TRASHING SARAH PALIN COMES BACK TO HAUNT WASHINGTON
By Steven Conn
"Valley Trash." That’s what Alaska State
Senate President Ben Stevens called Mat-Su
(including Wasilla), in 2004.White trash with an Alaskan twist. The country
bumpkins down an icy dangerous road from Anchorage.
It struck a chord and spawned bumper stickers on four wheelers and tee-shirts
that said "Proud to be Valley Trash.” Who knew then that Republican
Senator Ted Steven’s son would define the Democrat’s national campaign when
Sarah Palin jumped into the Vice Presidential race? For quick moving political
operatives, Sarah became Daisy Mae and Todd, her own, Li’l Abner, a diverting
sideshow to the Big Race. In the short term, Ben’s slur did a good thing for Alaska. It helped break
the state Republican party in two, separating those rich car dealers, doctors
and bankers who live in mansions on the Hillside in South Anchorage from
working class conservatives in the Mat-Su
Valley. Valley Trash are
people, a bit like the ones Obama described in his San Francisco fund
raiser, but, in fact, different; they have taken charge of their own destinies
and, (as Alaskan license plates and a former governor once proclaimed),
gone North to the Future . These folks aren’t bitter. They are living the
Alaska Dream, a tough, independent and, sometimes, dangerous reality, cushioned
with paybacks from oil field socialism that narrows the gap between economic
classes, ( at least, among suburban and urban, non-indigenous Alaskans).
For a time, the Obama campaign thought it could
electoral votes. But when Palin was nominated, party operatives snapped up Ben
Stevens’ Valley Trash campaign in all but name only, projecting Palin’s private
life and her small town conservatism onto her would-be Vice Presidency.
Bloggers and journalists went to work on Alaska
and Palin, defining it as out of the mainstream and Palin as a Far Right
Religious Zealot. Palin was ridiculed as a country rube
among rubes, a possible witch whose family might have flirted with incest. Her Alaska became Dog Patch, Wasilla, Lower
Slobbovia. James Carville called her a Buchanan supporter (read,
anti-Semite), twenty minutes after she was named, even as Mary Matalin, his
loving wife, played the other side of the street with her publication of Obama
Nation by James Corsi. As Matalin and Carville explain it, in their co-authored
account of the 1992 Presidential campaign, it is not really about Palin, Alaska or even handing
the state back to Exxon-Mobil: “All’s Fair Love, War and Running for
President.” But when you are on the receiving end of this abuse, that’s hard to
understand because it feels so personal.
It’s amazing how quickly Alaskan liberals bought
into the new Palin story, dismissing the recent past as if it had never
happened. If Palin had come to Juneau
with an agenda crafted in her church basement, cultural lines would have been
drawn and no attacks on the Big Oil hegemony would have occurred. And state
Democrats, who may have looked down their noses at Valley Trash, just like Ben,
were smart enough to keep their mouths shut and find common ground while
old-line Republicans leaders looked over their shoulders for subpoenas flowing
from their overly cozy relations with VECO, the oil service company. To the
dismay of oil company executives, she formed a working coalition with Democrats
who represent West Anchorage’s well- paid
liberals among unionized public employees and the professions. These Alaska
Democrats were not conversant with the tactics of national political spin
machines. Still, after 2000, they bought the Ralph Nader-as-spoiler line, hook
and sinker as spun from distant Washington,
despite Nader’s founding of Alaska PIRG and his steadfast support of Alaska in its fight with
natural resource giants. They really couldn’t be blamed. Until this year, the
spin and slime and sophistication of national Presidential campaigns were as
elusive in Alaska
as sun at noon in late January.
While the Alaska
coalition, useful to Valley Trash and Democratic liberals alike, is gone, on
the national playing field, the attacks against Palin could boomerang against
Obama, especially as a national depression threatens to sweep away illusions of
a better future.
Millions of Americans envy the Palins and aspire
to their Alaskan lives as their own personal dream of security. Their piece of
the corporate rock, peddled by Wall Street, sank like a stone. NYT writer,
Timothy Egan, usually the smartest Alaska
analyst, asked readers whether American voters could relate to an Alaska where, “Every
home seems to have a freezer in the garage stuffed with moose meat and 10
pounds of alder-smoked chinook? Owning a small amount of marijuana is protected
by the privacy clause of the Alaska
constitution, the courts have ruled.” Are you kidding, Timothy? The
answer is HELL, YES! A place where you make great money on the North
Slope, do some commercial fishing or gold mining like Todd Palin and have time
to compete and win Iron Man cross country snow machine races? All of this
and three thousand plus dollars each from Alaska, your yearly share in the oil
wealth? How many folks would like to live like the Palins on Lake Lucille
in the half million dollar house that Todd designed and built?
Sarah Palin is selling the Alaskan dream as a
remaining fragment of the American dream, not her foreign policy or economic
claptrap drawn from Republican handlers. If her husband spends time helping her
at work, or if she confuses her personal internet with the one the state
provided, well, she is still Citizen Palin not Professional Politician Palin,
like Senators Obama, Biden or McCain with their legions of reliable staffers.
Her supporters understand and want to forgive her because she has the life they
want. Level-headed Obama supporters need to develop a quick antidote to
their own Valley Trash strategy. It’s not going to be Joe Biden, declared
champion of the credit card industry and asset forfeiture for drug offenders.
If people can’t relate to a United States Senator and his world,
dumping on Sarah won’t rein them in. If James Carville thinks he can herd
this crowd, the way he cowed progressives into voting for corporate
candidates,instead of Ralph Nader, he has –once again- blown it for the
Steve Conn lived in Alaska
from 1972 until 2007. He is a retired professor, University of Alaska.
His e mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. This article appeared on the web site of Counterpunch.
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October 13, 2008)