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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Palin’s Radical Friends

Sarah Palin no longer seems to be at the center of the presidential contest. But if the McCain-Palin campaign, or its media and advocacy-group allies, persist in making Barack Obama’s alleged “radical friends” a regular talking point, it’s worth remembering that Palin, in contrast to Obama, has had regular, politically significant, and very recent association with some pretty scary folks in Alaska.
During the initial frenzy over Palin, some pro-Democratic political observers noted her cozy relationship with the Alaska Independence Party (AIP), a group characterized by a deep hostility to the United States of America, and with close links to Radical Right organizations (e.g., the theocratic Constitution Party, and various other “secessionist” and sometimes white supremacist groups) in the lower 48. But inaccurate claims that Palin (as opposed to her husband) had actually been a member of the AIP enabled the McCain campaign to discredit this entire line of inquiry.
Now a nuanced and knowledgeable assessment of Palin’s relationship to AIP and other Alaska extremists is available at Salon, by Max Blumenthal of the Nation Institute and Seattle freelance journalist David Neiwert. It carefully documents the role that former AIP chairman Mark Chryson and John Birch Society stalwart Steve Stoll, both from Wasilla, played in her rise in local and then statewide politics. One key incident in this story was Palin’s unsuccessful effort to appoint Stoll (whose nickname was “Black Helicopter Steve”) to an opening on the town’s city council.
More recently, Palin has taken a variety of positions in Alaska politics closely associated with AIP’s, particularly on gun issues, taxes, and environmental regulations. She attended the AIP’s convention the year she ran for Governor, and also appointed as her campaign co-chair Alaska legend Wally Hickel, once elected Governor on the AIP ticket. And nobody seems to dispute her husband, Todd’s, AIP membership and party registration, which he continued at least through the 2002 election cycle. To state the rather obvious, the First Dude is a more central figure in Palin’s political world–appearing on the campaign trail for McCain-Palin regularly–than any of Obama’s “radical friends.”
I think there’s a tendency among political observers to think of phenomena like AIP–and the Palins’ relationship with it–as just some sort of quirky, almost charming Northern Exposure-type feature of the Alaska landscape that doesn’t really matter. It’s true that AIP’s relative respectability in Alaska reflects the state’s strange quasi-colonial political culture, in which anti-American gestures that would carry a political death sentence elsewhere are accepted with a shrug. But there’s nothing charming about AIP’s racist and generally wacko confederates (pun intended) in other states, or even its wildly pro-development and gun-crazy posturings in Alaska.
So those who want to make a big deal out of Obama’s marginal and long-past dealings with Bill Ayers or the Democratic Socialists of America or whatever, should be told to take a longer look at Palin’s undoubted fellow-traveler relationship with the Far Right back home in Alaska.

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