Panel discusses Sarah Palin’s impact on Alaska politics

By Andrew Sheeler

Sun Star Reporter

The UAF Women’s Center sponsored a discussion panel on Sarah Palin at the Wood Center on March 2, with roughly 40 people in attendance. A lively debate ensued on the impact Sarah Palin has had on Alaska, politics, religion, and the national conversation.

Professor Chris Coffman, coordinator of the UAF Women’s Studies program, moderated. The panelists were Professor Gerald McBeath, a political scientist, Professor Sine Anahita, chair of the sociology department, and Alaskan blogger Jeanne Devon. Devon’s blog, Alaska Mudflats, has been a prominent critical voice of Sarah Palin both during and after her time as governor.

After Coffman opened the discussion, Anahita spoke. She talked about how women were trapped in a virgin/whore dichotomy where society viewed them as one or the other. She expanded that to women politicians, calling it a ball-buster/bimbo dichotomy. Anahita said politicians like U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fit in to the former category, while Sarah Palin was the poster-woman for the latter. Anahita said Palin was guilty of perpetuating the bimbo stereotype, but that the media and the American people had also contributed. Anahita finished by saying she was a fan of the Mudflats blog. “I’m so thrilled to be sitting here with AKMuckraker!” Anahita said. AKMuckraker is Jeanne Devon’s internet pseudonym.

Devon said she started blogging after being frustrated by a vote that Alaska Congressman Don Young had made against a resolution honoring mothers on Mother’s Day. Devon’s blog saw roughly 250 hits a day. Then John McCain selected Sarah Palin to be his choice for vice presidential nominee. That day, Devon’s blog post on the Palin pick got 7,000 hits. When Devon blogged about an anti-Palin rally being held by a group called “Alaskan Women Against Palin,” her post received more than 370,000 hits.

The final panelist, Professor Gerald McBeath, offered perhaps the most forgiving characterization of Palin. He jokingly thanked the Women’s Center for letting him be the only man on the panel and then offered his take on why McCain picked Palin. McBeath said that Palin resonated with social conservatives, whose support McCain was critically lacking. McBeath spoke of receiving calls when speaking as a guest on a radio show from men claiming Sarah Palin had inspired them to get involved. McBeath said Palin’s support from women was less forthcoming. But Palin was the Republican Party’s answer to their age-old problem of not enough women members, he said. McBeath called the republicans “derelict” in the regard, but said Palin had made significant progress in that area.

After introductions came questions between panelists. Sine Anahita brought up Palin’s long-term impact. McBeath said that while he didn’t know what the long-term effects of Sarah Palin would be, in the short term she would be a major player because of her strong connection to social conservatives. The subject of Palin’s good looks brought all three speakers into the conversation. Like it or not, Palin’s looks were a political asset for her, McBeath said. “Sarah Palin is much better-looking than Rush Limbaugh, and certainly much less cranky.” Anahita said that Palin has been largely categorized as a MILF. There was a noticeable murmur of disapproval in the audience when McBeath said, “Men are sexualized too.” Devon followed up by asking McBeath if he thought Palin would “age out” of politics, to which McBeath responded it was possible if she couldn’t keep people interested in other ways.

When the question of Palin’s celebrity status came up, Devon said that the Palin family was now “famous for being famous.” McBeath countered that while Palin had become a celebrity, so too had the bloggers who criticized her, and their blogs had become celebrity obsessed.

In a post-panel interview, Devon said she has tried to educate her readership about issues such as Pebble Mine, predator control, and equal rights. “So if me being tied to Sarah Palin means that these other issues come along on the coattails, then I’m OK with that in the grand scheme of things,” Devon said.

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