Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Four Conservative Mavericks: Sarah Palin Comes Into the Country

By Bernie Quigley

For The Hill at 9/01/08

Americans were always meant to be Alaskans, just as we were meant to be Texans and New Englanders. Emerson instructed us to “ . . . go alone; to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men.” Our fate is to find ourselves again here in nature and don’t look back. That is why we go west and that is why we go to Alaska.

But it is one thing to go alone into the wilderness as Thoreau did when Concord was still in sight and with Emerson within a short afternoon walk for thoughtful conversation about the Vedas. Quite another is Jack London’s narrative of the Klondike almost a hundred years later: “He knew that at fifty below spittle crackled on the snow, but this spittle had crackled in the air. Undoubtedly, it was colder than fifty below – how much colder he did not know.”

These are the original stories of the American tribes and they inform us and are useful to us as at one point in our lives’ journeys we each make a choice that makes us the kind of American we will be and we chose one of three things: Go west? Go back east? Or stay put? It is the Concord celestial bard’s view and it is endlessly embedded in American folk lore that the best among us will always go west. She who goes alone shall come to look at the world with new eyes, he writes in his Nature essays, and “ . . . shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect, What is truth? And of the affections, What is good?”

And none have gone so far west as Sarah Palin.

Not since the last ten seconds of the Super Bowl when a Giants receiver caught the ball on his head have I seen so many people in the state of shock.

The Democrats understandably are almost numb. The liberal blogs have turned into a venomous horde. They are coming up with the most barbaric analyses of why Sarah Palin should not be Vice President. For example, and this is verbatim: 1) She is from Alaska. 2) She is from Alaska and they have Walmarts in Alaska. Walmarts are bad. 3) She hunts. 4) She eats moose burgers. 5) She is beautiful.

Where is it again in the Democrat’s boss handbook where it says that to be seriously considered as a candidate for President of the United States one must necessarily be as baleful and plain as a plateful of mortal sins?

For 12 hours they had it wrapped up. Obama gave the speech of a lifetime; a masterpiece, said historian David Gergen. He had finally pulled in the entrenched Hillarycrats who were going over to McCain. He had finally outmaneuvered Bill. And the bookies were sure that Mitt Romney would get McCain’s VP slot, giving the election to Obama with dead certainty. The talking points were all lined up.

Then out of nowhere, it was the little-known governor of Alaska with five kids; the wife of a fisherman, who hunts moose and bear and drives a snow machine a hundred miles an hour.

I’m still getting angry letters even from people I haven’t even seen in 40 years.

Not only the Democrats. The Republican columnists for The Washington Post who see America as a pliable sub-state of Europe – this would be in opposition to Emerson; he would consider these backsliders – are apoplectic. Charles Krauthammer is fully sketched out. He says the choice “ . . . seems near suicidal.”

How many cracks in the glass ceiling? 18 milllion? Something is definitely cracking here and it is more than a glass ceiling.

What caught my attention was in listening to McCain’s introduction to Palin. He said that she stopped the “bridge to nowhere . . .” and sent the cash back to Washington. And she used this phrase: “I said if we wanted a bridge we would build it ourselves.”

Build it ourselves? States aren’t supposed to do that. The federal government is supposed to do that for the states. It would defeat the whole worldview of Alexander Hamilton and ruin the way we have been doing things here since 1865 if states started doing things for themselves. That is the kind of crazy talk we heard from Ron Paul and Angus King and Jesse Ventura and those other independent governors and legislators of a few years past. That’s what Arnold and Mike Bloomberg and Jodi Rell, governor of Connecticut, are doing. Telling the feds; if they don’t take change of environmental innovation they will initiate new entrepreneurial legislation themselves, and the Governator is already doing so. It is seditious. It is Jeffersonian.

It was only that one comment, but I was struck by it because the Alaskans I know are actually all like that. They are inherently libertarian and don’t really care what people think in the Lower 48.

This independent streak has been popping up in the last few years all over the West. And it started with the first Republican maverick of modern times, Barry Goldwater; the spirit father, possibly, of Sarah Palin. The same panic set in when The Establishment, both Democrat and Republican (Kennedy and Henry Cabot Lodge; same foreign policies, different churches), first encountered Barry Goldwater. His petty bourgeoisie, small-time entrepreneurs (“ . . . a nation where all who can will be self reliant,” – Goldwater speaking at the 1964 Republican Convention) were considered a clear and present danger to the global post-war order.

When Palin walked on the stage with McCain she joined a string of Western mavericks; Goldwater, Reagan and McCain, all with incipient Jeffersonian ideas in varying degree.

These four conservative mavericks all share an inherently Western point of view which has risen in our time and it is the most important division in our American condition since World War II. Palin, with Hockey Mom support in the Great White North and NASCAR Moms below, fits into this tradition and could well be the appealing and effective avatar of this new set of ideas; ideas of “small government” and local creativity that first came into the mainstream with Ronald Reagan. The American West has awakened and it rises now in opposition to Obama and the Eastern establishment.

Overnight, this has become the race of the age and the most important one we are likely to face in our lifetimes. Obama and Co. are still very much plugged in to the Eastern Establishment. With Romney out and the others, the neocons and their coat carriers and fellow travelers in all the major newspapers now may suddenly find that they have more in common with Obama in terms of geopolitics than they do with Palin.

I don’t think Obama has it all wrapped up anymore. From what I have seen, she is formidable.

We know little or nothing about her and few details about her life. But we do know something about Alaska. When I was young many of my friends left the East to go work the pipeline on Alaska’s North Slope. Some stayed and became different, better.

There was a very popular book out back then by John McPhee called Coming into the Country and it raised in his readership the same sense of freedom and fresh air that Emerson celebrated in Concord and Jack London found alone in the woods in the coldest hinterland. It was a renewal; a restoration of what the Transcendentalists here in New England used to call Natural Religion.

McPhee writes of the life and times of Alaskans like Donna Kneeland, who spend much of her time in her cabin while her man was out on the trial trapping. This is before liberals entered a state that my Boston aunties used to call “Lace Curtain” and became squeamish just at the mention of trapping an animal and eating it and selling its skin. We don’t know much about Palin but we know she is through and through Alaskan. Maybe Donna Kneeland will tell us something about Palin.

She cooks and cans things, writes McPhee. She grinds wheat berries and bakes bread. She breaks damp skins with an old gun barrel and works them with a metal scraper . . . . Her copy of The Joy of Cooking previously belonged to a trapper’s wife who froze to death. Donna’s father, a state policeman, was sent in to collect the corpse.

This is the life proposed by Emerson and attempted with poor results by Thoreau at Walden Pond. McPhee’s book is full of stories like that; stories of Jack McQuesten who used to plow his garden with a moose, Wyman Fritsch, a miner, an Eagle mayor who died at a Council meeting, Nelson, who runs a health clinic in her kitchen and a gold panner named River Wind.

Many of these and perhaps all of these and Todd and Sarah Palin as well appear to have gone to Alaska for the same reason. Hamlin Garland who headed north in the Gold Rush in 1898 expressed it well: “I wished,” he said, “to return to the wilderness . . . to forget books and theories of arts and social problems, and come again face to face with the great free spaces of woods and skies and streams. I was not a goldseeker, but a nature hunter and I was eager to enter this, the wildest region yet remaining in Northern America. I willingly and with joy took the long way round, the hard way through.”

Now they have come back to us. I for one am glad they are here.


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