I clearly remember the day I met Sarah Palin. It was on a cold, dark midwinter’s eve in Eagle River, Alaska, in a friend’s living room. There were about a dozen people there, including two large families, one of which was mine. The event was an intimate “meet and greet,” launching Sarah’s gubernatorial run.
Sarah is, of course, lovely, and she is surprisingly small, a feature that stands in contradiction to her very big personality. Her handshake is warm and her gaze personal. She is, in a word, authentic. I learned more about what it means to be a person in that encounter than I did in any of my meetings in the halls of Columbia University as a student or at Yale as a faculty member.
My family and I worked hard to get her elected, and my daughter even played the harp at a subsequent meet and greet. We stayed with her all the way to the election night party, when each of my family was interviewed and proudly stated our support for “Sarah!”
We still have about a dozen campaign signs in our garage, which won’t go away. We’re sure they’ll be collector’s items when Sarah wins a national office someday.
We were obviously thrilled when Sarah was selected as John McCain’s running mate and were beaming on the evening of her acceptance speech. My children were ecstatic and felt the same sense of invincibility we all felt during those days when she was the underdog running for governor, ultimately defeating a powerful incumbent governor in the primary and a popular former two-term governor in the general election.
We knew she had to win. She was special. We knew that, even when she was mayor of little Wasilla.
As we watched her at the Republican National Convention, we could feel the whole nation turning toward her podium, like a giant ship arresting and changing course.
We knew the nation was falling in love with this woman, who brought the freshness of a real “Washington outsider,” freshness from the Last Frontier. My son turned to me and said, “Dad, I don’t see how anyone could not vote for her.”
I smiled and said, “Son, you haven’t seen how vicious the media, pop culture and politicians can be. Oh, yes, everyone sees how wonderful she is, friends and foes alike. But that’s exactly why her foes will seek to destroy her.”
Even I did not expect the degree of character assassination that ensued.
Now, Sarah was well-known and loved in Alaska, where she has enjoyed approval ratings of more than 80%. But in the Lower 48 (as Alaskans call the rest of you), she was an unknown.
Her opponents understood they must do everything in their power to soil this tabula rasa and prevent the country from falling in love with her as Alaska had. It would prove difficult, yet we were shocked to find that they would get as nasty as necessary to discredit, ridicule, and ruin her.
It worked (for the present), but not without mortally wounding their credibility, for although many Americans on the left were relieved, many others were outraged to see our country’s honor and innocence slip yet another notch.
As an old friend once said to me, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Character matters. People gauge a leader’s authenticity, vision and genuine interest in others. When a leader embodies these characteristics, he or she earns people’s devotion, trust and loyalty. Alaskans are very loyal, particularly in the face of injustice.
Americans still have a sense of justice and goodness. These come in particularly big doses in Alaskans. You see, Alaskans still love Sarah. Let me rephrase that: the Alaskans who love her, love her even more now. Their hearts are in the right place.
Alaskans seem to have a moral compass that sees through smoke and mirrors and points directly North. It’s no wonder the North Star graces our beautiful state flag.
Dr. Thomas Mezetti writes
from Anchorage, Alaska.
- January 4-10, 2009