Michael Ledeen is characteristically insightful:
For the first time in memory, we have a major candidate who comes from the frontier, and it’s not surprising that the pundits are having a hard time coming to grips with this phenomenon. For Sarah Palin’s world is not defined by the major media or by the glossy magazines; she hunts and fishes, she’s unabashedly patriotic, her son is in the Army, her husband races across the snow. Unlike the other three candidates, she is not a member of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. When she talks about shattering the glass ceiling, she actually means it; it is not a mask for yet another ideological program. Some of her supporters sense this when they call her “authentic.” It’s the wrong word, however; Barack Obama is an authentic radical, for example. Palin is a frontierswoman. Her state capital, Juneau, cannot be reached on the highways of Alaska. If you want to get there, you must either fly or sail. And for much of the year, sailing isn’t smart. No subways in Juneau, but lots of bars. The main bookstore caters mostly to the tourist trade, with a small selection of used paperbacks and a few recent best sellers.
It’s not so much authenticity as independence, and self-reliance, which have always been the basic characteristics of frontier people. They think for themselves. They have to think outside the box, because there’s no available box for them to think in. If they accepted the conventional wisdom they wouldn’t be on the frontier, they’d be in some city and they’d brag about their degrees from the failed institutions of higher education. They’re not big on “conflict resolution,” they prefer zero-sum games. If you go up against a grizzly, you’re poorly advised to look for a win-win solution.
She comes from a world that’s almost totally unknown to the pundits, which is why so much of the commentary has been unhelpful. Most of the intellectuals I know have never driven across this continent. They have little appreciation of the life of the Great Plains and the Klondike, and I suspect that, as time passes, they will have increasing difficulty defining Sarah Palin in the outmoded terms of left and right, liberal and conservative. As McCain said when he introduced her, she’s very serious about changing government, as her record shows. She knows that means purging corrupt people, a dangerous notion among the inhabitants of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. Is it a conservative notion? Wrong question, I’d say.
One thing that’s interesting about this presidential election is how radical two of the candidates are. Obama is a radical leftist pretending to be a pragmatic liberal. Palin is a radical of a different type, not quite a libertarian as we use that term and certainly not a conservative. “Frontierswoman” is as good a characterization as any.