Sarah Palin's Big, Sleazy Safari

Most people had never heard of Sarah Palin when she was named the Republican VP nominee. But I'd been hearing her name all too often, because I belong to a group called Defenders of Wildlife -- and in her time as governor of Alaska, Palin has used her position as governor of Alaska to ruin the Alaskan wilderness in every way she could.

Her most recent "victory" came on Aug. 26, when Alaska's voters defeated Measure 2, an initiative that would have banned hunting wolves from airplanes for sport.

Palin organized a campaign against Measure 2 and funded it with $400,000 of state money. For most of us, the idea of zooming around in a private airplane over snowbound wilderness just for the chance to spot a terrified wild dog and blow it apart with a high-powered rifle is insane. But there's a whole culture out there in love with the idea. Palin did her part by playing the tired old Alaskan pioneer card, saying that lower-48 naysayers who dared to object to the idea of dive-bombing wildlife didn't "understand rural Alaska."

Alaska isn't really very hard to understand. It consists of a minority that loves the wilderness and an overwhelmingly Republican majority that wants to squeeze all the cash it can get out of the state before the oil dries up, the fish die out and the wildlife disappears. Nowhere else does the Republican formula of manipulating the suckers by playing on their silly hatreds and even sillier vanities play out more clearly than in Alaska.

To get an idea of Palin's core constituency, just go to the home page of Safari Club International, one of the groups that fought hardest against Measure 2 -- and is now gloating loudest over this proud victory.
Even the name is a little skewed -- "safari"? When was the last time you heard that word? Most people are trying hard to forget the "safari" era, when rich white jerks had themselves carried into the African wilderness by nameless black servants, at vast expense, to kill animals they could barely identify.

But for Palin's core constituency, "safari" is still the dream. And Measure 2 would have interfered with that dream, the dream of strafing social canids from a Cessna plane. Alaska politics runs on the vast opportunities for graft offered by a small, easily manipulated constituency addicted to subsidies and self-delusion. Alaskans like to imagine themselves the last pioneers, hardy individualists, etc. -- which makes them classic suckers for Republican propaganda. And they also like the petty cash that trickles down to them from the mining companies, timber companies and hunting guides who make the real money. Palin, an undistinguished part-time sportscaster on a local TV station, was a perfect non-threatening mouthpiece for the companies that want to gouge as much oil, ore and timber from Alaska as they can -- while it lasts.

Palin is totally consistent in her anti-environmental stance. She not only wants to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, but actually vowed to sue the EPA if it dared to declare polar bears an endangered species.

It's hard for most people to understand this sort of hatred for the great mammal species struggling to hang on at the edges of this continent. But then, Palin is an Alaska Republican. And Alaska's Republican politicians are the most corrupt, ignorant and generally loathsome political clique in America, bar none. The so-called "dean" of the gang is Sen. Ted Stevens, finally indicted this year after a lifetime of graft. One of the crimes of which Stevens is accused sums up the relationship between Alaska's Republican ruling gang and its big-money backers: a construction crew hired by an oil company called Veco jacked Stevens's house up on stilts and added a whole new floor featuring two bedrooms and a bathroom -- just returning all the legislative favors Stevens had done for it over the years.

Palin was one of the founding members of Stevens' 527 corporate slush fund, which skated around campaign finance laws to allow the senator to raise unlimited funds from big oil and other exploiters. Stevens' fund bore the self-parodying name "Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service Inc." -- which is pretty droll, considering that Stevens is not only corrupt but one of the stupidest people in the Republican Party, no small feat in itself. In fact, Stevens' only claim to the attention of the American people before he finally met his fate was for defining the Internet as "a series of tubes." Thanks to YouTube, you can actually hear Sen. Stevens dithering for several minutes before uttering that famous phrase. A warning, though: Listening to Stevens will cure you forever of the idea that America is a meritocracy.

On Aug. 26, Alaska's Republican voters showed their ethical level by choosing Stevens, this utterly loathsome, brainless greed monster, as their nominee to represent the state for another six years. The fact that Stevens had been indicted for corruption four weeks before the election didn't faze them a bit.

Palin summed up her long, sleazy and profitable association with Stevens by saying that the two of them were "singing from the same sheet of music." Isn't that quaint, that "sheet of music" metaphor, with its hint of the hymnal and the pew? Well, that's Alaska's republicans for you: a thin coating of hokey populist rhetoric over a vast subterranean reserve of sleaze.

Palin's predecessor as governor was Republican Frank Murkowski, another nature hater who spent a long, sleazy career in the pockets of the oil, mining and "safari" industries. Murkowski's "endless ethical lapses" included an attempt to get the state to buy him a jet, and climaxed with his appointment of his daughter, Lisa Murkowski, to the U.S. Senate. That sort of unabashed nepotism was a bit much even for Alaskans and made Murkowski the most despised governor in the country, with an approval rating of 14 percent.

Lisa Murkowski has been busy in Washington, keeping up the family tradition of selling Alaska's natural resources as quickly and sleazily as she can. In 2006 she got an astounding 2 percent rating on environmental issues from Republicans for Environmental Protection.

In Alaska Republican Party circles, a rating like that is a badge of honor.

Palin fits right in with this slime. She has served the oil, mining and hunting interests from the minute she won the governorship. This summer, she showed herself willing to poison whole watersheds and destroy a huge, lucrative salmon fishery by opposing Measure 4. The proposal aimed to stop the proposed Pebble Mine, a huge operation, from discharging huge amounts of cyanide and mining waste into streams that flow into Bristol Bay, the site of the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery.

Of course, Sarah Palin did her best to ensure the mining interests won. At first she had a bit of a problem: Under Alaska law, the governor isn't allowed to take a position on ballot initiatives. Palin squirmed her way around that rule in classic Republican style, by speaking as a private citizen, with true George W. Bush eloquence: "Let me take my governor's hat off just for a minute and tell you personally: Prop. 4 -- I vote no on that."

As one of the supporters of the initiative said, Palin and the rest of the state's Department of Natural Resources staff were so comfortably in bed with the mining industry that they borrowed a propaganda slide show from their industry backers when making the case against Measure 4. "The slide show (DNR) had up on the screen is straight from the one (mining industry representatives) use in their presentations around the state," said Art Hackney of Alaskans for Clean Water. "I think it's absolutely outrageous -- and somehow, unfortunately, it doesn't surprise me."

The reason Hackney isn't surprised is that fronting for anti-environmental exploiters is what Palin does. It's her job. So naturally, she spewed up the necessary lie, proclaiming that she had "all the confidence in the world" in the integrity of the Department of Natural Resources that was using the mining industry's own slide show.

Perhaps the saddest aspect of Palin's disgusting record on environmental issues is the fact that it's hardly even being mentioned in the debate about her nomination. Most of the focus, for an audience of suckers weaned on celebrity gossip, seems to be about her mothering skills, her daughter's pregnancy and whether she was Miss Congeniality or just a runner-up in some beauty pageant. The fact that she makes her living helping to wipe out whole species, poison productive watersheds and play to the stupidest great-white-hunter fantasies of her constituency hardly seems worth a mention.

AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.

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