Most people who are following the United States of America's Presidential election in 2008 were thinking on Friday 29th August 2008 Sarah Palin? Who is Sarah Palin anyway?

Republican contender John McCain had just announced that he has picked her for her as vice-presidential candidate and running mate. Why not vote based on knowledge - for that you need to know more than the gender, colour and name of the candidate; you need to know what they stand for. Here are some of the details.

Personal data

She was born on February 11, 1964, making her 44 years old in 2008. She is younger than Barack Obama by two and a half years. She was raised in Alaska, and came second in a "Miss Alaska" pageant in 1984.

John McCain is 72 years old in 2008, and the state of Alaska is 49 years old.

Her husband Tod is part Yup'ik Eskimo, and works for BP.

She is the mother of five children, named Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig. Their ages in September 2008 were 19, 17, 14, 7 and 4 months respectively. Trig, the youngest, has Down's Syndrome.

She enjoys hunting moose, and lists mooseburgers as a favourite food.
She referred to herself as a "hockey mom".
She was raised in a Pentecostal church, and attends an independent congregation.15. She describes herself as a "non-denominational Christian".

Political experience

She was a member of the city council of Wasilla, Alaska from 1992 to 1996.
She has been mayor of Wasilla from 1996 to 2002.
Wassilla is a small town, with a population around 6000-8000.

She was Chair of Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission from 2003 to 2004.
She has been Governor of Alaska (population around 683 000) for about 18 months, from 2006 to current date. During this time she achieved a high approval rating, 76-80%.


Environment: Tough on bears, tough on the causes of bears.

In 2008, she objected and filed a lawsuit to the listing of Polar Bears as an Endangered Species.
She supports aerial shooting of wolves to increase moose and caribou populations. 3
She advocates opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. 3
She has been a strong supporter of drilling for the oil and gas that supports the Alaskan economy, as well as other mining. 7, 3
She has stated that she does not believe that global warming is man-made. 6

Social issues

She is "as pro-life as any candidate can be"15, and opposed to allowing women access to abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. 2
She has supported Abstinence-only sex education.12
She does not support same-sex marriage. 2
She believes that creationism should be taught as an option alongside Evolution in schools. 1
She supports gun ownership. 3
She does not support legalisation of Marijuana. She says that she tried it when it was legal under state law, but did not like it. She identified Methamphetamine as a greater threat and therefore a greater priority. 2

The vice-presidential pick

"I still can't answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the VP does every day?" - Sarah Palin, July 2008 14

The announcement was surprising and controversial, as she was not exactly a well-known front-runner for the post.

The McCain campaign called her a "tough executive who has demonstrated during her time in office that she is ready to be president" 5

Her best reception has been among the "social and religious conservatives". The point seems to be that she is a candidate who opposes abortion, unlike the leading contenders Joe Lieberman and Tom Ridge. She was called "an outstanding choice that should be extremely reassuring to the conservative base" 15

A fair amount of reaction from the left was very negative.

It was an amazingly bad choice. She is the least known, least experienced VP nominee in modern political history. Those who compare her to George H. W. Bush's choice of Dan Quayle in 1988 forget that Quayle had already been in Congress for 12 years. 16

She was called "The Worst Vice-Presidential Nominee in U.S. History" 8, labelling the choice a desperate attempt to get the women's vote (though women who are not already in the "conservative base" may be alienated by her policies on abortion and birth control), and citing her abject lack of experience compared to the other choices. Some have raised the issue of McCain's judgement after this choice, or pointed out that her presence prevents McCain from attacking Senator Obama's youth and inexperience, or presenting Obama as a risky choice compared to McCain's safe hands.

Not to put too fine a point to it, McCain is 72 years old, older than any first-term president. The vice-president must be able to pick up and carry on should the president die.

Her speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention on Wednesday 3 September was well-received, but critics have pointed out that parts of it were written before she was even chosen.19

The Controversies

Known Unknowns

Her daughter Bristol is now five months pregnant at 17 years old. Bristol plans to keep the child and marry the child's father. 13 Is that abstinence-only sex education working yet?

She is under investigation for her decision in July 2008 to fire Public Safety Commissioner Walter Monegan, who is her sister's estranged ex-husband.11, 12 Some have questioned this and other aspects of her record in office, including suggestions that she wanted a book ("Daddy's Roommate", which helps children understand homosexuality) removed from the local library. 21

Other facts that have turned up are that, at time of nomination, she had been outside of the USA exactly three times in her life: to Canada and Mexico on vacation, and a two-day trip in 2007 to visit American troops on the border between Kuwait and Iraq, with a stop in Germany.20 She has never met a foreign head of state.

The mud-slinging

Every candidate for high office comes under scrutiny, and unsubstantiated rumours will surface.

Some muttered that McCain's choice of Palin must indicate that Condoleezza Rice had turned the job down, since she is also a woman of conservative politics, but who scores far higher on experience and name recognition. This has not been confirmed or denied.

Some said that the choice indicated that McCain had bowed to pressure from Conservative interests. 10

Some have claimed that in her youth she belonged to an Alaskan separatist party. A denial has been issued.18

The nodes

With regards the view that Mrs Palin has been subjected to "an unparalleled hazing ritual" which is "extremely unprofessional on the media's part":

It may be true that the USA's political media are, generally speaking, controversy-seeking scandal-mongers who thrive on personal trivia and sound-bites over any substantive discussion of policies and issues. I do not think that they started out with a particular agenda against her. The unprofessionalism is general, not limited to Sarah Palin.

In some ways, she has gotten off lightly - Just imagine what the conservative pundits would have made of Senator Obama picking an untested running mate with an pregnant, unwed child and a looming investigation.23

I think that the only reason that Sarah Palin has had so much press attention so fast is that she came from obscurity so fast. And that was entirely the choice of Senator McCain's campaign. Indeed, generating a large amount of media attention seems to have been part of the plan. So the usual hazing ritual that candidates all endure was condensed to an unparalleled short time. Better this than no scrutiny.

It is true that we are "straining to excavate information on her ideas and ideals". Even in interviews, Sarah Palin has not offered much to help us on this account.22


General article with dates and numbers: Wikipedia article on Sarah Palin:

1) Brandon Keim. "McCain's VP Wants Creationism Taught in School", Wired Blog:
2) Kyle Hopkins. "Same-sex unions, drugs get little play", Anchorage Daily News, August 6, 2006:
3) David D. "How Green is Sarah Palin"
4) Sarah Lai Stirland. "McCain VP Pick No Friend to Polar Bears", Wired Blog
5) "McCain: Palin's 'Tough, Ready to Be President'", Newsmax Friday, August 29, 2008
6) Mike Coppock. "Palin Speaks to Newsmax About McCain, Abortion", Newsmax August 29, 2008 Sarah Palin says that Global warming is not man-made:
7) Daniel J. Weiss and James Kvaal. "Sarah Palin: A Champion For Big Oil"
8) Robert J. Elisberg. "The Worst Vice-Presidential Nominee in U.S. History", Huffington post, August 29, 2008
9) William Rees-Mogg, "Sarah Palin has just 65 days to prove herself" September 1, 2008, The Times of London,
10) Elisabeth Bumiller and Michael Cooper, "Conservative Ire Pushed McCain From Lieberman", New York Times, August 30, 2008
11) Alaska Public Safety Commissioner dismissal:
12) Tim Reid. "Sarah Palin hit by internet rumours over fifth child", Times Online: September 1, 2008
13) Reuters. "Palin Says Her Daughter, 17, Is Pregnant", New York Times, September 1, 2008
14) "Sarah Palin: What Exactly Does The VP Do Everyday?" August 29, 2008
15) Eric Gorski, "Evangelicals energized by McCain-Palin ticket", Associated Press, 30 August 2008
16) Erik Ose, "Is John McCain Mentally Fit To Be President?", August 30, 2008.
17) Mark Murray. "Palin backed abstinence-only education", Monday, September 01
18) Jake Tapper "Members of 'Fringe' Alaskan Independence Party Say Palin Was a Member in 90s"; ABS News blogs, September 01, 2008
19) Massimo Calabresi. "The Man Behind Palin's Speech", Thursday, Sep. 04, 2008,8599,1838808,00.html
20) Bryan Bender. "Palin camp clarifies extent of Iraq trip" Boston Globe, September 13, 2008 .
21) Jo Becker, Peter S. Goodman and Michael Powell. "Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes" The New York Times, September 14, 2008
22) Jim Rutenberg "In First Big Interview, Palin Says, 'I'm Ready' " The New York Times, September 11, 2008
23) For example, Karl Rove belittling a Democratic VP contender with more experience than Sarah Palin: Brad Friedman "Rove: 'Undistinguished' Small Town Mayor and Short-term Governor 'Intensely Political Choice'" The Brad Blog, 30 August 2008