The Roots of Sarah Palin


Last month I wrote that I'd like to see more reporting on the rumor that Sarah Palin had tried to ban books at the local public library while she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Since then we've learned a lot more about the story. In mid-September, The New York Times reported that as a councilwoman, Palin inquired about removing Daddy's Roommate, a children's book about homosexuality, from library shelves. There is also scuttlebutt that the future mayor targetted a book called Pastor, I Am Gay.

Palin's old allies continue to deny the charges. David Chappel, Palin's deputy mayor, told The Boston Globe that his boss "never had any intention to ban books" and attributed the accusations to Palin's political enemies: "There were some vocal people in the minority, and it looks like they're still out there." Small-town politics can be an impenetrable thicket, and I know a lot of the critics emerging from Palin's past have axes to grind. That said, one of the Times' sources for the Daddy's Roommate story is Laura Chase, who now says the candidate "scares the bejeebus" out of her but in 1996 served as Palin's campaign manager.

If you're going to be skeptical, your best argument is the fact that there's no record that Palin actually attempted to remove the books once she was in a position to do so. But she may have simply changed her mind about the issue. It's also possible that at that point a ban would have been unnecessary: The Times reports that some social conservatives in town frequently vandalized library books that displeased them. (Both books are in the library now, though—and there are people working hard to ensure they stay there. After these stories started to come out, a San Francisco man donated not just Daddy's Roommate but Heather Has Two Mommies to the Wasilla library, a DIY answer to the vandals' DIY censorship.)

In other Palin news: Dave Weigel already linked to it last week, but if you missed it, you really should read Sean Scallon's sharp take on the candidate. For Scallon, Palin "represents a wing of the Republican Party that was once close to Buchanan but has slid into the neoconservatives' grasp since 9/11"—the "Jacksonian" populists who used to oppose figures like McCain but changed their priorities after Bin Laden's attacks. Not that Palin was a populist from the get-go: Noam Scheiber's account of her Wasilla days reveals that she actually got her start selling a business-backed tax to fund new government programs:

In the early '90s, [Nick] Carney and a group of local business leaders decided the city needed a sales tax to fund public services–such as a police force–it could no longer live without. To advance this position in an area not exactly teeming with Great Society liberals, they'd formed a group called "Watch on Wasilla" and persuaded John Stein, then the mayor, to embrace their cause. Carney won his seat on the city council in 1992 on the back of these efforts.

Heading into that election, Carney and Stein realized their program would go nowhere if they couldn't connect with what you might call Wal-Mart moms–that great mass of voters too busy earning a living and raising their families to follow local politics….Carney's daughter had gone to high school with Palin; Stein and his wife knew her from an aerobics class they attended. She seemed bright and energetic and had a winning way about her–the same qualities McCain would notice 15 years later. They invited her to attend a "Watch on Wasilla" meeting and, after a brief interview, asked her to run on their moderate plank. Carney introduced her to local business leaders and campaigned alongside her. "I took her around … and said, 'This is a person who supports our points of view. She'll do what she can to make the police force run.' And she did it."