Hardly any of this was news in Wasilla. Most everyone knows most everyone else or their brother, and politeness, at least on the surface, is the rule. You might dislike the candidate, but you’re friendly with her mother, so it is better not to say anything nasty, especially on the record. Besides, who really wants to piss off Sarah the Barracuda, especially when she’s the governor and signs your check?
Still, you hear things. You hear how Sarah and Todd flaunted Wasilla’s first extended-cab pickup, a key signifier of rural royalty. You hear that when Todd—a four-time winner—got beat in the Iron Dog snow- machine race, Sarah had a shit fit, leading the winner, fellow Wasillan Andy George, to say, “Hey, Sarah, that’s why they call it racing.” You might hear that everyone in town knew about Bristol and Levi Johnston, and how much Palin’s hockey-mom stance is compromised by the fact that she rarely stayed through a full game since her hothead son Track often spent much of the first period in the penalty box before being sent to the locker room for good. Couldn’t Sarah and the First Dude have figured out how to instill some family values in the kid?
Yet there was another side to it. Palin’s abortion position included choosing “life” even if her own daughter had been raped, but she wasn’t a hypocrite. If Bristol was knocked up, she would get married; the loaded shotgun was right behind the screen door. There were some who questioned the maternal instincts of someone whose water broke in Texas but decided to take a several-hour flight back to Alaska to have her baby. But you had to acknowledge Palin’s determination to have Trig knowing he had Down syndrome. He was still one of God’s children, wholly worthy of life. That was what it was with Palin, Wasilla people said: You might not like everything about her, but she had a spine, a rare thing in this day and age. That said, the question remained, if you were an Alaskan, a real Alaskan, the sort of person who was willing to bet big oil-field money on the Nenana Ice Classic trying to predict the exact moment the spring ice would break on a river near the Arctic Circle, why would you want to be vice-president, or even the president of the USA, as Palin obviously lusted to be?
One of the bigger whoppers Palin told Katie Couric was, “Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.” As anyone will tell you, it just ain’t the same up here in the Mat-Su and beyond, not like in the Outside, which is what Alaskans call the rest of the country. Therein is the fudge in Palin’s winking, down-home “you betchas.” She’s supposed to be “jus’ folks,” just like us—not counting anyone you might see on the subway, of course—but as the hand-painted LEAVING AMERICA, ENTERING ALASKA signs at the Anchorage city line attest, this is a whole other country.
Sure, you got the animal-killing. Few homes don’t have the heads of something mounted on the wall. “Hunting with Dad” is an accepted school excuse. It is not considered strange that Palin supports shooting wolves from low-flying planes to keep the moose population up so they can later be killed by megaoutfitted sport hunters.
Beyond this is the all-powerful Alaskan petro economy, which operates inversely to the Lower 48’s. In the early nineties, when the price of crude coursing through the Alyeska pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez was $20 a barrel and everyone down south was buying SUVs, Alaska was busted. Recently, with us suckers suffering $120 barrels, Alaska has been booming. Things have been so flush that Palin was able to add $1,200 to everyone’s PFD check. That is the state’s Permanent Fund Dividend, the yearly payment from the vast publicly owned account holding the state’s oil revenues. For Alaskans, an exceedingly high percentage of whom work for the government they demand get off their backs, the deal is good. Everyone who meets the residence requirement gets a PFD check, which means should you be a Russian immigrant with, say, thirteen children, this year you would have garnered $3,269 (with Palin’s extra $1,200) per family member, or something like $50,000 simply for living here.
No doubt the extra $1,200 is at least partially responsible for Sarah Palin’s claim to be the most beloved governor in the country. It was, after all, a grand populist gesture—shit, that’s a free flat-screen right there! In fact, as chief executive of a semi-socialist petrochemical-rich state, Sarah Palin has a lot in common with those twin bogeymen Hugo Chávez and the hated Ahmadinejad, may the Lord consign him to hydrocarbon fires of hell.