Alaska’s 2008 Runaway Campaign Train: Two Scripts for Candidate Palin

For fans of movies made in Alaska, Governor Sarah Palin has hopped aboard the 2008 remake of 1985’s Runaway Train. Academy nominee Jon Voight, the original film’s crazed prison escapee, is now replaced by John McCain. The remake is underwritten by the natural resource companies, the financial and defense industries and their lobbyist friends, already huge bipartisan beneficiaries of bailouts and other freebies, while the reformist dream schemes promised voters are already scattered by the wind.

In this campaign version of Runaway Train, Palin and McCain tear through the Alaskan wilderness, this time to probable electoral oblivion, a catastrophic economic train wreck for the electorate now a near certainty. Seductive campaign promises to reform the political system and better the daily lives and futures of working people with public money are thrown to desperate crowds who want to believe everything they hear, but know they’re just extras in a movie.

Every movie and every campaign has a script. This one has at least two — the Bash Obama story and the Palin’s Troopergate story, a truly bipartisan rewrite of an authentic Alaskan saga about a family’s frustrations with a system that protects a bad cop. Who wrote the original script, especially Palin’s part, her bunk about Obama palling around with a “domestic terrorist,” now a middle-aged professor from Chicago named Ayers? Months before Palin was cast, her script had been prepared and published through Simon and Schuster by, editor, Mary Matalin, Democratic consultant James Carville’s wife. Matalin had told the New York Times in August that the book on which the campaign was to be based, The Obama-Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality, by Jerome Corsi was, “a piece of scholarship and a good one at that.”

Once recruited, Governor Palin’s homework was simple: merely to commit to memory the contents of a book selected and edited by Matalin to smear Obama. No wonder that James Carville and his longtime partner, Paul Begala, were so quick on their comebacks when Palin began her campaign. They knew Palin’s script and how to counter it. Carville immediately recalled Palin’s attendance at a Buchanan rally. They described Todd’s flirtation with and Sarah’s welcoming speech to the Alaska Independence Party, founded, they told us, by a “domestic terrorist,” and quickly labeled as anti-American. It helps to preview a script so you can react quickly with smears of equal venom to liven things up and keep debate away from boring, substantive issues, like Biden’s support of the loan shark industry, or McCain’s support of campaign finance reform and Obama’s rejection of public funding. Once Carville’s 2008 client, Hillary Clinton, was knocked out in the primaries, he joined Begala permanently in the smear-Palin corner of their cable news studio. Other Carville wannabees had picked up the scent and booked trips to Alaska. You may have read Begala’s “unholy trinity” tirade against Corsi. But Mary Matalin and the sublime irony of Carville’s professional conflict was studiously ignored by Begala and the Obama campaign. Was this professional courtesy, as in the banking community, a kind of honor among thieves? We know spousal immunity is not afforded participants in political campaigns. Witness the tough media scrutiny of Todd Palin and Bill Clinton. Even spiritual advisors are fair game. Remember Reverend Wright or, recently, the visiting Exorcist from Kenya in the Wasilla church, secretly taped to alarm liberals. But propagandists of the caliber and talent of Carville and Matalin, the Goebbels couple of our era, are not the kind of people you casually throw under a bus, even if they profit from both sides and always come out winners, whether voters do or not. The response to the Matalin-Corsi script from Carville-Begala was amplified by Carville disciples on the Blog. Their new investigations are replete with ignorance about Alaska’s political history They use the same tried and true weapon of guilt by association that Plain’s script employs. It doesn’t seem to matter when throwing back iceballs at the Runaway Train.

For Alaskans who take pride in their personal, political independence from the major parties, the attacks on the Alaska Independence Party as “un-American,” and a coven for domestic terrorist secessionists, seems a bit over the top. Strange bedfellows are commonplace when you form coalitions of the weak against powerful interests. But the AIP has an even stranger history. Consider Wally Hickel, Alaska’s second governor and his direct, historic link to the AIP. Hickel left his Republican gubernatorial post when asked to be Secretary of the Interior under Nixon. He surprised environmentalists when he banned offshore drilling in reaction to the infamous oil spill off Santa Barbara. (The ban on offshore oil drilling was just lifted by Bush and by a bipartisan Congressional vote). Hickel left the Nixon administration after the Kent State Massacre, returned to Alaska and ran and won back his governor’s seat as a candidate for — Tah-Dah — the Alaska Independence Party, that evil coven of “domestic terrorists.” Facts get in the way. Now, the Nation and, sadly, Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now!, are pounding away at Palin’s guilt by association with the AIP, both to counter Matalin’s charge that Obama was palling around with ‘60s radical, Ayers, and to prove their mettle as smearsters, equal to James Carville, for the next election cycle,.

Amy Goodman, usually the national treasure of progressive reportage, offered viewers a Salon attack by Alaskan visitor, Max Blumenthal, on former AIP chair, Mark Chryson. He cast Mark Chryson as a confirmed Palin “wing nut,” whatever that means, because Chryson met often with Palin in Wasilla, although Chryson noted in his taped interview that he spoke with many people who did not share his political beliefs. In fact, Chryson had worked with Alaska Greens and the rag tag Alaskan left, (including Alaska Public Interest Research Group when I directed it) to fight a well-funded proposal by Democratic governor Knowles and Big Oil to siphon funds off from the Alaska Permanent Fund, to defray state expenses, lower corporate taxes and reduce the per-capita share of Alaska’s unique guaranteed income program. In this classic David v. Goliath fight, 83 percent of voters rejected the referendum, the largest electoral plurality since statehood.

For major party candidates and their propagandists, there is always a side benefit to holding up minor parties, like the Alaskan Independence Party, to the national media as part of a dangerous, lunatic political fringe. Third party candidates and independents like Ralph Nader just won’t shut up about the wars without end and the corporate crime even when it has been intentionally left out of the script.
The unscripted few can be forced off major networks by major party candidates who hold the networks hostage through airtime buys. But out in the hustings, these men and women just won’t leave the voters alone with their unscripted straight talk about things that matter. The best strategy for major party propagandists is to call fringe parties and their candidate’s nuts, the friends of nuts or supported by nuts. Progressives who claim to support bottom-up, grassroots efforts, like Amy Goodman, should steer clear of this pre-scripted, toxic slime.

To be Continued . . .

Steve Conn is a retired professor of justice at the University of Alaska, and former director of Alaska Public Interest Research Group. He lived in Alaska from 1972 to 2007 and now lives in Point Roberts, Washington. He recently helped collect more than 5,900 signatures from Alaskan voters to put Ralph Nader on the 2008 Alaska Presidential ballot. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Steve, or visit Steve's website.

One comment on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. Max Shields said on October 17th, 2008 at 11:56am #

    Interesting article Steve. The lower 48 know as much about Alaska as they know/knew about Iraq.