An Alaskan Tale

It's been described as the most important presidential race on the planet – the race for the oval office. Whether you believe this or not, decisions made there impact all of us, particularly as the climate crisis brings energy issues firmly onto the global agenda. Leonie Joubert looks to the north-west.

There's a joke doing the rounds in leftist circles in the United States at the moment. Well, it's not so much a joke, as a statement followed by nervous chuckles: if the 72 year old Republican presidential candidate John McCain, whose health record isn't as glowing as his war record, is voted in as the next US president, the world is one embolism away from having Sarah Palin in the oval office.

Should McCain's health fail while he's in office, the most powerful nation in the world will get a president who hides environmentally dodgy decision making behind the gleaming veneer of divine ordinance.

The Alaskan governor, and John McCain's vice prez of choice, has opposed the declaration of polar bears as an endangered species. Her reason: big oil and gas. If these snowy bears get special protection, she loses access to the fossil fuels in their territory, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But it's a video doing the rounds on YouTube that has really got the left's knickers in a knot. In it, Palin is captured on film speaking to her former church in Wasilla, outside Anchorage, telling the congregants that it is God's will that a $30 billion gas pipeline scheme gets the go-ahead. (In the same video, she also says it's God's will that the US troops are in Iraq, but that's another story altogether.)

Now I know this is sensitive territory, since the US constitution and lifestyle enshrine just about every imaginable permutation of “freedom”: freedom of speech, of choice, of association, freedom to bear arms, a free market economy, freedom of religion. And, as for South Africans, we're all for tolerance and inclusion.

But the US constitution also upholds something as powerful and important: the separation of church and state. And to dress up an office bearer's decisions to give them the appearance of being divinely ordained is blurring the line between those institutions dangerously. But, as The Guardian's Ed Pilkington wrote shortly after Palin's nomination, the “religious mission is still front and centre of her politics”. As is Palin's pro-oil and pro-gas position. And that's going to appeal to a lot of conservative Americans.

She's been described as “Bush in a skirt” and in spite of George W Bush's growing disfavour, mid-September polls showed that Palin was winning over many women voters from Democratic nominee Barack Obama's camp, now that Hillary Clinton is out of the race.

Like Bush, Palin is in favour of lifting the ban on oil drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and on pushing the exploitation of Alaska's natural energy resources. But it won't be until November that we get to see how this story ends. Because it's in November that Americans go to the polls.

See Sarah Palin in action:

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