as the Palin family roamed the East Coast in a motorhome with the media sometimes in pursuit.

Palin has done well off these and other ventures. A website that tracks celebrities today estimates her net worth at $12 million. How accurate that claim is hard to tell, but the Palins appear to be doing all right for themselves.

And they have helped out others in the political class. SarahPAC has given more than $750,000 to other candidates around the country. The candidates were all Republicans, but a very mixed bag of Republicans: Sen. Rand Paul, the libertarian from Kentucky; Sen. Marco Rubio, the centrist from Florida, and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who took a swing at Trump’s anti-immigration policies while delivering the Republican response to the Obama’s State of the State speech not long ago.

Palin’s picks for endorsements would indicate she still maintains some of the political pragmatism she practiced as Alaska governor. She isn’t necessarily holding out for true believers. She seems willing to settle for the like minded with good chances of winning election.

US4Palin.com claims 60 percent of the candidates she endorsed between 2009 and 2015 were successful. Mainstream media sources put her recent success rate at closer to 33 percent. As with most things statistical, it all depends on how you calculate.

Statistics aside, it’s clear that Palin has shown enough endorsement success that there are still plenty of fellow politicians wanting her endorsement, among them Republican presidential hopefuls Trump, who got it, and Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas, who didn’t.

Palin still has some political juice. Maybe that’s what she wants. Or maybe it’s something simpler and more basic:

Revenge.

Can you say “death panels,” as in the phony yoke Palin hung around Obamacare that nearly took down the president’s legacy achievement?

Since the end of the 2008 election, Palin has appeared focused on really only one goal, making life miserable for Obama and his supporters in the intelligensia. It would probably not be over-stating things to say Palin hates Obama, the mixed-race African American who rose from the middle class to graduate from Harvard Law. Obama is on some levels many things Palin isn’t: well-educated, sophisticated, intellectual, and President.

A fellow hoopster, Obama was on the winning side in the big game, and his victory eats at Palin’s core. Here anger reverberated in the Trump endorsement speech, her voice rising into her spiel about “right-wingin’, bitter clingin’, proud clingers of our guns, our God, and our religions, and our Constitution. Tell us that we’re not red enough? Yeah, coming from the establishment. Right.”

That  Palin chant was directed not at anything happening in the here and now, but at then Democratic Sen.Barack Obama’s 2008 observation that when working-class voters in the Midwest worry about the economy “they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

No Republican has ever endorsed that view which was, at the time, roundly attacked by none other than Sen. Hilary Clinton, the card-carrying liberal challenging Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination that year and  now chasing the nomination again. Palin trying to tie the Republican establishment to a claim not even the Democrats were willing to embrace eight years ago wasn’t about Republican politics.

It was about Palin’s anger at the man in the White House. Palin in Iowa was raw emotion on display.

“They stomp on our neck, and then they tell us, ‘Just chill, OK, just relax,'” she shouted. “Well, look, we are mad, and we’ve been had. They need to get used to it.”

The New York Times took that strange comment as a reference to Trump’s opponents in the Republican primary, but it was broader than that. It was a reference to Palin’s enemies wherever they are, and there are plenty of them. They are all who refuse to see the world the way she now sees it.

They are all who would rather negotiate than fight. On anything.

And in Trump she sees a soulmate. Palin doesn’t want to elect a president. Palin wants to elect a king. Palin wants someone in the White House who will make right what she thinks wrong with America by simply pointing a finger and proclaiming “you’re fired!”

There’s little doubt Palin has a long list of people to whom she’d like to hear Trump deliver those words, if not two other words starting with “F” and “U.” The angry woman on the stage in Iowa — the woman who looks nothing at all like the Alaskan who became state’s first female governor — clearly believes she’s formed an allegiance with Mr. Payback Time.

This is what Sarah Palin, a simple girl from Wasilla, wants.

The lamestream media mocked and abused her. She became a running joke on SNL. But, by God, she’s teamed up with one of their own now — a business magnate from the Big Apple itself — and it’s time to get even.

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Categories: Commentary, Politics

11 replies »

  1. Very observant article. Sarah epitomizes an insatiably insecure, uneducated, scorned woman desperately seeking revenge. She is unpolished, uneducated, and an embarrassment to so many real Alaskans; her roots – not to be confused with those of us who are homegrown Alaskans. Sarah is a simple girl from Sandpoint, Idaho, not Wasilla.

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  2. Unfortunately, of those two other words the author says Palin would like Trump to deliver, the second one starting with “U” would be either “Up” or “Us.”

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  3. I’m not saying I agree or disagree with anything she says, but she definitely came off as very nervous about public speaking in her Trump endorsement. I think maybe the public speaking nerves were a large part of why she stumbles over words a lot.

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  4. Fantastic article. People are often shocked here in DC when I say I am so embarrassed Palin was created in Alaska. Nobody understands how small Wasilla is and how little knowledge of Politics she really has.

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  5. You’ve come along way from the small article you wrote about my dad and his hunting buddies that were being stalked by a bear on Admiralty island over 30 years ago. Dad passed away a few years ago at the pioneer home in Palmer. I know he followed you and Sarah Palin until the end. I am sure he would be shocked to see what she is up to lately. Keep on expanding Craig. I’m following for my dad now. Peter McCaslin.

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    • Peter — I’ve never forgotten that story. Your dad and his friends were involved in one of the most amazing, and frightening, tales I can remember in all my years in Alaska. Sorry for your loss.

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  6. The Sarah P. who got a 93 percent approval rating from Alaskans was the anomaly and not all that genuine. She was resentful & defensive & distrustful of the so-called life of the mind and cultural “elites” before she became our governor and robustly so after she went national. I don’t know if anyone has ever looked deeply enough into her college career. I’ve always felt that a key to her personality lies back there with the Sarah who could not stick to a school but instead kept moving from one to another. Why? What was unsettled in her that she had to try three or four (or was it five) colleges? She did make that comment about students who could backpack their way in Europe (which must have seemed a land of decadence to her). Could she not afford to go? Did she fear the lure of values antithetical to her family’s “rural” foundations? ¶ Meanwhile, think how surprising her Trump endorsement would have been to the “lamestream media” if she had only learned to formulate her thoughts coherently — although , who knows? Maybe she deliberately speaks Palinese to defy her perceived enemies, slapping their faces with her anti-intellectualism. I hope someday we get a dispassionate, thorough biography. I think there’s a mystery at the heart of her drive that’s fascinating. ¶ I met her once, in 2007, when Anchorage hosted, for the first & only time, the Bouchercon, a convention of mystery writers, publishers, fans, etc. On the final day, she came and delivered a boilerplate welcome. When she left the podium she came down a side aisle where many, myself included, were standing. She shook everyone’s hand and apparently asked them where they were from. She approved of the fact that I, from Anchorage, attended a local event. She made little sense to me, but that wasn’t the point. Her smile, the eyes that looked warmly into yours, the firm and welcoming handshake — she was very attractive, with charisma to burn. Several months later, she had evidently forgotten me. When Track Palin joined the military, I wanted to interview her (Track was kept away from the media). Through her spokeswoman, she refused me, but she gave an interview to the female AP reporter. She’s always had a wary, even paranoid, streak.

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      • Peter certainly caught the charisma and the standoffishness. there’s no doubt Sarah was always wary. she was the only politician i met in 30+ years of Alaska journalism with whom it was impossible to conduct any sort of conversation. she was the opposite of Wally Hickel who wanted to talk my ear off when i ran into him on the coastal trail when he was in his 80s. i could never figure out whether Sarah’s issue was that she was afraid or that there just wasn’t anything she could talk about because there just wasn’t much about which she knew anything. i leaned toward and still lean toward the latter. she’s clearly braver now but remains intellectually weak. i used to watch her on Fox news, and see hosts struggling to steer her into saying something intelligent, and wonder what they were thinking. interviews like that are a lot work. now people seem content to just wind her up, as Trump did, and let her go like some sort of spring-powered toy blathering on until the spring winds down.

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