Sarah Palin and the Alaska Factor

Oct 9, 2008 by

I’ve been following all the hubbub about Sarah Palin, but pretty much keeping my mouth shut. However, since I have actually lived in Alaska, I thought I would try and shed some light on what it’s really like up there and how this may play into Palin’s otherwise mystifying rise to prominence.

First, the political climate. I used to refer to Alaska as Planet Rush Limbaugh. There’s something about being constantly bashed by the elements and terrorized by large predatory wildlife that feeds the conservative mythos of self-reliance, even in a state that receives the second-highest amount of federal aid per capita and where each man, woman and child is issued an oil and gas dividend check every year just for sticking around. Frankly, I’m not surprised at all that Palin’s political stance, coupled with her ambition, savvy maneuvering, and proven ability to squirt out more Alaskans quickly catapulted her to governor status.

As far as foreign relations with Russia, I can confirm that the army surplus store in Anchorage had a fine selection of Soviet military wear and accessories. There are some beautiful Russian Orthodox churches on the Kenai Peninsula, and Alaska Airlines regularly stops in Vladivostock, or at least did when I lived there. I’m surprised Palin hasn’t brought up the nefarious history of Russians enslaving the Aleuts and forcing them to club baby seals, which I’m sure Vladimir Putin, if allowed to complete his top-priority evil scheme for retaking the territory in a sort of reverse Seward’s Folly, would try to reinstate. Russia does really loom on the horizon, though, I swear. This gag was an endless font of laughs during the sun-giddy summer months, going something like this: 1. Grab a random tourist in downtown Anchorage while it’s still light out, say 11 p.m. 2. Point across the Cook Inlet to the mountain called Sleeping Lady. 3. Say “look, you can see Russia!” 4. Laugh hysterically if they believe it. 5. Head over to Humpy’s to drink beer and eat halibut-on-a-stick.

I’ve even been through Wasilla. Note I say through, since the most I’ll give it is that it’s a good place to stop and fill the gas tank before heading up the highway to go somewhere more interesting, by which I mean uninhabited wilderness. This paragraph about Wasilla is short for a reason- I wouldn’t want to write anything about it that takes longer to read than it does to drive through the town itself.

Palin’s political maneuvering reminds me of the news stories from the bush you occasionally come across in the Anchorage Daily News, where a bear rips the door off somebody’s cabin, shuffles in, trashes the place, eats a 40-lb bag of dog food in one sitting, then takes a huge steaming dump on the living room floor before wandering off again. (Come to think of it, if that isn’t a metaphor for the last eight years, I don’t know what is). In other words, Palin may look cute and cuddly at first glance, but she actually has claws and an alarming lack of boundaries.

It’s only because most people in the Lower 48 (known locally as Outside) don’t really know that much about daily life in the Great Land that Palin’s being from there carries so much cachet. The truth is, Palin is hardly atypical in her home state– most women in Alaska can shoot a moose (from their kitchen windows if necessary, since the ornery fuckers are prone to blithely hopping six-foot fences, devouring one’s struggling garden, then drinking out of the hot tub), make jerky out of all manner of wild game, operate heavy power tools, and climb up and ski down mountains. But that’s not really typical of the rest of the country, so I don’t get why people in the lower 48 would be thinking “Sarah’s just like me!” Maybe part of her popularity is based on some kind of romantic pioneer fantasy, but really, do the women of America WANT to be reduced to urinating on animal skins to tan them into leather for their children’s school clothes? Because we’re all going to be doing something akin to subsistence living if we let M/P into office. In fact, I think that should be one of Obama’s campaign slogans: “Vote for me so you won’t be forced to eat whale blubber to survive.”

There’s one other salient Alaska factor. The dating scene in the far, far north tends to set up even just reasonably attractive, marginally intelligent women for delusions of grandeur, given that the man to woman ratio was historically something like 5 to 1. Of course, that’s if you are just counting warm bodies. There’s a reason we used to say about Alaska guys, “the odds are good, but the goods are odd.” The truth is, in a state where the chief pastimes in winter are sitting under a full-spectrum light so you don’t go insane from cabin fever and placing bets on the exact moment the ice is going to crack come spring, any woman who can manage to put together an outfit not partially spun from musk-ox hair is considered a trophy babe. Palin apparently didn’t notice that skewed dynamic. I guess I can’t completely blame her for that– after all, get enough constant attention from menfolk, even the ones sitting on a tree-stump bar stool with their chest hair growing through their long underwear, and you can’t help but start believing that yes, in fact, you are a brilliant hottie with amazing power over the populace. But VP material? Only if you’ve been smoking that killer Matanuska Valley weed.


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