"Alaska is right next to Russia" -- John McCain
Liberals mock John McCain for claiming that Governor Sarah Palin understands international affairs because she lives "next to " Russia. According to the punditocracy and netroots, living next to somewhere does not translate into understanding it. For example, my next door neighbor wears a fanny pack, which I do not understand despite our residential proximity. Liberals point to Secretary of State Rice, whose sophistication about 21st century international politics derives from her doctoral dissertation on Czechoslovakian artillery units. And because there was a Chevron oil tanker named after her. Not because of where she lives.
While the Rice analogy may be apt, academic research and reading the encyclopedia are not the only ways to learn about somewhere. McCain's critics should remember a few salient facts as they condescendingly dismiss his faith-based faith in Palin's residential vantage point.
For starters, much of the best social science scholarship is based on participant observation and field work, research which requires relocation to the region one is studying. If history's best anthropologists can learn about alien peoples by living amongst or next to them, why can't Governor Palin? It also requires taking notes, and if Clifford Geertz is any indication, chickens. If Palin has done either of these, she's all set. While some would claim that her observation has not been "participant", it is not for us to quibble with her ethnographic approach.
I acknowledge that Palin's homes in Wasilla and Juneau are, respectively, 6,977 and 7,329 kilometers from Moscow (where Russia's decider abides), roughly the distance from my house in Berkeley, California to this field just outside of Locicasos, Peru.
By the way, in case you don't know anything about Locicasos, you can move to Berkeley to learn about it, without the inconvenience of a passport, speaking Spanish or food poisoning. Once you live long enough in Berkeley, you will learn that Locicasos is a populated place in Peru. The closest airport is LIM - Lima Jorge Chavez Intl, located 60.3 km north west of Locicasos. Information on this page comes without warranty of any kind from About.com.
Anyway, the left-wing cartographic industrial complex forgets that while 7,329 kilometers sounds like a long distance, you have to take the curvature of the earth into account, and that if you convert the distance to good old American miles rather than French kilometers, then all of a sudden we're talking about a number in the low 4,000's. Now that's an exchange rate we can believe in.
Scholars may certainly debate the origins of the phrase "next to", which they believe derives from either the West Saxon "niehsta" (= closest) or the Anglian "nesta" (= nearest, directly, or earmark). What is clear, however, is that Alaska is in fact next to Russia. The island Little Diomede, Alaska, the westernmost point of the United States, is only 4 kilometers from Big Diomede, the easternmost point of Russia.
As the Volvo-driving, post-2003-Dixie-Chick listening chatterclass complains that Palin's homes in Juneau and Wasilla are 1,202 and 657 miles, respectively from the Diomede Islands, they overlook that meeting heads of island governing councils is like having a fat résuméé. It just doesn't matter.
Democrat pundits claim that while some Russian national security policies are surely formulated in Big Diomede and nearby hamlets in the Siberian tundra, other matters of state are decided in Moscow.
They have a point, for sure. But now that the collages, puppets and daguerreotypes that helped the current President learn about world affairs are being made available to Palin, it is time to relax. And to remember that it is next to impossible to overstate the amount of confidence we should have in her understanding of how the world works. Or John McCain's judgment.