10/05/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Who is the Handler?

Sarah Palin's small-town-girl-takes-on-Washington act is a brilliant success, for today anyway. But anytime political parties bring their aw-shucks, folksy Gomer Pyles out in front of the klieg lights, it's time to be suspicious. And that's especially true when the Republicans, party of corporate America and Big Oil, are casting the show.

Yes, Governor Palin hails from a town called Wasilla, hunts caribou, married "her guy" from high school who races, in her words, "snow machines" (when did they graduate from being snow-mobiles?) and apparently knows how to load and shoot a gun. She also really is a mother, a mother of a hockey player too, and a member of the PTA.

However, one need only check out Jim Yardley's enlightening reportage from Wasilla in yesterday's New York Times to smell the rat. Sarah Palin is no average Jane, much as she looks and sounds like one. On the contrary, Sarah Palin's entry into politics and subsequent rise has all the hallmarks of having been engineered, coached and groomed by bigger outside forces with a bigger plan.

Her first election to mayor in 1996 was based on "wedge Issues" - abortion, gun control, and proof of hard-core religiosity - issues that had never been discussed before in the town of 7,000, where politicians had run on where they stood on bingo revenue and fixing muddy roads.

Listen to the shell-shocked fellow she beat in that first election, the three term incumbent Mayor of Wasilla, John C. Stein. "Sarah comes in with all this ideological stuff, and I was like, 'Whoa. But that got her elected: abortion, gun rights, term limits and the religious born-again thing. I'm not a churchgoing guy, and that was another issue: 'We will have our first Christian mayor.'"

There was a time when America's small town governments were about local civics and its churches really were mainly about spirituality. That quaint era vanished, within living memory, with the rise of the "Christian right" which literally infected mainstream American Christianity with hateful brochures about gays, guns, and abortion.

The movement didn't emerge from within those little country churches, either. It was brought to them by a sophisticated set of well-funded groups and foundations, many with ties to the Republican Party and its copious moneybags. These organizations are based a long ways from Wasilla, in places like Washington, D.C., Arlington, Norfolk -- the state of Virginia, in fact, seems to have spawned or hosted most of them.

But they have a long reach and they are run by cautious, clever, watchful men.
I learned never to underestimate these right wing Svengalis involvement in small things in Omaha, Neb. when I was sent to interview a pretty little red-headed, then 16-year old named Bridget Mergens, in 1990. Bridget had the dubious distinction of having fought her high school over the right to form a Bible Club on high school grounds and won -- at the Supreme Court! Sweet little Bridget's last name is now forever embedded in the law books, in a case called Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, in which the court ruled that yes, Bridget and other religious kids were not Constitutionally prohibited under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment from holding Bible Club meetings on public school grounds.

What I learned, rather quickly, was that Bridget had her personal Svengali, a lawyer from near Washington, D.C., and that she was simply the pretty little front face, carefully selected by an organization called the Alliance Defense Fund, to help break down one more barrier between unsuspecting Americans and the theocracy. And the Alliance is just one of an army of well-funded, often deceptively named Christian law firms and organizations (in addition to the obvious ones associated with names like Robertson and Falwell) that run around the country seeking individuals to help transform America into God's country.

Had I but cash enough and time, I'd go up to Wasilla myself, and try to find what's left of the trail of out of town handlers who must have helped Sarah Palin launch her career on the cultural wedge issues, providing training or a handy DIY kit for polluting the tiny town of Wasilla with squabbles over who was holier and more Christian, filling the local churches, no doubt, with ghastly pictures of late-term abortions, terrifying the hunting populace about losing their gun rights to liberal bogeymen and so on.

I hope the crack investigative reporters up in the Northland now can track down the original groomers, although I suspect the fingerprints from the brainy individuals based in Virginia have been wiped away. They are a careful lot, and they think a long, long ways ahead.

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