Special Needs

Gilles Mingasson/Mark Burnett Productions/TLC
Sarah and Todd Palin with their children Track, Piper, Willow, Trig, and Bristol, who is holding her son Trip, outside their house in Wasilla, Alaska, August 2010; from Sarah Palin’s Alaska

The nine-part docu-series Sarah Palin’s Alaska, shown late last year on the cable channel TLC, has the atmosphere of a cold war propaganda film.1 It shows the Palin family during the summer of 2010, making happy trips to one pristine Alaskan wilderness area after another—fishing, hunting, kayaking, dogsledding, rock climbing—and taking repeated little swipes at the left. During a visit with her dad to a store in Anchorage named Chimo Guns, where she is buying a rifle for a camping trip in bear country, Palin remarks:

Out and about in Alaska’s wilds it’s more common than not to see somebody having some kind of weapon on their person, in fact it’s probably as commonplace as if you’re walking down in New York City and you see somebody with a Blackberry on their hip.

New York, of course, is code for all the things that Palin-style populism is against. I don’t have to tell my fellow Commies what these things are.

Not long ago Paul Krugman neatly distinguished between our two political sides. One side, he wrote in the Times,

considers the modern welfare state—a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net—morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

The other side

believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.2

The Palins travel in small planes into the tooth-and-claw wilderness to enact their allegory of unspoiled capitalism. Palin, who is both narrator and star of the series, performs arduous and sometimes even dangerous feats of outdoorsmanship to demonstrate the conservative virtue of self-reliance. In the episode in which she struggles for a foothold on a vertiginously steep glacier at the foot of Mt. McKinley in eerily beautiful and vast Denali National Park, she knows that no government handout is going to help her. She isn’t even sure God will help her, though she cries out to Him and His Son, “Oh God. Help me, Lord!” and “I’m scared…. Holy Jeez!” She is tied by a rope to a guide above her and her husband below, but she can’t seem to make progress on the rock. The guide gives her instructions, but she can’t follow them. “I don’t know what I’m going to hold on to…

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