I'm an Obama-ite and an Alaskaphile. So this gives me some running room to critique the Obama campaign for their first reactions to the announcement that Sarah Palin would be John McCain's running mate.
Soon after that Dayton surprise, campaign spokesman Bill Burton issued a pretty mean-spirited, slightly thuggish comment: Palin, he suggested, had only been the mayor of some two bit town in some minor state and hadn't had the full exposure to the civilized agenda of counterparts in the lower 48. And, of course, no foreign policy experience.
I'm sure Alaska has changed since I was last there 15 years ago working as a lawyer for one of the Native Corporations. But I found the state was always a crash course in the ways of the world. The complexity of life for many (and especially for even half-way conscientious officials) included a pretty amazing agenda of interconnectedness: mining, trans-national shipping, coal and oil tradeoffs, national gas policy, punching pipelines through the tundra (wisely or not).
Alaskans struggle with transportation questions, questions of subsistence, continent-scale land use planning questions, and, far from least, the knotty relationship between claims of the Alaska Natives and those of settlers of the last century.
One could easily exaggerate Alaska as a perceived geopolitical defense cusp. But its economy and much of its life is intertwined with military strategy and international affairs. Not all Alaskans forget that parts of the Aleutian chain was occupied by Japan in World War II.
Far from every tidbit in this mix makes its way to Wasilla or Juneau. And none of this mix renders its governor an automatic member of the Council on Foreign Relations, For some, the cauldron of conflicting pressures leads Alaskans to knee-jerk and contradictory conclusions about the world.
We'll all learn about the specific impact of this dense Alaska experience on the intense formation of the proposed Vice President. The jury, quite rightly, is still out.
But, one thing is clear: there's a lot more to Alaskans, their small towns, their log cabns (even the massive ones like that of Ted Stevens) and their fish camps than tired stereotypes allow..
As it happened, the day of McCain's announcement, I picked up a book called "So Much to be Done," an account of "Women Settlers on the Mining and Ranching Frontier." In the introduction, the editors say of the women of the nineteenth century frontier: "Their part in making hard decisions, producing essential income, and developing new communities was as important as their flexibility, humor, and sense of adventure." Some of those qualities obviously trickled down to Sarah Palin.
Here's a Palin-drome that the Obama-Biden campaign should post on every desk: Pa-lin-ni-lap is Tlingit for "Be wary before you underestimate an Alaskan woman"
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