By Gary P Jackson
Newsweek’s Peter J. Boyer sat down with Sarah Palin while she was in Pella, Iowa for the world premier of The Undefeated. The left wing news magazine was actually pretty fair in their reporting. Emily Shur did the photo-shoot for this issue, using Sarah’s Alaska as the backdrop.
“I believe that I can win a national election,” Sarah Palin declared one recent evening, sitting in the private dining room of a hotel in rural Iowa. The occasion for her visit to quintessential small-town America was a gathering of the faithful that would have instantaneously erupted into a fervent campaign rally had she but given the word. Instead, it had been another day on the non–campaign trail, this one capped by a sweet victory: she had just attended the premiere of a glowingly positive documentary about her titled The Undefeated.
“The people of America are desperate for positive change, and deserving of positive change, to get us off of this wrong track,” she told me during a conversation that lasted late into the night and, inevitably, kept returning to the subject that has titillated the media and spooked Republican presidential contenders for months: her political intentions. “I’m not so egotistical as to believe that it has to be me, or it can only be me, to turn things around,” she said. “But I do believe that I can win.”
Two years after stepping down as governor of Alaska—not a retreat, she later said of the decision, quoting Korean War general Oliver Smith, but “advancing in another direction“—Palin has proved herself an enduring force capable, with minimal effort, of keeping political professionals and, especially, the press in a state of perpetual imbalance. This derives partly, of course, from her standing as a possible presidential candidate with presumed frontrunner potential, a status she seems inclined to maintain for as long as possible. On the day we met, her daughter Bristol had declared in a television interview that Palin had already made a decision about whether to run for president—an assertion that Palin quickly tried to shoot down. “I think Bristol has made up her mind, and Bristol wants me to run for president,” she said. “But we’re still thinking about it. I’m still thinking about it.“
Family has been elemental to Palin’s national political identity from the moment she was introduced as John McCain’s running mate in 2008, accompanied by her outdoorsman husband, Todd, and four of their five children, including their youngest, Trig, who’d been born four months earlier with Down syndrome. The press’s fascination with this picturesque brood quickly turned so darkly speculative that candidate Barack Obama threatened to fire anyone in his campaign found participating in the conjectures.
Yet Palin, who is 47, now hinted that her family would not try to dissuade her from entering the race. “My kids know that life isn’t supposed to be easy, and it’s certainly not fair,” she said. “And they know that, even on their end, they have to make some sacrifices for the greater good.”
Track, the eldest son, who was deployed in Iraq during the 2008 campaign, is now married and running the family’s commercial fishing business in Alaska, living quietly out of the public eye. Willow, who turned 17 last week, seems amenable (“As long as her truck’s running, she’s fine,” Palin said), and Piper, who is 10, is a seasoned campaigner. Bristol’s all in. That leaves Todd, who sat in on part of the interview. “Do I want her to run?” he said. “It’s up to her. I mean, we’ll discuss it. But she’s definitely qualified to run this country. And she’s got a fire in the belly to serve.”
Whatever decision Palin makes will alter the near-ideal circumstance she enjoys now. From the remove of her cyber-perches on Twitter and Facebook, and the occasional appearance on Fox News (where she is a paid contributor), Palin is able to do plenty of politicking, unfettered by the encumbrances of a declared candidacy. She has no campaign staff directing her course (a famous source of unease during her vice-presidential run) and no press secretary urging her to accommodate what she calls the “lamestream media.” She and Todd are free to keep any schedule they wish. “We don’t advertise where we’re going,” she said that evening, in what might be the understatement of the political season.
Take the spontaneity, and inscrutability, of the lead-up to the movie screening. The Undefeated is an emphatic defense of the Palin record and an argument for her political indispensability—an ideal campaign accessory. (SarahPAC, Palin’s political-action committee, is offering DVDs to supporters who donate $100 or more.) Steve Bannon, the film’s director, had long planned a splashy Iowa premiere, envisioning it as the vehicle for Palin to make her first appearance this year in the politically important state, whose midwinter caucuses are the first test of a candidate’s viability.
Palin accepted Bannon’s invitation the week before the tentative date of the premiere, leaving him just five days to organize the event. He settled on Pella, an old Dutch town with the country’s largest working windmill, and booked all available rooms in the town’s principal hotel. Bannon also obtained the services of Craft International, a high-end security firm, which dispatched to the scene a four-man team: three former Navy SEALs and a former member of British special operations.
They arrived the day before the event and were instructed to repair that night to the local airfield, where the Palins were to arrive by private plane. The night passed, but the Palins didn’t arrive. The team learned the next day that the couple had gone to Minneapolis, to help Bristol get settled in for the start of her book tour at the Mall of America.
The next morning—the day of the event—Bannon and his security team learned, via Twitter, that the Palins had spent the night in Des Moines. (“Our hotel was right down the block from The Des Moines Register,” Palin later told me, plainly pleased. “Nobody knew we were there.”) After Sarah’s morning run by the river, they were driving to Pella.
On the fly, a new security plan was conceived: the Craft operatives would meet the Palins as they exited the interstate from Des Moines, about 45 minutes away, and escort them into town. The street outside the Pella Opera House, where the film was to be shown, was blocked off as satellite trucks arrived, television camera crews set up, and throngs of reporters and eager Iowans gathered. But as the hour of the event neared, the security men shrugged to one another; nothing from the Palins. Then, barely an hour before the scheduled premiere, came word that they had already arrived; they’d parked their rented Chevy Malibu and were up the street in a Dutch bakery, signing autographs and posing for photographs with admirers.
“They’re so Griswold!” observed one member of the team—a reference to the National Lampoon film series about a Midwestern family’s vacation misadventures.
The Iowa event was a powerful demonstration of Palin’s grassroots allure. It was organized, on very short notice, almost entirely by a devoted network of Palin volunteers, who filled the 350-seat opera house and turned out a thousand people for the invitation-only barbecue that followed the screening. Dressed in a button-down shirt, fitted jeans, and a beaded belt with a big red buckle, Palin cheerily worked her way through the crowd, signing ball caps and copies of her books to the refrain, “We hope you run!”
If she was fatigued by the time the party ended, it wasn’t obvious in her manner as she drew a chair out from the table in the private dining room and sat down to talk. The experience of watching a movie version of her political biography and then mingling with throngs of supporters clearly had moved her. She seemed both focused and exhilarated.
Turning to the political landscape, Palin said that President Obama is beatable in 2012, and that there are “many, many qualified and able candidates out there” to take him on.
Asked what was to be made of the fact that so many Republicans were looking beyond the field of declared candidates to people like herself, and Govs. Rick Perry and Chris Christie, Palin said, “It suggests that the field is not set. Thank goodness the field is not yet set. I think that there does need to be more vigorous debate. There needs to be a larger field. And there’s still time. There’s still months ahead, where more folks can jump in and start articulating their positions.”
Even more important to her that night, it seemed, was the issue of how her personal and political destiny came to be obscured by her role in the McCain campaign and the effort to reclaim it through The Undefeated.
“I’m just blown away” by the film, she said; she had taken the stage after the screening and thanked Bannon for “trying to set the record straight.”
In that private dining room, she cast herself back to Alaska and took up the threads of what she thinks of as her lost narrative—the very story Bannon tells in The Undefeated, literally using Palin’s voice, having acquired the rights to the audio version of her autobiography.
Although she came to be known as a darling of the Christian right and a firebrand, her political identity in Alaska was that of a reformer with a pragmatic, nonpartisan bent. (Left out of the film is the fact that one of her first acts in office had been to veto a bill denying state benefits to same-sex couples. Palin says she did so, despite her personal beliefs, because the bill was unconstitutional—a rationale familiar to liberal Democratic Catholics, from Kennedys to Cuomos.)
“You know, I rarely use the term ‘bipartisanship,’” she said. “I use the term ‘independent.’ Piper’s middle name is ‘Indie.’ That’s the Alaskan way of life. Seventy-three percent of Alaskans aren’t registered Republican or Democrat, they’re independent. Todd’s not a registered Republican. Most of the people I know, they’re independent people saying, ‘Just use common sense.’”
By the time Palin ran for governor in 2006, she had already established a reformer’s reputation, having exposed a conflict of interest on the part of a fellow member of the state’s oil-and-gas regulatory commission. The colleague happened to be the chairman of the state’s Republican Party and a national GOP committeeman. She got further crosswise with the party establishment when she challenged, and soundly defeated, the incumbent Republican governor, Frank Murkowski.
Palin entered office with the grand strategy of producing prosperity through aggressive exploitation of Alaska’s vast natural resources, a program she successfully cast as reform. This was possible because Alaska was awash in scandal at the time—and the scandal, like almost everything of significance in Alaska (its wealth, its cultural centers, its jobs), was tied to the petroleum industry. Palin’s programs included major initiatives opposed by the oil companies, but which the industry’s allies in the legislature, cowed by public disgust over the scandals, were unable to effectively oppose.
“I knew firsthand of the corruption in the state of Alaska when it came to the oil industry’s relationship with our lawmakers,” she said. “I knew it because our state is small enough that you see it, you feel it, you’re near it, and you either choose to participate in the dirty games or to fight.”
The centerpiece achievement was a significant tax hike on the profits derived from Alaskan oil, which pro-industry Republicans opposed, and which passed only because Palin allied herself with the legislature’s Democrats (who insisted, to Palin’s acquiescence, on raising the tax even higher).
It was a departure from conservative orthodoxy, and one that some Alaskan conservatives still hold against her, but Palin pleaded constitutional fealty; the state’s founding document reserves ownership of Alaska’s resources to its people, and Palin insisted that she was just looking out for her shareholders (a point driven home by delivery the next year of a $1,200 bonus to every citizen in the state).
It’s at this point you realize how many people have no idea what ACES is, and how the Alaska constitution is written. The interviewer, Peter J. Boyer, included. Palin supporters know that Alaska’s constitution is pretty straightforward, and gives ownership of it’s natural resources to the people of the state. They are, for the lack of a better word, shareholders, and as shareholders, they get a yearly dividend check.
Corrupt Republican politicians had made sweetheart deals with Big Oil, and the result was the oil companies were buying the crude oil at a much lower rate than the market demanded. What Governor Palin did was help create a law that would make the oil companies pay fair market for the oil they take out of Alaska’s reserves. As the state’s CEO, with a constitutional responsibility to the shareholders, [all Alaskans] it was her duty to maximize the income and make sure the state wasn’t getting hosed by the oil company.
The oil companies lost their mind, threatened to sue. Sarah told them to go ahead, but her plan would actually make them more money in the long run, even though they were paying more for the resources. And, of course, she was right.
This formula—bucking Republicans and counting on the situational cooperation of Democrats—made for a fragile governing model, one further attenuated by the fact that political insiders found Palin too sensitive to criticism and too eager to deal in payback. But to the public she was a heroine, with an approval rating above 80 percent two years into her term, making her by far the most popular governor in the country.
That was the Sarah Palin, every bit the maverick that McCain had ever been, who was invited onto the GOP ticket in 2008. But while bipartisanship may be useful to governance, it has little utility in the heat of a campaign. She arrived on the national stage at the most partisan moment in American political life, the last two months of a presidential race, when no nonpartisan impulse is indulged. Palin became a polarizing figure almost instantly, so inflaming passions that the Thomas Eagleton option was being openly speculated upon before she had even officially been nominated. A London bookmaker was taking wagers on whether she would last on the ticket until Election Day.
Palin, for her part, was eager to pick up the partisan cudgel, and she wielded it ably. Her convention speech mentioned her Alaska record, but hit its high notes in her criticism of the Washington elite and candidate Obama (“I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,’ except that you have actual responsibilities”).
Palin told me that she had never viewed a replay of that speech until she saw portions of it in Bannon’s film, and thought to herself, “Wow … Yaaay!”
Palin’s eagerness for the fray lifted a dispirited Republican base and instigated an outsize response from liberal critics. Bannon’s film begins with a montage of celebrity criticism of Palin, descending from the conventional opinion voiced by Matt Damon (“a really bad Disney movie“) to the harsher depictions of comics Sandra Bernhard (“turncoat bitch“) and Bill Maher (“dumb twat“), before reaching bottom with images of violence and cruel caricatures of Trig.
At the end of the film, Andrew Breitbart criticizes the male Republican establishment for silently standing by, calling them “eunuchs.” When we spoke, Palin agreed with that assessment but added, “It wasn’t just the men—it was conservative women who stood by, too. I went out there and I supported them in their campaigns, and I put some of them on the map. And to this day, we have not heard from them…I’m not wired that way.”
Palin said that when she heard her friend Nikki Haley was accused of having had an affair with a staffer when she was running for governor of South Carolina, she picked up the telephone. “I called her and I asked her, and she said, ‘No, it’s not true.’ I immediately did a statement saying, ‘She says it’s not true. Lay off.’“
A lot of us have been disappointed in people, especially women, that Sarah helped win in 2010, who have been silent when Sarah has been attacked. Nikki Haley, of course, comes to mind, as Sarah wrote several pieces in support of her after vicious lies were told. She also made a point of supporting Nikki in TV appearances as well.
Then you have self-appointed “Tea Party leader Michele Bachmann who hid under her desk when the left accused not only Sarah, but the entire Tea Party, millions of patriotic Americans, of mass murder, after the Tuscon shootings. Not only was she silent as the blood libel media and the democrats savaged Sarah, she also refused to speak up as the very people she claims to lead were savaged in the same manner.
Sarah went to Minnesota in 2010 and held a huge rally in support of Bachmann, who was facing a lot of opposition to her re-election. This sort of thing is why most of us don’t trust politicians. These cats are in it for themselves, and only know you when you can help them.
Many of us have long memories.
There is much more to the article, where the author goes into the movie, it’s creator Steven Bannon, as well as Organize4Palin’s Pete Singleton, and much more, which you can start reading here.
The article ends with Sarah taking a shot at the corrupt media, and tells them straightaway that those who lie about her, won’t be getting an interview any time soon. Too bad the rest of the GOP doesn’t have the balls to treat the media the same way.
Moreover, Palin plainly thrives within that very tight circle she has drawn around herself, with Todd at its center, acting as gatekeeper and principal adviser. A campaign—even one as defiant of conformity as Palin’s would likely be—would require expanding that circle to include political professionals of uncertain loyalty. And it would mean opening the door to news organizations with which she has been openly feuding for the last couple of years.
“The mainstream press is becoming less and less relevant,” she said, adding that she would have no hesitation in shunning media outlets she does not trust.
“I would say no to those who have lied about me. There is no need to reward bad behavior. I’ve learned. You know, once bitten, twice shy. I have learned.“
All I know is millions of us are ready for Sarah Palin’s campaign, Sarah Palin’s win, and Sarah Palin’s presidency. Sarah Palin is exactly what the doctor ordered.