The Gal Loves God and Guns


If you put money on the VP races then you probably took your winnings from the Democrat race and gave it to the bookmakers’ Republican favourite. If so, you’re now out of pocket.

The Republican front-runners were Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty with plenty of sensible choices in the wings. In all probability Sarah Palin should not have even got a place let alone taken the race.

Which prompts the question: Sarah who? What does Palin the candidate stand for?

God and Family Values
She wears her religiosity on her sleeve; a protestant who believes that creationism should be taught in schools. She is disinclined to support gay marriage and is pro life. She married her high school sweetheart. She has five children, and her youngest son has Down Syndrome – a condition she knew about during her pregnancy but did not make public until after the birth.

She’s a "hockey mom" who reportedly fired the chef at the Governor’s mansion because she can "make sandwiches for her kids herself". So she’s definitely no Hillary Clinton and this may appeal to conservative Republicans and Democrats alike, who are supportive of a woman holding the highest office in the land but unsettled by aspects of Clinton’s progressive platform.

Palin is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment right to own guns, but unlike many theoretical supporters who line up for political gain, she also owns guns and uses them. She is an avid hunter and fisher and local game is often on her dinner table. Guns and hunting remain a key political indicator in the United States, where most people support ownership even if they have nothing to do with guns, so Palin may actually tap into a political undercurrent that would otherwise have been sidelined from the campaign.

Executive Experience
Palin has 10 years experience as a city councillor and mayor and two years as Governor, where she is responsible for the National Guard. In fact, she visited Alaskan National Guardsmen during their rotation in Kuwait, and as such has spent as much time there as Obama.

If you think she is a pushover, think again. The press could only find a slightly miffed chihuahua in Biden, but "Sarah Barracuda" ain’t no lap dog. The reason she is Governor is that she took on the Republican establishment in Alaska and won. Palin is also a true outsider – her experience is not within Washington and the beltway that many Americans feel is suffocating government. As such, she speaks to the maverick-change message that the McCain camp is using to counter Obama’s hope-change platform.

The Environment
As noted she hunts and fishes and is not averse to keeping the Alaskan cold at bay with fur. More significantly, she advocates exploration for oil and gas in wilderness areas. While many Americans have Kyoto on their minds, many are worried about rising fuel prices, and dependence on foreign (read: Arab) fossil fuels. So Palin represents a pragmatic appeal to hip pockets that may just wash with the electorate.

Foreign Policy
This is probably her weakest point (and not coincidentally McCain’s strongest). Yes she has control of the Alaskan National Guard, but she has taken no part in decisions about their deployment overseas. The McCain camp, and Cindy in particular, would have us believe that because Alaska is the closest state to Russia she has gained experience – but few are going to buy this line. So the question is whether McCain’s shadow can shield her, and whether a focus on local issues can be made into a strength. One thing is certain: it will make accusing Obama of foreign policy inexperience harder to get away with, but the choice of Biden had probably achieved this anyway.

A Token Woman
She is not. She certainly has substance, but not in the way the pundits would have predicted. In fact, this overview shows that she stands in opposition to many of the core "progressive" views assumed to characterise a successful female candidate.

She is used to challenging stereotypes and making firsts – first female governor of Alaska, youngest Governor of Alaska, and although she’s not a native Alaskan she’s the first Governor born after it gained statehood – so being the first female Republican Vice Presidential candidate continues a familiar trend (the Democrats had Geraldine Ferraro in the failed campaign of 1984). And there can be no doubt that she’ll work this angle. For instance, in her first press conference she couldn’t resist raising the stakes by noting that her candidacy would "shatter the glass ceiling once and for all".

Her values may scare of some of the disaffected Clinton voters the Republicans are keen to snare, but she certainly won’t be accused of "flip-flopping" on issues that many Americans hold dear.

So what about Sarah Palin the person?

You won’t get much from her spread in Vogue late last year, although the picture of her leaning against her seaplane frozen in the lake is telling.

She is a happily married mother of five who never strayed far from her hometown (in fact she only got a passport in time to visit the troops in Kuwait). She was a star basket-baller, "Sarah Barracuda", who took her team to the championships and won. And she was a beauty queen. She did a stint as a sports broadcaster on the local NBC station before settling down to have a family and take on the corrupt local Republican leadership.

She is a youthful 44-year-old who keeps fit through midnight runs and moose dinners (which she may very well have shot herself). And she doesn’t just go for a brisk stroll, we’re talking 10-15 kilometres in 28 below freezing.

This is a high stakes gamble by the McCain camp, and one that has already paid off. After the pomp of the Democratic Convention, the Obama camp was caught wrong footed and groping for a credible response. Clearly they are going to have to throw out the playbook they devised for the orthodox Republican hopefuls. We are beginning to see a tentative response taking shape in a series of careful media comments.

On the Republican side, support has been swift and measured to counter the weaknesses mentioned above. So the likes of Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty have been spruiking Palin’s executive experience and her experience "in life". In the National Review Mark Steyn argues that Palin is not simply "all-American, but hyper-American. What other country in the developed world produces beauty queens who hunt caribou and serve up a terrific moose stew?" What country indeed. But there are some dissenters in conservative ranks and the media, especially over Palin’s foreign policy credentials.

What does this all mean? Well, that anyone who thought the race was about to become a little pedestrian should think again. McCain has blown the campaign wide open and he can win. We may yet see moose burgers on the menu at the White House.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.