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The Capital Times (Wisconsin)

Taking A Closer Look at Palin's Independence

Rosa Brooks

That John McCain -- he's such a maverick!

Just when you thought you had him figured out, McCain threw another curveball -- picking rookie Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whom he barely knows, as his running mate.

As ex-Democrat Joe Lieberman told the Republican convention Tuesday night, everyone recognizes McCain's "record of independence. ... God only made one John McCain, and he's his own man."

Uh-huh. Some might call it reckless for a 72-year-old to offer the vice presidency of the United States to someone with as little national experience as Palin, the former mayor of Wasilla. The McCain campaign calls it showing independence.

Still, don't be too hard on Palin. Like McCain, she's independence-minded -- very, very independence-minded. And, it turns out, there's much more to her than you might have first thought.

The Democrats will tell you to pay attention to party platforms and their endless fiscal policy and intelligence reform plans. Don't you believe those hectoring elitists! You just stick to thinking how sweet it is that Sarah totally stands behind daughter Bristol's "decision" to get pregnant, marry and have a baby at 17. Don't trouble yourself with attending to tedious details, such as Sarah's record of slashing funds for programs to support teen mothers -- or her opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.

It's untrue that Palin has no foreign policy experience, anyway. In fact, she appears to have seriously flirted with the idea of trying to turn Alaska into a foreign country. How many vice presidential candidates can put that on their resumes?

Over the years, Palin has actively courted the Alaska Independence Party, or AIP, an organization that supports Alaskan secession from the United States. To be clear, we're not necessarily talking about friendly secession either: As the AIP's founder, Joe Vogler, told an interviewer in 1991: "The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government. ... And I won't be buried under their damn flag."

The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. could learn from this man.

The McCain campaign denies that Palin ever joined the AIP. But while it is in dispute whether she attended its 1994 convention, she did visit the 2000 one and addressed AIP conventions in 2006 and 2008. Her husband, Todd, was a registered AIP member from 1995 to 2002, and the AIP leadership certainly considers her one of their own.

Video footage shows AIP Vice Chairman Dexter Clark describing Palin at the 2007 North American Secessionist Convention as an "AIP member before she got the job as a mayor of a small town -- that was a nonpartisan job. But you get along to go along. She eventually joined the Republican Party, where she had all kinds of problems with their ethics, and well, I won't go into that." (No need to. The Alaska Legislature's ethics investigators are on the case.) Apparently with Palin in mind, Clark then went on to urge AIP members to "infiltrate" the major parties.

Does it make you uneasy to have a possible secessionist sympathizer aiming for the White House? Do you worry that Palin shares AIP founder Vogler's burning "hatred for the American government"?

Relax! If so, it will enable her, as vice president, to more effectively bond with foreign leaders she'll meet, many of whom also nurture a hatred for the American government. Finding common ground is always helpful.

McCain has always promised that his ticket would show "independence." We just didn't realize it was going to be this kind.


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Rosa Brooks is a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. This column first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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