She's Not Crazy, She's Alaskan: Why It's Hard (And Easy) To Criticize Sarah Palin

Illustration for article titled She's Not Crazy, She's Alaskan: Why It's Hard (And Easy) To Criticize Sarah Palin

While this week's Time basically fawns all over Sarah Palin, others in the media discuss her hotness, her lack of education, and her gosh-darn boundary-breaking maverickness — and what these qualities will mean for her in 2012.


David Von Drehle and Jay Newton-Small (the latter also did a Q&A with Palin in which she lobbed softballs like "Did you feel that the institution of government was no longer the best way to bring change about?") paint Palin as a rugged, unconventional woman from rugged, unconventional Alaska — where the traditional rules of politics and even common sense don't apply. They call her "an Alaska original, raised and ripened in an environment remote, extreme, unfamiliar - and free," and give her ample opportunity to show off her woodsy retreat and facility with fishing metaphors. They write,

With salmon and wood smoke fragrant in the endless summer evening, amid wet socks and waders and red rubber fishing gloves, Palin tells TIME, "I cannot predict what's going to happen. I don't know what doors will be open or closed by then. I was telling Todd today, I was saying, 'Man, I wish we could predict the next fish run so that we know when to be out on the water.' We can't predict the next fish run, much less what's going to happen in 2012."

"In Washington," they point out, this would mean, "I'm running." But not in wild-and-crazy Alaska. There, "her answer could mean exactly what it says - that she doesn't yet know what she'll be doing in 2012. Here, you make each day from the materials at hand." See, Sarah Palin isn't like you and me, raised in the decadent urban fleshpots of the lower 48. She's an "exotic creature" serving in "the remote port of Juneau" and "armed with an anti-résumé" (when it meets a resume, do they explode?) and "if ever there has been a time to gamble on a flimsy résumé, ever a time for the ultimate outsider, this might be it."

Leaving aside the fact that candidates have been trumpeting their outsider status since before Ross Perot, Drehle and Newton-Small reveal a particularly annoying tactic of laudatory Palinography: geographical exceptionalism. Sarah Palin doesn't have to make sense, know facts, or do her job, because she's from Alaska, a bizarro world where up is down, bad is good, and resigning is awesome. Any criticism leveled against her can be turned on its head with this opposite-day rhetoric: normal expectations just don't apply to Palin, because where she's from, they gut expectations and hang them up in smokehouse to dry.

The Weekly Standard's Matthew Continetti gives a disturbing preview of what they call on Battlestar "the shape of things to come." He writes, "one thing you quickly learn about Sarah Palin when you study her career is that she never, ever does things by the book. The lady knows how to make a splash." And, "Palin likes gambles. Her career is filled with firsts." And, "Palin's unconventionality and authenticity is the key to her appeal." And, "Palin is not a normal politician." Okay, we get it. Sarah Palin is special. Sarah Palin cannot be judged by conventional (read: elitist) standards. And from now until 2012, every time someone does try to judge her, conservatives can call this critic conventional (read: elitist) and un-special.

Of course, there is some wrong-headed Palin-judging out there. Steve Chapman's allegation that Palin's appeal is in the lipstick, rather than the pitbull ("it's really not hard to see why Palin inspires such devotion. And I do mean "see." [...] She's a babe, and she doesn't try to hide it") is simplistic and sort of misogynist. And Judith Warner's claim that Palin's peripatetic and undistinguished college career makes her palatable to a nation that mistrusts "uppity," overeducated women makes sense — until you remember that uneducated women get plenty of flak too (plus, Palin's tweeting about Plato now!). Sarah Palin is more than a cipher for supposed American fantasies about hot, dumb women — but she's less than a pioneer.


Perhaps the flip side of the Palin camp's insistence that no criticism of her is valid is how poorly she seems to deal with such criticism. Even the otherwise drooling Continetti and the almost-drooling Drehle and Newton-Small acknowledge this problem. Continetti says that when Palin began responding directly to all the ethics complaints, Letterman jokes, and other negative press that came her way, "her public performances became personal testimonials to the damage the media can inflict on a person's reputation and career." He says, "Palin thought she could respond to every attack. But no one can respond to every attack. Nor should they."


Drehle and Newton-Small say Palin's determination to answer all critics descended into paranoia. They write,

A more experienced, more familiar politician would have been ready for the ramping [up of negative press], but Palin seemed consumed by it. Instead of ignoring hostile bloggers, she combed the Web for their latest postings. At the same time, she assumed the classic role of vice presidential attack dog, making insinuations about Barack Obama's religion and patriotism. She urged the McCain campaign to strike back at every heckler, and when staffers admonished her to remember the big picture, she suspected that she was surrounded by enemies. An armor of suspicion closed her in. Asked recently to name the people Palin trusts for advice, a source close to her answered, "Nobody. I'm not even sure she listens to Todd."


Palin's supporters may believe that her fish-gutting, moose-shooting, "politics as usual"-eschewing pedigree makes her above criticism. But Palin herself is far from above it — she seems obsessed with it. And if there's a chink in her Alaskan armor (during the Time interview, a blue T-shirt reading "Go Slam a Salmon"), this may be it.

The Outsider: Where Is Sarah Palin Going Next? [Time]
Time's Interview with Sarah Palin: 'It's All for Alaska' [Time]
The Secret Of Palin's Staying Power [Chicago Tribune]
Dangerous Resentment [Domestic Disturbances, NYT]
Movin' Out [Weekly Standard]


Related: The Cretin Of The Klondyke Discovers Bartlett's Familiar Quotations [Gawker]



"Palin likes gambles. Her career is filled with firsts."

Like "First person think resigning from office because it's just too hard will HELP a presidential bid"?