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  • Lance Mannion
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Excellent analysis. I especially admire your ability to see what Harry Truman and Sarah Palin have in common. My antipathy for her dominates my ability to see her in historical context. But you have really put her there. Thank you.



Bill Altreuter

I think it is worth mentioning that Palin has worked pretty tirelessly to get where she is-- and that this quality is also a very American thing. She is smarter than she gets credit for, and has gone far because people have underestimated her. Right now she is drawing comparisons to Dan Quayle, but I don't think so. Quayle was a rich kid, with a rich kid's sense of entitlement. Palin really is what she says she is- jus' folks. The daughter of a high school teacher, with a third-or-fourth rate education. She is attractive, and knows it, and uses that power very effectively. If she'd been born a boy she might have been the kind of scrappy white gym rat that people like to rave about in the first round of the NCAA hoops tournament, and then gone on to obscurity, but since she never had that kind of opportunity to be adored she's moved on into politics.

In many ways she impresses me as the ideal Republican presidential candidate. Except for Nixon (and Ike, of course), the Republican party prefers to nominate amiable boobs who are convinced that they are right about everything. What made Bush fils unusual was that the people who were really running things were so visible. They won't make that mistake again-- if Palin gets the nomination (about a 50-50 shot right now, I'd say) she'll appeal to a pretty big slice of the bell curve's back end.

I've never been to Alaska, but from what I have read, and from what I seen about the Alaskans I have met it seems to me that you are correct-- it is an idiosyncratic place, populated to the extent that it can be said to be populated by eccentric individualists. If you haven't read it, you should pick up Michael Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union".


Wonderful post, Lance!

I'm glad you evoked McPhee (one of my favorite writers) and the frontier/West aspects of this.

One of the interesting/irritating things about the coverage of Palin's candidacy was the obvious fact of most of the media establishment's lack of understanding of the West and, specifically, Western conservatism. Palin may be a religious whack-a-doo conservative, but she's a different flavor than similar folk in the South. A lot of her rhetoric, about independence and so on, reads differently through a Western lens than it does through a Southern. Southern plaints are always filtered through the knowledge that they'd fought for independence once, and not only failed, but became even more economically dependent in the process. The West, on the other hand, for all of its rhetoric about freedom and the frontier, has been under federal auspices since day one. The racism of the South, with its roots in slavery, looks different than the racism of the West, which is not only informed by border anxieties, but the history of native genocide and the presence of Mexico and other nations. The West is also the home of a lot of self-created mythologies and religions (Amie Semple McPherson is coming to mind).

Richard White's notion that Westerners like to complain about federal support as if it were a scratchy wool shirt (it's irritating but it's all that's keeping them warm) seems apropos too.

In other words, what fascinated me about Palin, and made me sometimes angrily sympathetic with her (when my thinking brain wasn't dominant - when I think about her, as opposed to feel about her, she disgusts and alarms me) is the way that she wasn't just dismissed as a nutty conservative woman, but as a nutty conservative Western woman. Her type's familiar to me - but it was clear that anything Western still has a strong odor of the exotic and weird to the establishment. Put another way, Bush's Texas persona only seemed believable to those who have no gut sense of the West themselves; most of us West of the Plains recognized that as the fakest thing about him. Bush wasn't a Texas rancher or even a cowboy; he was a dude.

Palin's Western identity, on the other hand, is genuine Western character of a type that Easterners clearly still have trouble understanding.


Seems pretty definitive to me.


Ditto. A brilliant essay -- should be required reading for anyone trying to teach American history and/or American studies.


I disagree with Bill that Palin is smart - she is like Bush. She has perhaps more cunning than even he did, and she is perhaps more hard working than he was, but she doesn't have true intelligence and she isn't capable of sophisticated understanding or thought.


The thing not mentioned about Alaska is that there is a strong sense of Alaskan Exceptionalism in this state. Many Alaskans, like sarah, are just sure that Alaska is the best place ever and what ever happens here is just wonderful. Most , non-indigenous Alaskan's, moved here or are children of people who moved here. There is an immigrant fervor to the sureness that we are the best. There is saying here "we don't care how they do it outside." Outside is the lower 48. Alaska is the center of the world for many up here.

@ Rana- Having grown up in NJ and now lived in Ak for many years, i think you are right to a large degree but miss a little bit. The type of Western character sarah represents, which is hard to understand,n is not the westernness per se but the hypocrisy and lack of insight. Alaska is American's Saudi Arabia. We get almost all our state income from oil and have benefited from huge amounts of federal money. But Alaskan's, at the least the conservative ones, want to pretend this state was built entirely by hardy individuals and that we don't need nobody else. Sarah's kind of westerner/alaskan is in love with the fantasy of being Daniel Boone and will ignore any thing they do that shows that fantasy not to be true.


Wow. That was fresh and brilliant.

I'd only like to amplify a bit on one point:

It's amazing that someone so temperamentally and intellectually and emotionally unsuitable could have become President of the United States, and I'm not talking about Sarah Palin in the event that her 72 year old running mate had won the election and then keeled over in office. I'm talking about her running mate.

This, of course, applies not just to McCain, but to the entire modern conservative movement, which manufactures and props up these characters. We've just lived through 8 years of a "temperamentally and intellectually and emotionally unsuitable" President, and we all know how well that worked out. Bush was the creation of a movement, and unfortunately, the chance that the movement has the wherewithal so succeed (on their terms, of course) again, is too high for my comfort level.

Mike Schilling

This is the kind of piece that Lance does better than anyone else. Often, it's about a fictional character (e.g. what's really going on with Sam and his feelings about Diane and Rebecca); in this case, I only wish it were.


"Various friends and relations object when I describe soon to be former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin as a great American character."

I object too, Mr. Mannion. Sarah Palin is not a great American character but a great American caricature. There is a difference.


While your analysis is spot on, Lance, I have to question this bit:

Their preferred method of keeping the base in line has been to keep these people so angry and confused that they don't think, they just react, so that nobody ever stops to ask why not a public option or wonders if a carbon tax might work. Palin is doing something else. Taking them and their concerns seriously.

It seems to me, based on what I saw in the campaign, that she was grabbing the drum major's baton and speeding the march off the cliff up. "Electing a terrorist", "pals around with terrorists", "I can see Russia from my front porch" (ok, that was Fey, but still...)

Where is thought and concern there? Has she said something since that hasn't been simpering, pandering nonsense that I'm not aware of?

calling all toasters

Interesting and insightful Mr. Mannion, but... really. She bears about as much resemblance to HST as she does to Milton Berle. Humble beginnings are a dime a dozen in America-- hell, even George Bush knew if you weren't regular folks, you could become regular by spending enough money on it. If you want a true parallel to La Palin, it would be better to look at show business. The narcissism, the histrionics, the moodiness and overall lack of seriousness are all there. Well, lack of seriousness about everything except her press. And the lack of a real person inside of it all. Maybe she's the new Joan Crawford, or the new Britney. Either way, that only makes you a serious political figure in California.

All those crowds who adore her were just a bunch of Dittoheads. For them, she was the new Agnew.

Bill Altreuter

I didn't say she is smart, I said she is smarter than she gets credit for. Devising a metric is difficult, but my hunch is that she is smarter than Bush. I realize that's a low bar, but it seems to me that Palin is at least smart enough to do her own conniving. Bush was always a catspaw.


Bill, I like Apostate's term "cunning" more than smart, and not just for the obvious puns it raises.

Palin's not smart because I don't believe she thinks things thru. Instinctually, for example, she could have had the upper hand with the Letterman incident by remaining graciously offended.

That she turned around and accused him of pedophilia and in such graphic terms tells me she didn't think that thru. Use Rush to make that charge but remain above the fray, insist on an apology but graciously note that he probably meant her eldest daughter, not the fourteen year old kid.

After Rush raises the issue.

She sensed an opening, and rather than slip through it, decided to tunnel and make it bigger and it collapsed in on her, covering her in her own dirt.

Todd B.

Very insightful post, Lance. I've not been here in awhile and it appears that is my loss.

This rang a bell:

"But it still had some coherent themes.

One is that Sarah Palin is convinced that whatever Sarah Palin chooses to do is the right thing.

Another is that Sarah Palin deserves whatever Sarah Palin believes she deserves.

A third is that anyone who disagrees with Sarah Palin or gets in Sarah Palin's way is stupid or evil, take your pick.

And a fourth is that all of us are endlessly fascinated by Sarah Palin."

Funny, this sounds quite a bit like my three year old daughter and her parents. Only we are more annoying than stupid or evil.

And as for the humble background: her husband and her are worth several million dollars. Yeah, she's jus' folks like you and me.

When I read Palin quotes and think about her attraction to angry working class folks, reactionaries, and her belief good state-corporate relations, I hear Hitler and I smell fascism. Godwin's Law be damned, but deeper economic destruction coupled with her willingness to slander and her support of sedition and treason makes her one of the most dangerous people in this country. There are plenty in the boy's club willing to make the deal if it means regained power.

I hope I'm wrong.

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