One Small-Town Girl to Another

The town I grew up in had, as I recall, a population of about 4,500. Since I moved away it has merged with three other nearby towns to form a municipality of 7,861, spread out over 20 square miles. When I was growing up the nearest city, St. Louis, was at least an hour and a half away by car. The school districts of the four towns merged back in the 1960s, which caused my graduating class to jump from maybe 20 kids to (I’m going from hazy memory here) about 80. Yee-haw.

I bring this up to establish my small-town cred. Now, my impression of Sarah Palin:

There’s someone like her in every small town — the alpha female who organizes all the bake sales and parades and Pancake Day and around whom the town’s society, if you want to call it that, swirls. Other women defer to her because she’s more energetic and assertive than they, and she’s probably very good at organizing the bake sales and parades and Pancake Day. They probably admire her for that.

But they don’t necessarily like her.

Watching Palin last night, especially when the family — including the pregnant daughter and boyfriend — joined her on the stage, made me wonder if small-town women would love her, as the GOP hopes, or whether she would remind them of that pushy Sally Ledbetter whom they’ve wanted secretly to tell off since high school. I think it could go either way.

The unmarried pregnant daughter factor probably doesn’t shock too many people. In small, isolated, conservative towns, pregnant teenagers are as constant as sun and rain. But it does make Palin seem no-larger-than-life. Meaning, she’s no Hillary Clinton.

Palin has lived her life as a big fish in a small pond. Now she’s in the ocean, where there are other fish a whole hell of a lot bigger than she is. She may not have realized this yet. She’s going to be on an interesting learning curve the next couple of months.

What struck me about last night’s speech was a lack of the Vision Thing. She didn’t talk about America as much as she talked about herself and John McCain, with some cheap digs at Obama. To connect with voters she presented herself as someone you might run into at the Rotary Club picnic. What I didn’t hear was that she had a clue about the real kitchen-table concerns of the people on the other side of the television screen.

She used the words “change” and “reform” a lot, but for the life of me I can’t tell what changes in Washington she wants to make. It sounded more like the same old wingnut shit. Cut taxes. Cut more taxes. Cut essential services. Cut taxes again. Promise “small government,” whatever they mean by that. They’ve been promising small government for at least 30 years, and it ain’t getting smaller.

I think Americans are in the mood for a government that can actually do something other than start wars. And I think small-town Americans realize that being chief executive of the United States is a lot more difficult than organizing Pancake Day.

Eve Fairbanks writes at TNR:

That’s the problem with the positive case Palin made for herself, with its emphasis on all that small-town stuff: It convinced me that she makes a good PTA mom, that she may make a fine mayor, that she hasn’t totally bombed as the essentially brand-new governor of the third-least-populous state in the Union, even that I might like to have a beer with her, or a glass of fermented whale milk or whatever one drinks with mooseburgers. But just because we’re a nation of a hundred thousand Wasillas doesn’t mean all those hundred thousand mayors ought to be in the White House. Tonight, she sounded for all the world like an unusually sharp version of those “regular people” they drag onstage at conventions to tell their stories in the off-primetime hours.

I don’t think we need to bring Palin down by ridiculing her, tempting though that might be. It would just buy her sympathy. We need to let the American people know when she’s lying (I’m still waiting for the fact checks on her speech), but other than that, just step aside and let America have a good look at her.

23 thoughts on “One Small-Town Girl to Another

  1. Indeed, it’s much easier to be a big fish in a small pond with few other fishes. Increase the size of the pond and the number of fish and it’s a whole new ballgame.

    Sarah, mayor of Wasilla, increased general government spending by 33%; city taxes increased by 38% (during time of low inflation); reduced progressive property taxes while increasing regressive sales tax which even taxed food; tax cuts benefitted large corporate property owners far more than residents.

    To quote a Wasilla resident whose known Palin since ’92 (from an email sent to me) by the time Palin left her job as mayor, the town was $22 million in debt – when Palin took over town debt was zero. It’s now a “town of big box stores (?) and unconnected parking lots.”

    So, what’s she all about? A clue: As mayor she tried to fire the city librarian for refusing to pull certain books from the shelves considered ‘bad’ by Palin. (The town went ballistic and eventually Palin backed down.)

    According to my ’emailer’ your read on the person, Palin, and how her peers probably view her is right on, Maja. For me, a ‘big city girl’ the picture of Bristol holding her baby brother is etched in my memory – a child holding a child, soon to bear her own child. The sadness in Bristol’s eyes is palpable.

  2. I doubt “Sarah Barracuda” was ever a term of endearment. The GOP just wanted to get out in front of that certain-to-be-revealed fact by claiming it was affectionate.

    To me the interesting things are her politicization of the Wasilla mayor’s office, hooking up with GOPAC, hiring Steven Silver, and the abuse of power at every level. She intended to be part of the Republican machine, in all its lowest forms, from the git-go.

  3. The sadness in Bristol’s eyes is palpable.

    Felicity, a number of liveblog commenters noted this in a non-snarky way last night. It only increases my disgust with her mother, for dragging the family into the national spotlight. Now, I know they have TV and the Internet in Alaska. I also know Sarah isn’t one bit naive about the media. I’ve read the same email from the Wasillan that you received. Sarah Palin is considered smart and savvy by those who’ve known her for years.

  4. …spot-on, Maha. My hometown had 3500 citizens in the 1960’s and early 1970’s when I was growing up (and is still about the same size today). There was a certain cultural stratification and the movers and shakers came from the upper stratum. There were some pretty straight lines you could draw from high school all the way through to PTA president, Elks Grand Poobah, Mayor, chairs of the Rodeo organization and Fourth Of July Celebration committee, Park Board, and all the rest. They had organized the homecoming dances and proms in high school and just kept on organizing because they were supposed to be the leaders; that was their station, and if you weren’t of that station you would have more luck eating a cow with a fork than trying to influence what went on…

    Last night’s performance reminded me of exactly the sort of reception one of us “little people” would get if we challenged their leadership and ‘authority’. It sounded less like a major speech on a national stage and more like a snotty, backbiting putdown of those “others” who just aren’t the right sort of people…

    I suspect, to her face, people only told the young Sarah Palin that “Sarah Barracuda” was complementary and smiled secretly to themselves while doing so…

  5. who did not hold that baby? and what child lays there limp like a rag for hours on end? I would never have dragged a 4 month old out like that- it was shameful drama. I really was reminded of Ethel Merman- loud brassy calling herself a gal?

  6. She strikes me as your typical GOP alpha female, with no vision whatsoever. Someone whose horizons are pretty small isn’t going to have a lot of vision, and a mom who’s got a plate full of family problems isn’t going to have any time for vision either.

    She fits perfectly with the Country First party whose driving motivation is fear. Frightened people have no vision and few scruples. Frightened people buy into fundamentalist religion.

    I’ve read that her speech was written for a man, before she was nominated, and her speech writers had to tone down the masculinity. Just insert -generic GOP candidate- here. Not surprising, she’s a product of Newt Gingrich’s GOPAC, which was a one-stop shop for churning out generic campaigns for up-and-coming Republicans.

    The other thing people have mentioned about the whole evening is the strong dog whistle call, regarding community organizers, code for uppity n****rs. Calling all racists, big time. Billmon said that Republicans play the dog whistle like Mozart.

    I’m glad others are mentioning the sadness in Bristol’s eyes. Of course we know nothing about her past, but her future with a self-described f__kin’ redneck who’s still in high school would give most 17 year olds pause.

  7. Everyone keeps talking about “The Boyfriend”. Why not call him what he really is – a statutory rapist?

  8. I think her function is to be a soft core Ann Coulter.
    And she seems to relish the job.
    Hence the Repubs will not let her go.
    Sad to think she has a chance to be our next VP

  9. You gotta read/see this piece by Barry Crimmins, on last night’s “prime-time sneer”. Excerpt:

    “Last night we saw Tonya Harding with a speechwriter. She offered almost nothing of substance. She’s positive we should be paranoid. She mocked constitutional rights. Well screw you, Nananook of the Nazis. The stuff about putting the governor’s jet on E-Bay was cute but other than that she did what reactionaries always accused hippies of doing — she tore down but she didn’t build up. She did something that no hippie was ever accused of doing, she fortified the luxury bunker where the rich and powerful hide. The creepy thing is that she did it in the guise of an American every woman….

    “She is boldly trying to do nationally what she did in Alaska — come in as a reformer without mentioning that the reason there is a need for reform is because of people like her. We have just suffered through eight years of a self-proclaimed western reformer governor who as president has privatized our government, run the Constitution and Bill of Rights through a parchment shredder, started two disastrous wars, raped the environment, and bankrupted the economy. How are we supposed to reform this? By bringing in two people the last “reformer” has enthusiastically endorsed to replace him and his malicious vice-president.

    “Jesus, America, they’re calling us stupid. Maybe the suckers in Alaska buy the idea that the scumbags can replace themselves with themselves and call it reform but we’ll see about it in the lower 49….”

  10. what child lays there limp like a rag for hours on end?

    I wondered the same thing. Maybe that’s a by-product of Down Syndrome.

  11. “But they don’t necessarily like her.”

    Not just small town women. I was thinking about this last night when I heard that lipstick-on-pit-bull schtick.

    When I was spending my days in and around those small towns also known as large corporations, I noticed that, when given a choice, women would almost always choose to work with a male supervisor. While I’m sure there were various reasons for this, one woman told me she felt it was because the female supervisors involved were obviously sociopathic and, “we women have an easier time seeing a toxic personality hiding behind a layer of lipstick than you men.” A line that stuck with me, and crossed my mind again last night.

    Of course, the Republican women in that hockey rink last night are the Sarah Palins of their own small ponds back home. To them, she’s a kindred spirit and a role model. It will be interesting to see how well her schtick works with other women.

  12. Babys with Down Syndrome have weak muscle tone, that is why OT and PT is recommended at birth to build strength in the muscles. She wants to be an advocate for the Special Needs Citizens, she needs to start at home. That poor baby should not be passed off like a rag doll. Her 7 year was holding him last night, she licked her hand and ran it over the babys head (I guess to smooth his hair down). I wonder if she were not running for VP would Bristol be getting married? Just wondering.

  13. I couldn’t believe the slap at the constitutional rights; Obama being more concerned with reading them their rights than, what, blowing them up. Isn’t the gov’t supposed to be concerned with protecting those rights, basically as a raison d’etre? I know I wasn’t the audience she was going after and there would have been little that would have impressed me, but I was really shocked at her and Rudy’s condescension and sarcasm. I hope the undecideds caught it as well.

  14. Buckyblue, when I heard that line from Rudy (followed by the aren’t-I-the-clever-one grin) about freeing “the terrorists” from Gitmo, I started shouting “ACCUSED terrorists, you ass!” at the tube.

    That asshole was a prosecuting attorney, for cryin’ out loud. You’d think he’d know something about due process.

  15. Forgive me it for I’m trying to remember what NPR was saying about her this morning before my coffee. I believe it was about McCain’s plans for her the next couple of weeks, something like a few more “campaign events” for her and McCain over the next few days, followed by a “Vice Presidential boot camp” for her in Alaska for a week or two. I.e. once this whole thing is over they are going to seal her off to the world and take her back to Alaska for a week or two while the other candidates are campaigning in our unending presidential election!

  16. KingGeorge the 10th – the VP debate is on Oct 2, so she’s got a month to cram for it. Our man Biden has an equally formidable task – internalizing her record of lies and distortions.

  17. The VP debate is on Oct 2

    That’s a Thursday. Already clearing my schedule. Thinking about hanging portraits of the late Lloyd Bentsen all around my teevee.

  18. You took the words out of my mouth, Maha. I have no respect left for this puppet in a skirt named Sarah Palin.

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