From David Hulen in Anchorage --
The New Yorker has a "Letter from Alaska" about Palin, Stevens and Alaska politics. It's under the headline: THE STATE OF SARAH PALIN: The peculiar political landscape of the Vice-Presidential hopeful. The writer was here working on the piece before McCain picked Palin, and he traveled around the state a bit, including by boat on the Kuskokwim River.
It's a long story and some of it will strike Alaskans as covering familiar ground. But it also looks at what's familiar to us with fresh eyes:
Palin, who studied journalism in college and worked for a time as a sportscaster, has an informal manner of speech, simultaneously chatty and urgent, and she reinforces her words with winks and nods and wrinklings of her nose that seem meant to telegraph intimacy and ease. Speaking recently at her former church, the Wasilla Assembly of God, she said, "It was so cool growing up in this church and getting saved here, getting baptized by Pastor Riley in Little Beaver Lake Camp, freezing-cold summer days that we had at camp—my whole family getting baptized when we were little." She sounded the same when we met, high-spirited, irrepressible, and not in the least self-conscious. On the contrary, she is supremely self-confident, in the way of someone who believes that there is nothing she can't talk her way into, or out of, or around or through. There was never a hesitation before speaking, or between phrases, no time for thought or reflection. The words kept coming—engaging, lulling, distracting—a commanding flow, but without weight....
Palin's biggest difference with Alaska's Republican establishment... was not so much fiscal as it was social. Ted Stevens is one of the last of the Rockefeller Republicans—the real thing, as he supported Nelson Rockefeller over Barry Goldwater in the 1964 Presidential race. He is essentially secular and skeptical of government, and favors abortion rights—a common profile in Alaska, a state that attracts a strong streak of libertarians and rugged individualists. By contrast, Palin belongs to the state's small evangelical community, which is centered in the Mat-Su Valley, around Wasilla. She thinks that creationism should be taught in the public schools alongside Darwinian evolution, she was called the town's "first Christian mayor" by a local TV station, and she asked the town librarian about banning books, but did not follow through.
As governor, Palin has done nothing to impose her religious or social views. Alaska has no death penalty, and during the campaign she said that she would support one, but never made an issue of it; she opposed abortion even for pregnancies caused by rape, but this was a personal opinion, not a legislative cause. In fact, she refused requests to put abortion bills on the agenda during a special legislative session this summer, preferring to discuss the natural-gas pipeline, which she pursued in such a bipartisan manner that she ultimately won more solid support for it from Democrats than from Republicans...
So it was startling to see Palin emerge in the last days of August as an icon of the evangelical base of the Republican Party, and as a fierce—often vituperative—partisan scourge, mocking Barack Obama's character and positions.