On a map of the United States, Alaska has an imposing presence. Yet, it wasn’t until this election season that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin put her state firmly “on the map” of American political and social consciousness.
Part of the challenge of Palin’s campaign has been to present to the average American an accurate view of her home state and also answer the question, ‘what’s important about Alaska?’
“Our strategic location for national defense is often overlooked,” Whitney Cushing ’09 said. Cushing is from Homer, roughly 200 miles south of Anchorage. “The only American place that has been invaded in the last 100 years was the Aleutian Islands during WWII.”
The media has exhausted the identity and issues of Palin’s home state, contributing to what many Alaskans feel are some common misconceptions.
“The [media’s] main focus on Alaska is just oil royalties and Russia … They don’t talk a whole lot about the basics of Alaska … not what really matters to us,” Abigail Marlow ’10 said.
“Someone says, ‘oh I can tell you’re Alaskan’ — I don’t really know what that means,” she continued. “When I first came to Cornell, it was hard for me because I smile at someone and they’re like, weirdo, what are you doing? In Alaska, it would be an everyday mannerism.”
Marlow is from Anchorage, which contains over half of the roughly 600,000 population of the entire state.
Alaska has .93 square miles for each person in the state — in contrast, New York State has .003 square miles per person.
Geoffrey Bacon ’11 said some conceptions about living in “the bush” aren’t completely inaccurate.
“Rural in Alaska means living in a small town unconnected by roads to any other area … where people are many miles from their neighbors and the state troopers snow-machine to check up on you to make sure you don’t reenact the Shining — which has happened,” Bacon said.
“Alaskans probably care about much of the same issues that you southerners care about,” Bacon said. “Money and heat, along with Iraq … and being able to put food on the table.”
Gun control is another issue.
“In Alaska you need a gun,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re a ‘latte liberal’ that wouldn’t know a muzzle from a hammer, but it is essential in rural Alaska. Wild animals kill. And mace does not work. We call it seasoning for when the bear eats you.”
Some Alaskans are conflicted as to whether the media and Palin’s representation of Alaska is accurate, or if it sells the state short.
“We all had the same concerns of her lack of experience when she became governor, but I feel that everyone has been very impressed with her competence regardless if they agree with her platform,” Cushing said. “After this campaign though, her biggest weakness will be how she allowed herself to become a one-dimensional folksy character.”
“I think the media’s kind of torn Sarah Palin apart,” Marlow said. “As an Alaskan, she is typical – she hunts, she fishes, her husbands’ part Alaskan native … she represents Alaska well.”
“[Palin] like myself, cannot represent the entire state,” Bacon said. “But she plays on the stereotype, like I sometimes do, that we’re just simple people living in an ice-box.”