WASHINGTON — I don’t know Sarah Palin, but I know her type and I know where she comes from. It isn’t exactly (or only) Alaska.
The young governor with the beehive 'do and the conservative beliefs comes from a place called Exurban America. Republicans have prospered there; Sen. John McCain must do the same this fall if he is to have a chance of defeating Sen. Barack Obama.
Palin is literally from the fringes of ExAm — which is why McCain and his strategists think she will have widespread appeal there. We will soon find out, whether, in views and background, she is simply from too far out. But McCain’s eyes are on the right prize.
What is Exurban America? Palin’s hometown — the Anchorage bedroom community of Wasilla — is a classic, if slightly exotic (by Lower 48 standards), example.
The town is representative of the type: the ever expanding, just-settled fringe our cities, especially new ones in the West and South — where the streets end in desert or forest or mountain foothills, on the outskirts of cities such as Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Salt Lake City, Spokane and Anchorage.
I have spent a fair amount of time in Alaska, from Denali to Homer and to places in between. I have seen first hand what the statistics show: that metropolitan Anchorage is one of the fastest-growing regions in the United States. Wasilla is part of that.
In Exurban America, you can buy a new home with a driveway and enough bedrooms for a big, traditional family. You can be near to nature, and big playgrounds and spaces. You can be far away from the fears and fractiousness of an old downtown, but close enough to go t0 the zoo or a concert or take in a ballgame.
And (assuming gas prices aren’t insane — a fateful assumption, of course) you can buy a big home on less than a six-figure family income. You can therefore get close as to “Leave it to Beaver" America as most middle-class folks can afford or even find.
ExAm is where the country that traditionalists think existed decades ago still exists – and where people fervently want it to exist.
That makes it, on balance, more socially conservative than other, closer-in suburbs, not to mention core cities. Eager for a settled, traditional life amid the hustle and chaos of modern, 21st century economic competition, ExAm families tend to favor rule-setting religion, old-fashioned family values — and ample but efficient government that has no ties to old arguments over Business and Labor.
Palin is pure ExAm: a fierce foe of government waste; a former union member who took on Big Oil (raising taxes on production in the state); yet a foe of high taxes and “big government generally.” She is a hunter and fished commercially, and her first-dude husband is a champion long-distance snowmobile racer. They have five kids.
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She sports the style of a former beauty queen gone traditionalist homemaker, hiding her good looks behind glasses and a pile of hair.
But there are risks for McCain in having chosen her — besides the obvious one of her lack of foreign policy and national experience.
In ExAm, they like their cultural traditional, but they don’t like government telling them what to do. That is why they moved there in there in the first place. If Palin comes off as censorious or extreme — something she has managed to avoid in Alaska, for the most part — she puts at risk her appeal in the very region she is from.
Let’s see how she performs. It’s a long snowmobile race from here to November.
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