(Or Understanding the Differences between Alaska and “The lower 48”)


I’ve been watching with amusement the dialog and arguing going on as people struggle to find out about and then understand Republican Presidential Candidate, Sarah Palin.  The list of those who are sending comments regarding this and wanting to argue about the merits (or demerits) of the candidate include people who simply do not have any idea of how different it is in Alaska from the rest of the country.  One person maintains that if she is so popular in Alaska, then she must be just what the McCain Campaign is presenting her as being.  “I mean,” s/he stated, “How could she be so popular up there if she did this awful things those Democrats are trying to say she did?”


Here is my response to her/him and any others who have similar questions:


Dear friends,


You just don’t understand the Alaskan mindset.  There is a lot of history to the current state of the relationship of the citizens of the State of Alaska and the rest of us, often referred to by Alaskans as those in “the lower 48.”  (Alaskans do not generally include Hawaii in this lumping together of the rest of the U.S. as they have a certain fondness for Hawaii, as that is a favorite wintertime vacation get away for those that “have” and can afford to take yearly trips over there to get away from the ice and snow.  The most popular time is just before and during spring breakup when things are particularly dismal in our 49th state.) 


There is also a feeling of shared comradery that comes from the experienced history of each state and the perception of having been used and abused by our government for the good of those in the lower 48 repeatedly over time. 


Alaskans tend to be a brash bunch.  Those that develop diplomacy no doubt also tend toward a career in politics.  There is a good deal of the spirit of a pirate up there.  It is felt individually, and is a social attitude found throughout the population as well.  It is a shared mindset.  Alaskans, particularly those Alaskans who either overtly or covertly support or sympathize with the secessionist movement, tend to admire their swashbucklers who create controversy, and find a way to get back at “the man” in the “lower 48.”


One Alaskan told me “Sarah is very smart.”  S/he did not explain what that meant.  In fact s/he seemed unable to clarify or give examples.   But apparently the general consensus whether you agreed with her policies or not, was that she is enough of a politician to be smart in how to get certain kinds of things done.  She may have started out as the competitive Sarah Barracuda, but over time, has learned to use the beauty queen, cheerleader persona to her advantage.  “If they don’t see the barracuda coming, it is decidedly an advantage,” one Alaskan commented.


And smart indeed she may have been when she affiliated herself with one of the most powerful figures (albeit infamous as of late figures) in Alaskan history, Senator Ted Stevens.  A move politically astute Alaskans would have recommended to anyone who seriously thought they wanted a career in Alaskan politics.  Depending on whom you ask, you get enthusiasm for her energy, or a cautious notation about her single-mindedness in using her power to meet her own personal and political ends. 


And she is affiliated through her husband with BP, formerly known as British Petroleum, a large international mega oil company.  One might wonder how smart it is to place oneself in a compromised position of having one’s husband’s job at the whim of an oil company who might be most interested in what you do and say while in your next coveted office, that of the United States, Vice President, if one indeed wishes to remain an independent “maverick.” 


Alaskans like politicians whom they believe will tell it like it is.  At least they say they do.  They also value those who can deliver the booty to Alaska from the Feds or from industry.  There are many Alaskans who appear to me to be quite myopic when it comes to whether something they perceive is good for Alaska, is actually good for the Nation as a whole.  (I expect this phenomena is found in every state, as we still struggle with our identity.   “Am I American or am I a Virginian?”   You remember the history.  We fought a civil war eventually over the complications from this conflict.


In fact, many Alaskans, I have observed, do not care, and some exhibit a certain passive aggressive glee when a blow can be struck at the Feds.  It is kind of similar to the attitude that so called Welfare scammers have toward the government and those good taxpayers who fund welfare benefits, laughing and smirking at us all, while collecting and depositing the checks each month. 


Now, about that attitude…  It goes back quite a while.  I shall cite one notable situation, which led some Alaskans to gleefully say “Let the bastards freeze in the dark.”  Some time ago, we did not have an Alaska Oil Pipeline.  There was, if you recall a lot of controversy about this project and no small amount of backlash to its proposed building from environmentalists, who operated mostly in the lower 48.    During this time period, Alaskans viewed these people as obstructionists to progress and needed jobs and economic benefit.  This led to the coining of the phrase, which further aggravated lower 48ers, even some who until hearing themselves referred to in that way hadn’t paid much attention to the controversy.  (Here’s a link to an article about this:  http://www.accesstoenergy.com/view/atearchive/s76a3669.htm)


Now all this bridge business also goes back a long way.  Please understand that though Alaska is a large state geographically, it has a relatively sparse population compared to many of the lower 48 states.  Alaskans are sometimes a bit conflicted about all of this.  There is a great need to defend the honor of the 49th state, I mean everything is large up there:  brown


bear loom, Mt. McKinley makes Washington’s Mount Rainier look dwarfed by comparison, salmon are bigger and more numerous than anywhere else in our borders, even flies and mosquitoes are legendary and numerous.  (Just remember the tourist souvenir mosquitoes are actually made from Caribou or Moose scat, I can’t recall which, which is dried and lacquered and sent home with unsuspecting tourists.   Alaskans won’t export their real mosquitoes.  They nurture them to extract a blood payment from the tourists each year.)


There are to my knowledge two such “Bridges to Nowhere” that were dreamed of being built in Alaska, but in the end were not built: the Gravina Island bridge in Ketchikan which would have linked the island to the rest of Ketchikan society and the Knik Arm Bridge which would have cut across Knick Arm, (a famous tidal flow area fed by Cook Inlet, similar to the Bay of Fundy in its extreme tidal flow), to conveniently connect Anchorage to the little community of Hope, Alaska, cutting of many hours of driving time, around the long expanse of sometimes difficult road that must be driven to circumvent Knik Arm.  (Link to information on this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge_to_Nowhere )



(Update:  I did some more fact checking and discovered I had confused Knik Arm Bridge project with the Turnagain Arm Bridge project.  Some hoped to connect Anchorage more directly with Hope Alaska, by putting a bridge across Turnagain.  That is the bridge over the water that acts much as the Bay of Fundy.  Knik Arm I believe may be the one that is related to Oil Company territory.  I am not sure and do not have time today to get that information.  I imagine you can research it if it matters to you personally.  Need I say, there’s a lot of bridges that are wanted in Alaska that unfortunately, they do not have the local money to build?  -GFS)


Now it was said earlier on, that Sarah Palin, along with a lot of other Alaskans was for getting Federal funding for the Bridge(s) to Nowhere, (consider how hard it is to build very expensive projects in isolated places with few people, and few local taxes to pay for it), until it became apparent that it was becoming controversial and was garnering too much negative attention, then being the consummate politician she is, she just changed her position. 


It appears, however, she did not give back the money sent by the Feds, (thanks in great part to Senator Ted Stevens and his colleagues), for the “bridge.”  The money got used for other things.  Lord knows, there are a lot of things that need funding in a state that large, that has such a small taxpayer base.  But wouldn’t you think if she were the “knight on a horse” she is purported to be, she would have sent the money back to the Feds with a note saying it should not have been sent for the bridge in the first place?   In fact, I believe she did tell all of us, she told them (the Feds) that if Alaska wanted that bridge (which one?) they’d build it themselves.


What other projects was the money spent on instead of the bridge, you ask?  That seems to be a part of the question.  At this time, I do not know.  Perhaps you’ll be able to research this online and find out and report your findings here.


Now, I must say that this explanation is in no way meant to denigrate all Alaskans.  I have visited Alaska, and have family up there myself.  I find myself admiring people who are direct and blunt.  In fact, I have been told I resemble that description myself.   But there really is a difference in how people think and what measure they use to judge things.  Maybe it’s having Canada between us, or the long history of isolation before satellite phones, computers and the Internet, which are relatively new in our shared history.  But anyone who really wants to understand Sarah Palin must first learn to understand Alaska and Alaskans. 




For another bloggers views of Sarah Palin, please click here:  http://www.congresscheck.com/2008/09/14/sarah-palin-autocrat/   This was sent to me today also.