Just how ‘unconventional’ is Sarah Palin?

Mar 8, 2011
Gavin Mortimer

Will-she-won’t-she presidential candidate fears she is too kooky for the US electorate. Hardly

For a politician who once styled herself as just a regular "hockey mom", Sarah Palin appears to be changing tack as she weighs up whether to run for the presidency in 2012. In an interview with the BBC, the former governor of Alaska says she's unsure if the American electorate is ready to vote for "someone a bit unconventional".

The 47-year-old Republican, who was John McCain's running mate during his unsuccessful tilt at the 2008 presidency, was talking to the BBC at the annual Iron Dog championship, a snowmobile race through Alaska. Asked to elaborate on what makes her "unconventional", Palin replied she was a candidate "who will call it like she sees it, and who will not be beholden to special interests or such obsessive partisanship as to let a political machine get in the way of just doing what's right for the voters".

Palin admitted there were other factors she must consider before deciding whether to run for president – most notably the cost of funding any putative election campaign – but clearly the overriding issue with which she must grapple is whether she is too left-field for the American people.

Palin sees her lack of convention as a strength, explaining to the BBC: "I tell my kids, I encourage everyone I know that whether it be in their workplace, whether it be in a political arena or within their own families, to do what their gut tells them to do. And that involves calling it like they see it and tackling the tasks that are at hand and not worrying so much what other people are thinking or saying about them. And a lot of that goes along with that unconventional vein that I am talking about, that independent vein that I have within me."

Palin has certainly had to get used to ignoring criticism. Ever since she sprang to global prominence during the 2008 presidential campaign, she's been portrayed in some quarters as a politician whose take on world affairs is as shaky as her grasp of English.

Last year she gave the world a new word when she tweeted: "Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate". It was believed she meant to write "repudiate", though Palin later compared herself to William Shakespeare in pushing forward the boundaries of the English language.

Then there was the allegation that she believed Africa to be a country not a continent, a story Palin dismissed to the BBC as a fabrication by what she calls the 'lame stream media'.

"Reporters don't do their homework, too often, and they don't set the record straight," she said. "I think it's their job to set the record straight - rumours like I didn't know that Africa was a continent, that's still out there."

Palin said 20 years in politics had left her and her family "thick-skinned", though the press still had the capacity to get through her defences. "Some of you still claim that Trig isn't my kid," she told the BBC in an increasingly tense interview.

"I think that's an indication of screwed-up media... would you be offended if someone said your child wasn't your child? It's offensive. OK, you know what, I'm really really trying to enjoy one of the best days of our lives."

Other than her cavalier approach to English, it's open to question just how unconventional Palin really is. She hunts and shoots and is openly sceptical about global warming - though none of this is unusual for an American politician.

She opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, supports capital punishment and is a "Bible-believing Christian". Compared to Jimmy McMillan, who's already declared himself a Republican candidate for next year's election, Palin is pretty conventional.

McMillan, who also goes by the names of Papa Smurf and the Black Hulk Hogan, is a former martial arts instructor who, during the race to become mayor of New York in 1993, climbed to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge and refused to come down until his campaign message was broadcast on TV.

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