News & Current Affairs

September 19, 2008

Small-town girl v big-city boy

Small-town girl v big-city boy

Virginia-based author Joe Bageant claimed Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin as a fellow “redneck”, in a recent essay for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.He meant it as a compliment. Here Jamie Stiehm, a city-dwelling political commentator, asks whether small-town values are all they are cracked up to be.

When an American refers to someone as “small-town”, it’s seldom clear whether it’s meant as praise or scorn.

Trump Tower in Chicago
Sarah Palin declared psychological war on Barack Obama by setting up a ‘small-town girl v big-city boy’ dichotomy

It all depends on the speaker, subject, listener and ZIP code where the conversation is taking place.

For some, small towns are where virtues live: near the diner, yarn shop and swimming hole. For others, “small-town” is a synonym for smug narrow-mindedness.

Governor Sarah Palin, the political hurricane that made landfall in early September as the surprise Republican vice-presidential nominee, hit upon the deepest contradiction in the American character. It’s as old as the fierce fight between two founding fathers – urbane Alexander Hamilton of New York and Thomas Jefferson, a Virginia slave-owning gentleman of the land.

We Americans still have a romantic notion about the simple small town, which goes hand in hand with Jefferson’s idealized “yeoman farmer”. But in real life, most of us live in the busy, peopled world Hamilton envisaged.

Ms Palin declared psychological war on Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, right away by setting up a “small-town girl versus big-city boy” dichotomy.

In her hello-to-the-country speech, Palin zeroed in on Obama’s work as a community organizer in Chicago before he went to Harvard Law School. That was in another metropolis known as Cambridge, a lively academic grove in Boston.

In a rare move for a political unknown, Palin made it personal between the man running for president, Obama, and herself. They are of the same generation: she is 44 to his 47, and represent bipolar extremes.

Jamie Stiehm
Jamie Stiehm is a political journalist based in Washington DC. Her essays on the 2008 presidential campaign have appeared in the liberal, pro-Obama Huffington Post.

“I have the privilege of living most of my life in a small town,” Palin told roaring Republicans at their convention.

“I was mayor of my hometown. And since our opponents in this presidential election seem to look down on that experience, let me explain… I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organiser, except you have actual responsibilities.”

Gopher Prairie

But, just a moment, what’s so great about being mayor of tiny Wasilla, Alaska? Whether Ms Palin ever made time to see the skylines and neighborhoods of Philadelphia, Boston or Baltimore is arguably more to the purpose of governing the United States.

For like it or not, we are a nation composed of mostly city dwellers.

Sarah Palin
We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity
Sarah Palin quotes the late Hearst journalist, Westbrook Pegler

The 1920 census was the point in our social history when the population changed from living in rural and small communities to living in cities.

That shift is mirrored beautifully in the literature of the period, known as “The Revolt from the Village,” as critic Carl van Doren put it in The Nation in 1921. This revolt was accompanied by a rush to breathe in the exhilarating big city by young men and women, as told in the autobiographical novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe.

The most famous work in the anti-small town movement was the 1920 novel Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis, who based fictional Gopher Prairie on his own Minnesota hometown.

The Nobel laureate author opened with a world-weary, ironical note: “This story would be the same in Ohio or Montana, in Kansas or Kentucky… Main Street is the climax of civilization.”

Biographer Richard Lingeman, also the author of Small Town America, said Lewis’ masterpiece launched “a conscious, definitive attack on the stuffiness, provincialism, smugness, conformity and cruel gossip of small town life, intended to puncture the myth once and for all.”

World citizen

Yet here the heartland myth persists, in popular culture as well as partisan politics. Rock singer John Mellencamp’s song, Small Town, tells the other side of the story told by Lewis: “No, I cannot forget where it is that I come from/I cannot forget the people who love me/Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town/And people let me be just what I want to be.”

The lyrics are in an ode to his Indiana hometown.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama would have a hard time laying claim to small-town credentials

Mellencamp is a big Obama supporter, as it happens. Maybe the Democratic nominee would be well advised to take the singer on the road to help shore up his support in small towns in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania?

One of the strengths of Obama’s curriculum vitae, for some of his supporters, is its variety. Growing up, he lived in Hawaii and Indonesia. He studied in LA, New York and Boston and knows his way around Washington.

He’s a world citizen.

He’d have a hard time claiming small-town status, though Springfield, Illinois, where he served as a state legislator, is a fairly small town where another lanky lawyer who ran for President once lived. (That would be, of course, Abraham Lincoln.)

No doubt certain strengths come from living in a small town, especially for politicians.

Bill Clinton, who hails from Hope, Arkansas, embodies the easy social connectedness which a small town upbringing can produce.

Everyone tends to relate to everyone else, up and down the social scale. People know the person you were in high school.

You might even be married to someone you knew in high school, as Palin told the world she was. “My guy,” was how she introduced her husband, Todd Palin, to the cheering crowd that night.

You might even be pregnant in high school, as her daughter Bristol is – but somehow the redoubtable Palin has turned that into a small-town virtue, too.

Urban sophisticates

In her convention speech, she quoted anonymously Westbrook Pegler, the long-gone Hearst newspaper columnist and scourge of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt: “We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity.”

Was the subtext that urban sophisticates like Obama are somehow suspect?

Just what we need, a new culture war at home.

As if we Americans weren’t demoralized enough already by the economy and the war in Iraq.

But there is no obvious reason why the big city guy has to lose this ideological battle.

Maybe he should engage and ask Americans: hey, whose world would you rather live in? Jefferson’s or Hamilton’s? Mine or Palin’s? Wasilla or Chicago?

He’ll have to watch out though, or the small-town girl will have him for lunch at the diner.

Advertisements

September 12, 2008

Sarah Palin: 10 things we’ve learnt

Sarah Palin: 10 things we’ve learnt

It has been a week since Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was catapulted from relative obscurity to center stage as US Republican John McCain’s choice for running mate. Here are 10 things we now know about her.

Images of Sarah Palin, past and present

1. Her five children are named Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and, last but not least, Trig Paxson Van Palin. According to the Washington Post newspaper, Track was named after the course of the sockeye salmon the family fishes off the town of Dillingham, while her eldest daughter’s name comes from Bristol Bay, an area known for its salmon fisheries. The name Willow relates to the state bird, the willow ptarmigan, and a nearby town, the paper says, while daughter Piper shares her name with the family’s small plane. Trig is the Norse word for “brave victory”, the Post adds.

2. Her rimless glasses are now a style phenomenon. The titanium Kawasaki 704 frames – designed in Japan, where they sell for $300 – are apparently flying off the shelves. Her upswept hair-do is also reportedly spawning imitators. LA Times fashion writer Booth Moore writes: “The untidiness of her updo has a can-do spirit that says, ‘I have more important things to do than worry about my hair, so I just twirled it into this clip so I could get to the real business of governing and shooting caribou and having babies and taking them to hockey practice.'”

3. John McCain picked someone who not only appeals to “Wal-Mart Moms” but is one herself, shopping for the family in a local branch. Not only that, writes New York Times columnist William Kristol, but “he picked someone who, in 1999 as Wasilla mayor, presided over a wedding of two Wal-Mart associates at the local Wal-Mart”.

4. Mrs Palin enjoys moose-hunting and salmon-fishing – and has said her favorite dish is moose stew. Former Republican senator and one-time presidential hopeful Fred Thompson described her as “the only nominee in the history of either party who knows how to properly field-dress a moose”. Cindy McCain, in her speech to the party’s national convention, said her husband John had “picked a reform-minded, hockey-mommin’, basketball-shooting, moose-hunting, salmon-fishing, pistol-packing mother-of-five for vice-president”.

5. A month before her fifth child, Trig, was due, Mrs Palin’s waters broke while she was in Texas to address a conference. She delivered her speech nonetheless and embarked on the long flight back to Alaska – changing planes in Seattle – before traveling an hour by road to hospital to give birth. She says she was not in “active labor” and her doctor said it was fine. Alaska Airlines allows women to travel in the late stages of pregnancy. Husband Todd – a commercial fisherman – is quoted by the s Anchorage Daily Newas saying: “You can’t have a fish picker from Texas.” Three days later, Mrs Palin was back at work.

6. As governor of Alaska, Mrs Palin ditched plans for a “bridge to nowhere” – a federally-funded project to link a handful of Alaskans to an airport at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. In her speech to the Republican National Convention, she said she had told the US Congress “thanks, but no thanks”. But US media say she appeared to support the project while running for governor in 2006, though she said the proposed design was too “grandiose”. And when she announced the cancellation of the bridge a year ago – after it gained notoriety as an example of wasteful spending – she hardly seemed to be turning down federal funds out of thrift. She explained the decision by saying, “It’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island.” The federal funding was diverted to other projects in Alaska.

Sarah Palin with one of her daughters on a fishing trip (handout)

Mrs Palin enjoys hunting, shooting and fishing for salmon

7. In a line that has gone down well at the Republican National Convention and on the campaign trail, she boasts of putting the previous governor’s “luxury jet” on eBay as a measure to cut wasteful spending. That is true. But what she has not always explained to her audience is that the plane failed to sell on the internet auction site and so aides had to broker a deal with a buyer.

8. She was baptised a Catholic as an infant but attended a Pentecostal church in Wasilla – her hometown since her parents moved to Alaska from Idaho when she was three months old – for many years. She now attends Wasilla Bible Church, a non-denominational, evangelical church. The Associated Press reports that the church is promoting a conference that promises to convert gays into heterosexuals through the power of prayer.

9. As hunters sometimes do, Mrs Palin has incurred the wrath of wildlife-lovers. It’s not just that she shoots moose and caribou, she has also backed legislation to encourage the aerial hunting of wolves, as a “predator control” measure. Plus, she has opposed the US government’s listing of a variety of animals as endangered, including the polar bear and the beluga whale. Unlike Mr McCain and to the horror of many environmentalists, she actively supports drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

10. She is a self-described “average hockey mom”; a biography published a few months ago was entitled Sarah: How a Hockey Mom Turned Alaska’s Political Establishment on Its Ear. The hockey mom branding could prove useful come November in the swing states of Michigan and Minnesota, where ice hockey is a big game. Her best-known joke so far? “What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick.”

September 4, 2008

Palin takes battle to Democrats

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 11:14 am
Palin takes battle to Democrats

John McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, has made a stinging attack on Democratic presidential runner Barack Obama at the US Republican convention.

She gave her first major campaign speech to an enthusiastic crowd at the convention in St Paul, Minnesota.

Defending her small-town roots, she attacked Mr Obama as having talked of change, but done nothing of substance.

Mr McCain made a surprise appearance on stage, with her family, saying: “Don’t you think we made the right choice?”

The Arizona senator has been formally nominated as the party’s presidential candidate in a roll call vote by state delegations. He is expected to accept the nomination on Thursday.

I’ve learned quickly… , that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone
Sarah Palin

In a speech designed to rally the party base, she spoke of her family, including her elder son, who is about to be deployed to Iraq in the US Army, and her younger son, who has Down’s Syndrome.

The mother-of-five highlighted her background as a small-town “average hockey mom” and stressed that she was not part of the “Washington elite”.

In a salvo directed at media commentators who have questioned her qualifications, she said she was “not going to Washington to seek their good opinion” but to serve the people.

Mrs Palin praised the “determination, resolve and sheer guts” of Mr McCain and said she was honoured to help him.

Mrs Palin also attacked Mr Obama’s “change agenda” and suggested he was more interested in idealism and “high-flown speech-making” than acting for “real Americans”.

“In politics, there are some candidates who use change to promote their careers,” she said.

Justin Webb
I liked the parliamentary-style jabs at Obama
BBC North America editor Justin Webb

“And then there are those, like John McCain, who use their careers to promote change.”

She also targeted Mr Obama’s experience as a community organiser and remarks he made earlier this year when he spoke of “bitter” working-class people “clinging to guns or religion”.

“I guess that a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer’, except that you have actual responsibilities,” she said.

“I might add that in small towns, we don’t quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren’t listening.”

Mrs Palin – who supports drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – said that while drilling “will not solve all of America’s energy problems”, that is “no excuse to do nothing at all”.

Democrats under fire

Former Governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee opened the night by hailing Mr McCain and attacking the Democrats.

Mr Romney, a one-time rival of Mr McCain for the Republican nomination, used his speech to hammer the Democrats over their “liberal” agenda.

“We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington – throw out the big government liberals and elect John McCain,” the former Massachusetts governor said.

He also lauded Mr McCain’s national security credentials, saying he was the presidential contender who would defeat “evil” radical Islam.

Mr Huckabee, also a former rival of Mr McCain, joked that he had hoped to be giving the speech on Thursday night – when Mr McCain will accept the party’s nomination to run for president in November’s election.

But, he said, he was delighted to be speaking for his second choice, Mr McCain – “a man with the character and stubborn kind of integrity that we need in a president”.

He defended Mrs Palin against criticism from the media, saying its coverage had been “tackier than a costume change at a Madonna concert”, and attacked the Democrats’ vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Rudy Giuliani speaks at the Republican convention in St Paul, 3 Sept
You need to face your enemy in order to defeat them. John McCain will face this threat and bring victory to this country
Rudy Giuliani

“I am so tired of hearing about her lack of experience. She got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, than Joe Biden got running for president of the United States,” he said, referring to Mr Biden’s performance in the Democratic primaries.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani followed Mr Huckabee on stage, calling the 2008 presidential election a “turning point” for the people of the US.

He charged the Democrats with being in denial about the threat from terrorism and said Mr McCain had the foreign policy, national security and leadership experience that counted.

“The choice in this election comes down to substance over style,” he said. “John has been tested. Barack Obama has not. Tough times require strong leadership, and this is no time for on the job training.”

Vetting questions

The Alaska governor’s speech comes amid scrutiny of her record and after two days dominated by the news her daughter Bristol, 17, is pregnant.

Mrs Palin and her family, including Bristol and her boyfriend, greeted Mr McCain at the airport as he arrived in Minnesota on Wednesday.

Ahead of her address, senior McCain campaign adviser Steve Schmidt issued a statement saying that media questions over how thoroughly Mrs Palin was vetted should end.

It has also been revealed that an attorney has been hired to represent Mrs Palin in an Alaska state ethics investigation involving alleged abuse of power.

Mrs Palin told US network CNBC she had “nothing to hide”. Her deposition is expected to be scheduled soon.

There have also been reports that Mrs Palin sought special financial favors for her city and state – something the McCain campaign is against.

She was elected governor of Alaska in 2006 and before that was mayor of the small town of Wasilla, Alaska.

September 3, 2008

Profile: Sarah Palin

Profile: Sarah Palin
Palin considers herself a “maverick” politician, like McCain [GALLO/GETTY]

Sarah Palin, the youngest and first female governor of Alaska, has emerged from relative obscurity to become John McCain’s choice as his running-mate for the Republican presidential nomination.Palin, who describes herself as an “American Thatcher” in reference to the former British prime minister, calls herself a “maverick” reformer rather than a traditional Republican.

She cut her political teeth as mayor of the small town of Wasilla, Alaska from 1996-2002.

And while she has no national or international political experience, she has made headlines by pushing for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The mother-of-five has also angered environmentalists further by opposing the listing of the polar bear as an endangered species.

She is a loyal member of the National Rifle Association who enjoys hunting and supports the construction of a pipeline to move natural gas across the state.

Conservative appeal

Palin beat Frank Murkowski, the state’s Republican incumbent governor, in a primary poll two years ago, despite having little money and little backing from the political establishment.

In focus

In-depth coverage of US election

She has also distanced herself from two senior Republican politicians in Alaska, Ted Stevens and Don Young, who are both undergoing federal corruption investigations.But her anti-corruption reputation has been questioned after an investigation was recently launched by a legislative panel into whether she dismissed Alaska’s public safety commissioner because he would not fire her former brother-in-law from the state police.

The governor, who studied journalism and is a former sports television reporter, will also help attract conservative support for McCain’s campaign.

“When you look closer at Sarah Palin, she’s very very conservative on virtually all of the issues,” says Bill Bradley, a political analyst.

“She has a very compelling and interesting story but she is much more to the right than where the country is today.”

Palin is strongly opposed to abortion, and stands in favour of the death penalty.

She is married to Todd Palin, a part-Eskimo former commercial fisherman who now works in Alaska’s oil fields and who is a four-time winner of the daunting Alaska Iron Dog snowmobile competition.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.