Governor Palin as Frontierswoman

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.

13 thoughts on “Governor Palin as Frontierswoman”

  1. Fred Lapides,

    We get your point. We don’t agree. We’re moving on. I would appreciate if from now on you would limit your comments here to your own original thoughts and keep them relatively brief. We all have access to the same stuff on the Web as you do. People read this blog for a particular perspective, which you don’t share, which is OK. However, you might do better to invest more of your energies in your own blog rather than try to educate us.

  2. Palin is a radical of a different type, not quite a libertarian as we use that term and certainly not a conservative.

    I agree she has an American-West sense of independence, a smell of freedom about her.

    I also agree she not a libertarian in that she doesn’t want to dismantle government down to roads/police/army/nothing-else, although she clearly believes the Washington establishment is too big, too powerful, too intrusive and too corrupt. (I agree on all counts). But she does see government as having a role to play in delivering social services (I have to agree on that too. I don’t want people living in squalor or not having enough food.)

    To say that she clearly is not a conservative needs clarification (on your part). I don’t even know what that means anymore, so many people of varying ideologies having claimed that mantle.

    To conserve means to keep, to protect. I would hazard that in its truest sense, then, a Conservative would keep and protect the spirit of the Founders, honing to the philosophies of the Declaration and the Constitution as originally written – if I wanted to be a technocrat about it, which I don’t.

    Please clarify that a little Jon. What do you mean?

  3. I meant that she doesn’t fit with movement conservatives, either religious or nonreligious ones. She doesn’t seem to emphasize her religion publicly (McCain is also like this), or to support the drug war, or to support traditional, pro-prosecution “law and order” views (she seems to support jury nullification in principle) as much as establishment conservatives do. But now that you raise the issue I agree that she shares important values with (American) conservatives, as do libertarians generally.

    One question I have about her is whether she really has a populist streak, as appeared to be the case during her speech at the Convention, or whether her apparent populism is an affectation intended to serve McCain’s agenda. I find it difficult to reconcile populism with sophistication about economic matters. (McCain does it by being unsophisticated about economics, but I don’t think Palin can use this excuse.)

  4. Slightly OT, but, slightly related – the economy of the US for the past several years has been strong in the South and Southwest, right? So, what I found living in the northeast is that a lot of people have this very outmoded idea of flyover – they sort of forget that a lot is happening, a lot is changing, and there is a dynamism to parts of the country that they like to lampoon. They are simply unaware of other parts of the world. I had a colleague, a physician from Germany, who would complain about the rotten northeastern infrastructure and was full of stories of Texas and places where you could buy a house cheaply, the roads were new, and there seemed to be more opportunity. I think the Palin phemenon is partly wrapped up in that. I mean, there are people out there doing things in the economy, in the government, that certain elites just sort of ignore, until they can’t.

  5. Jonathan – I wouldn’t mind populism if it was married to a little bit of small government stuff. That’s the vibe I kind of get from her, but, it’s early days yet so I have no idea. I’m afraid to hope – the whole big gov conservatism seems so loved by certain R pundit types.

  6. MD, I think that is why all the allusions to the great depression we are struggling through seem right down weird around here – and it isn’t like the years when the town was full of landsmen getting people to sign contracts and roughnecks drilling. It’s just that houses sell quickly, salaries are steady and rising, unemployment is minimal. (Texas – farming belt). My sense is also that we don’t expect utopia, just don’t want 1984.

  7. I read it elsewhere today but, this is the first all-western pair running for the P and VP slot.

    The ‘frontier’ areas have often provided not only economic dynamism, but political dynamism. That’s what I was getting at mentioning all the Presidents that came from Ohio, when it was ‘the west’

  8. MD,

    It’s my impression that people who live in the NE and Chicago often don’t realize that the infrastructure and level of govt services they are accustomed to would be considered inferior in other parts of the country.

    I mostly agree with you about Palin. I don’t have illusions that she is a perfect libertarian or that she would be influential in a McCain administration, but I am excited because 1) McCain may actually win the election with her help and 2) I now see a clear possibility that a small-govt person will eventually become President. I can easily put up with rhetorical populism as long as she remains essentially a small-govt person. Perhaps she will. I suppose that we won’t know for some time.

  9. A friend sent a
    Palin site – sorry if it has been linked to by someone else. Not the funniest but the most optimistic: “Sarah Palin always wins the point spread.” Here are some my friend put in her e-mail:

    When Sarah Palin booked a flight to Europe, the French immediately surrendered.

    Sarah Palin is respectful. She begins each day with a moment of silence for the political enemies buried in her backyard.

    Sarah Palin always beats the point spread.

    Sarah Palin once bit the head off a live Osprey snatched from the air as it flew off with a Yellow Tail Rockfish she landed.

    Sarah Palin uses French Canadians as bait to catch giant king salmon.

    Sarah Palin knows who was on the Grassy Knoll.

    This kind of thing didn’t help Thompson all that much, but I don’t see how these memes can’t make the next two months more cheerful if nothing else.

    It’s also pretty hard to see such a woman as a populist expecting the government to manage a perfect society: it isn’t so much theoretical libertarian as gut libertarian.

  10. Kim Strassel (in WSJ) describes Palin’s reforms in Alaska; final observation speaks directly to Jonathan’s doubts:

    <i<Throughout it all, Mrs. Palin has stood for reform, though not populism. She thanks oil companies and says executives who “seek maximum revenue” are “simply doing their job.” She says her own job is to be a “savvy” negotiator on behalf of Alaska’s citizens and to provide credible oversight. It is this combination that lets her aggressively promote new energy while retaining public trust.

    Today’s congressional Republicans could learn from this. The party has been plagued by earmarks, scandal and corruption. Most members have embraced the machine. That has diminished voters’ trust, and in the process diminished good, conservative ideas. It is no wonder 37 million people tuned in to Mrs. Palin’s convention speech. They are looking for something fresh.

    A problem may be that popular culture has allowed the left, anti-business agenda to define the vocabulary of reform, when we all realize that big government poses big temptations to those elected.

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