Alaska is the New Kansas

Thomas Frank’s 2004 missive "What’s the Matter With Kansas," was one of many attempts by left-leaning intellectuals to paint conservatives from the heartland as backward rubes. Michael Moore added to the pile in that same year with "Stupid White Men."

In Hollywood, conservatives are routinely painted as gun-toting, vermin-eating, flag-waving, clannish religious fanatics who can’t be trusted with big responsibilities.

And in that grand tradition, much has been made by the mainstream media of the fact that Sarah Palin’s experience as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and as governor of that state, is not experience enough to land her on John McCain’s ticket.

In these efforts, the media and other liberal mouthpieces are treating Palin — and by association her state of Alaska — like they do other conservatives who don’t live in New York or California. She is, to put it plainly, weird. She’s a redneck hick. And Alaska, apparently, isn’t a real state.

Bill Burton, Barack Obama’s campaign spokesperson, said of McCain’s running mate, "Today, John McCain put the former mayor of a town of 9,000 with zero foreign policy experience a heartbeat away from the presidency."

It doesn’t matter, apparently, that Alaska is the country’s biggest state, almost twice the size of Texas, has a larger population than North Dakota, Wyoming and Vermont, and is one of the country’s top oil-producing states, making it particularly important to the national and even global economy.

But more than disparage her state as insignificant, liberals have tried desperately to paint her as that backward rube who, like the folks in Kansas, isn’t cosmopolitan enough to deal with the highfaluting rigors of Washington, DC, or the duties associated with being a vice president.

The Daily Kos, among others, has implied that Sarah Palin’s son Trig is actually her daughter’s. It also called her widely praised RNC speech "snarky, amateurish" and "almost Student Council-like."

Frank Rich of the New York Times had the considerable bad taste to call the McCain-Palin ticket a "shotgun marriage."

And Sean Combs, who also goes by "Diddy," probingly asked in one of his recent blogs, "What is the reality in Alaska? There aren’t even any crackheads in Alaska. There aren’t no black people in Alaska.” (In fact, there are more blacks per capita in Alaska than in 13 other states, and — not that it’s something to brag about — Alaska has a higher percentage of crack addicts than California.)

But what’s missing from all of this penetrating liberal analysis is a first-hand sense of what Alaska is about, and what it means that Sarah Palin calls it home.

Anyone who’s been there knows that authenticity, and rebellious independence is alive and well in the United States, and anyone who hasn’t should go. Immediately.

In the last year, I’ve been twice lured by the same promise of adventure that brought explorers like John Muir and Jack London, and later Chris McCandless, who would die alone in an abandoned bus just outside of Denali National Park. I went to fish the great salmon runs of the Kenai Peninsula, to see moose and grizzlies, and to leave the sanitized, strip-malled lower 48 behind, if only for a couple weeks at a time.

And in great small towns like Seward, Wasilla and Talkeetna, I met countless newcomers and locals who embody the independent spirit we once found in the great American West, at a time when the cowboys weren’t a football team and the ranch wasn’t a day spa. I met people there who know about conservation — who indeed eat only what they can catch — and for whom conservation isn’t a bumper sticker or the punctuation of an Oscar speech.

And I met people who know about the real effects of rising gas prices. Alaska has the highest-priced gas of any state, and its residents arguably need it more than anyone in the lower 48, forced at times to drive hundreds of miles to the nearest store. With oil right in their backyard, or in their ANWR attic, as it were, the frustration there over the refusal to drill domestically is greater than it is on Sunset Boulevard, trust me.

There is also a healthy sense of rebellion, a bucking of the current order that this country was founded on. The Alaskan Independence Party has been called fringe by folks in the lower 48, but up there it’s a fairly mainstream organization that considers itself "a hybrid of conservative Republicanism, populism and libertarianism." Its goals are to assure Alaska-first policies in regards to land and resources, to maintain the right to bear arms, and to ban property taxes. Walter J. Hickel, the second and eighth governor of Alaska, said, "Political parties, both Republican and Democrat, dominate from Washington, D.C., and [don’t] quite understand the political problems, or opportunities, in an arctic and subarctic country."

Of course Alaska has also embraced modernity and convenience where it can. There are Wal-Marts, Starbucks, and McDonalds, which features as its regional menu item the McKinley Mac. But the values there — self-reliance, a respect for the land and its resources, and independence — are ridiculed by liberal outsiders who want to paint them as out-of-touch and backwards, with the kind of ethos embodied by an oinking Ned Beatty or a tire-burning Dale Earnhardt Jr., Sarah Palin refuses the luxuries of a private plane and an in-house chef, and the left looks at her askance.

We used to treasure independent spirits like Barry Goldwater, whose ideology seemed carved right out of the rugged Arizona canyons. John McCain and Sarah Palin follow in his footsteps now, galloping off into the great unknown of this unfolding election season, and possibly the even greater unknown of the next four years. Most Americans don’t need reminding that our country was born out of a desperate hunger for independence, but it seems many do need reminding that Alaska is carrying on that great tradition today.