I understand why it’s an issue. I understand why it keeps getting run up the flagpole. I understand that it’s a flawless example of the flip-flopping that Republicans have gotten away with time and time again while Democrats are shot down for it.
But I am goddamned tired of hearing about the Bridge To Nowhere.
Here’s the thing about that bridge. Yes. It was expensive. Yes. It was pork barrel. Yes. From almost anybody’s point of view, it was pretty literally a bridge to nowhere. It was meant to connect Ketchikan, an island city of some 8,000 people, to its own airport, which is on a separate island. Currently the way to get to the airport is via ferry.
I will not argue that this bridge appears to be an insanely frivolous use of money. Even a lot of Alaskans think so. However, Ketchikan is probably the fifth largest city in the state, and a fairly major tourist and commerce hub. In any other state (with the possible exception of Hawai’i), I suspect that it would be a no-brainer that you would both want and be able to drive conveniently to the fifth largest city’s airport.
Alaska’s geography is rather extraordinary. There are enormously large portions of the state you cannot drive to, including the state capitol. We rely on airplanes to a vastly larger degree than the rest of the country. Sitka, the fourth largest city, also has an airport on a separate island, and a bridge to it. There are maybe 9000 people in Sitka. This is another bridge to nowhere by nearly anyone’s standards, but it is of significance and importance to the people who live there.
I realize that none of this is the point brought up by pundits. Their point is either that Sarah Palin rejected the Bridge to Nowhere, or that she in fact didn’t reject it until the federal funding dried up. What she told the people of Ketchikan–words that helped her get elected governor, incidentally–was that “They weren’t nowhere to her.” (The people of Ketchikan are, by the way, apparently really pissed off at Palin now. Not because the funding for the bridge got cut, but because she changed her tune and is now singing that they *are* “nowhere”.)
And that’s why I’m tired of hearing about it. I understand that from a national perspective, Ketchikan’s the back end of beyond, that it’s a dumb place to spend a few hundred million dollars on an bridge that’s only going to be useful for a few thousand people, yadda yadda yadda. I understand that I’m shouting into the wind and I realize that until Sarah Palin was nominated as the VP candidate, at least half of America and a significant portion of the world thought Alaska was part of Canada, or possibly off the coast of California, as it is often shown in school maps. I also realize that perspective is not something found in great quantity in political discussion, but none the less, in perspective the Gravina Island Bridge project was not inherently the worst idea in the world, and I am just sick to death of seeing it slammed around the media. If the media wants to have a field day, why don’t they focus on something with substance? How about Palin’s slashing of funding for teen pregnancy programs? [eta: shadowhwk/Sarah provides a legitimate dismissal of this, proving that I should’ve thought to take the research step she did.] How about how, under her stint as Mayor, rape victims in Wasilla had to pay for their own rape kits? How about the newly-presented argument that the reason she had public safety director Walt Monegan fired was not because of an ugly divorce from her sister, but because of his “last-straw” insubordination in wanting to go to Washington to seek funding for an anti-rape program in the state with the highest per capita rate rape in the US?
Several people have asked me what, as an Alaskan, I can tell them of Alaskan politics, Sarah Palin, and the political scenario in the States right now. I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about it. Apparently that’s what I’m doing now, so I might as well keep going. I’ll spare the flist and put the rest behind a cut tag. :p
This is what I can tell you about Alaska as a state: we regard ourselves as pretty separate from the rest of the US; we refer to the rest of the States as “Outside”, “the Lower 48″, and “America”. We have a sisterly feeling toward Hawai’i, and we think Texas is too big for its britches, but not nearly big enough for ours. Alaska has, largely, two kinds of people: oil and military people who are sent there by their respective bosses, and people who have chosen to be there. The first tends to make it a fairly conservative state, because there are more of them. The latter all live in Homer, and are studiously Odd.
In general, Alaskans feel that you should mind your own goddamned business and keep your nose out of theirs. Belonging to, or supporting, or at least making muttering noises about, the Alaskan Independence Party/Alaskan independence is not even slightly outrageous. Perhaps people who actually belong to the AIP think there’s a possibility it could happen; most people do not, but nearly everybody talks about it now and again with varying degrees of sincerity. Alaska’s got badly-managed natural resources, and the state itself is being taken for a joyride by the oil companies. These, though, are not things that would be fixed by independence; they’re things that would be fixed by a state government that grew a pair. Left to their own devices, Alaskans would acquit Senator Ted Stevens, who is entirely in the oil companies’ pockets, of any wrongdoing, because he has been good for the state, and because they don’t generally feel it’s the rest of the country’s business what he’s been doing anyway.
Palin was elected governor after I left Alaska. (I do not believe there is a correlation there.) My actual personal recollection of her is as a sportscaster on one of the local news stations. I think she’s pretty, reasonably well spoken, and that Governor Frank Murkowski, who was her predecessor in office, was insanely unpopular for a variety of reasons, including having selected his own daughter, Lisa Murkowski, as his successor for his United States Senate seat, which he gave up when he was elected governor. Palin ran against Democrat and former state governor Tony Knowles, who is a tall oily man with the presence of a used car salesman. A debate or even a commercial putting the two of them against one another is the visual equivalent of Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy facing off: the pretty one is more appealing, regardless of what’s coming out of their mouths. In a state that tends towards conservatism to begin with, I think there was probably very little doubt about who would win that election.
Palin has been good for Alaska in the same way that any governor who happened to be elected at a time of record high oil prices would be. It’s not her skill: it’s sheer luck. I rather liked her at first, because she didn’t appear to take any shit: there’s been a lot of oil-money corruption exposed in the government in the last couple years, and when the Matanuska-Susitna Valley dairy company’s board of directors moved to shut it down, she–being a Mat-Su girl, and feeling the company was important to the region–replaced them with people who wouldn’t.
That’s the same tactic she used in “Troopergate”, though (and there’s something else: could we please stop calling any investigation *gate, for god’s sake? please?), and given that the federal government was doing the investigating into corruption charges, I don’t really think that can be chalked up to Palin’s willingness to take on the bad guys. Especially in light of Todd Palin refusing to respond to subpoenas now. That’s law-abiding and standing up for the right things, for sure.
I think her nomination as the Republican VP candidate is inspired. I think it’s dangerous and insane from the perspective of anybody who, for example, has a womb or knows somebody with one, but it’s inspired. McCain’s already said the campaign’s not about the issues, and if you pull a first-term governor from a state with one of the lowest US populations whose unmarried teenage daughter happens to be pregnant, you’re doing a brilliant job of distracting from the issues. Obama gave a great speech on the Thursday of the DNC. Nobody was talking about it on Friday, or for the next week, and by now it’s ancient history.
I think my friend boymonster/Cameron Banks is right when he says that he thinks the Republicans are running Sarah Palin for president. I don’t think McCain is inspiring much of anybody, but Sarah Palin is, and I think they’ve found their heir apparent in her. It will come as no surprise to anyone that I find this a completely terrifying thought, and that I believe neither the United States nor the world could afford to have that woman in office.
Alaska is a conservative state anyway; odds are very good it would vote for McCain regardless of who was nominated VP. On the other hand, it warms the cockles of my heart to hear that the Alaskan Women Against Palin rally in Anchorage evidently scored between 900 and 1500 attendees, making it reportedly the largest political rally ever held in the state. I think it’d be brilliant to see the backlash cause Alaska to go blue, though I doubt that will happen. On the other hand, for the first time in history Alaska was being discussed as a potential battleground state earlier in this campaign, so I suppose anything is possible.
I’m pretty much assuming anybody who’s bothered to read this far already knows Palin’s stance on social issues, so I don’t feel that it’s necessary to delineate why I find her an appalling, if inspired, choice for the Vice Presidential candidate. I obviously don’t have any real insight into what’s going to happen over the next six weeks and on election day; I don’t even know what’s going to happen in Alaska. I do know that I’ve registered to vote overseas, and that November 4th is going to turn into a very long night for all of us.
Good night, as they say, and good luck.
(x-posted from the essential kit)