Alaska's conservative young gun reloads in Indiana

It’s been tough in Alaska for Gov. Sarah Palin the past few days. She’s been embroiled in a tug of war with the legislature over a replacement to fill the unexpired term of a state Senator who resigned to go to work for the Obama administration. The lawmakers appear certain to restore millions of dollars of the federal porkulus funds she had turned down, and they rejected her nominee for Alaska attorney general just yesterday. The legislature even voted down her selection for a seat on the state’s Board of Fisheries by a vote of 42 to 16.

That’s just some of the fallout the governor has had to deal with from her unforgivable sin of accepting her party’s nomination for the vice presidency and campaigning on behalf of Obama’s Republican opponent in the presidential race. Old bipartisan alliances between Sarah Palin and the Democrats in her legislature have been dissolved. Longstanding tensions between her and some elements in her own party in Alaska remain.

Meanwhile, the media and her other political opponents have tried to make much hay over her family and would-be family matters, playing up the recent television appearances by her daughter’s former fiance, his mother’s arrest on drug charges and her sister-in-law’s arrest for breaking into a house that wasn’t hers. The rats have been quiet as a mouse, however, about the president’s brother-in-law and his troubles with British authorities stemming from his arrest for sexual assault on a 13-year-old girl there. Some crimes are more heinous than others. Better for your media image to be a sexual predator named Obama than a cat burglar named Palin.

But last night, all of that dissonant noise faded away as Sarah Palin stepped up to a podium in Indiana to speak at a right to life banquet. Tickets for the event quickly sold out, and its organizers had to arrange a closed-circuit narrowcast at a nearby auditorium and rush to print more tickets. The result was a crowd of 3,000 (for an event which typically draws much smaller audiences) and a need for local authorities to block off nearby streets with barricades.

Palin was greeted by fans seeking her autograph and photograph as she tried to make her way into the event, and inside there were people actually standing on tables to get a better chance to see her. She was introduced by RNC chairman Michael Steele, who himself delivered a passionate life-affirming address. In his words of introduction, Steele reminisced about an appearance he made on Fox News just before John McCain announced his running mate. There was much speculation at the time about who the Senator would name the next day. When asked whom he believed McCain would choose, Steele said that it would be Pawlenty or Palin. Then the chairman raised more than few eyebrows in the room when he added, “I think it’s going to be Palin. Now I wasn’t sure, but I sure was hoping.”

The governor took a poke at Alaska’s legislature early on in her speech (video here), as she quipped:

“They condemn anything that I do, but especially traveling outside the state to speak in another state at a function like this. Which is ironic, because these are the same critics who would love to see me outside the state forever, permanently, you know, outside the governor’s office anyway. But they had heartburn about me leaving.”

From there, Gov. Palin launched into a sales pitch for Alaska, and she rattled off a list of facts about her state, which she used to setup a punchline:

“Now if I’m wrong on any of that trivia, I don’t want Katie Couric calling me and telling me I did something wrong. You call Mr. Heath in Wasilla, AK. I’ll give you the phone number, and you can correct my dad.”

In her far-ranging address, she touched on several issues which she used to criticize the Obama administration. She seized on the issue of energy security, a familiar one for her, and touted Alaska’s abundant oil and gas deposits as a big part of a domestic solution to U.S. dependence on foreign oil. That petroleum, she said, comes from countries which don’t have America’s best interests in mind. She mentioned North Korea as a threat and named Alaska’s missile defense system as a way to counter it, voicing her hope that “the feds” do not cut the program. Then she had harsh words for the Democrat’s federal stimulus, which, she explained, forces local government to grow bigger:

“This isn’t free money folks. Our nation is $11 trillion in debt. This is borrowed money. We’re borrowing money from China, and we may someday find ourselves enslaved to countries that hold our notes.”

But the governor’s strongest slap at the president was saved for the issue which drew her to the event. She said that those who support abortion had turned their backs on the very principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that the founders cited as unalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence:

“So whether it’s a child not yet born, or a newborn in a single parent’s arms, or an elder with Alzheimer’s, or a brave or a scared young soldier willing to offer the supreme sacrifice to protect all of our lives, innocent life is to be cherished and protected. And may our culture embrace that. The culture of life affects every aspect of our lives and society. And we must stand on the life-honoring foundation of our republic, and we must speak out against actions that erode that foundation. Don’t be afraid to speak out. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion when you see our president, through policy changes, want to erode part of that foundation. And by the way, I’m just a governor, but I don’t believe that it’s above my pay grade to rally you to speak up.”

Near the end of her speech, Gov. Palin became emotional when she talked about her son Trig and the apprehension she felt before his birth, knowing that he had Down’s Syndrome. It was faith, she said, that gave her the strength to carry her youngest son to term.

As is to be expect from a crowd of pro-life activists, Sarah Palin’s speech was warmly and enthusiastically received. But a media which has been very critical of her was forced to admit that it was a powerful one and well-delivered. Politico headlined its report “Out of Alaska, Palin’s star shines” and said that the governor “reminded Republicans why she remains a party heavyweight and a top prospective presidential candidate in 2012.” Even AP’s coverage, with the headline “Palin Takes Obama to Task for Stance on Abortion,” seemed to frame the story in terms of a potential future match between the governor and the president:

“Some in the crowd wore white ‘Palin 2012’ T-shirts, hoping she will be the Republican presidential candidate in 2012.”

Whatever political plans she may have,  Gov. Palin tried to stay close to home and keep a low profile outside of Alaska during the legislative session to head off criticism from her local political opponents. She now seems to realize that despite the effort, they were going to criticize her, in the strongest possible terms, regardless. Now, the gloves have come off, and she’s going to weigh in on national issues, just as other leading GOP governors have been doing. She’s also very likely to be making more trips to the lower 48 for appearances which will be carefully selected to enhance her stature as a national political figure.

Many on the left end of the spectrum that is the internet have pronounced Sarah Palin politically dead or dying because of a contemptuous Alaska legislature, exploitation of her family by snarky celebrity tabloids and biased media reporting. But the governor’s opponents may soon be reminded that this mama bear still has sharp teeth and claws, and her nature is not to back down from a fight. She told the crowd early on in her speech last night that she was going to restart her engine. The 36-hour vacation and friendly crowds she’s enjoying in Indiana seem to be providing it with plenty of fuel.

– JP

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