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Palin, Trent Lott, and the Perils of Regional Politics

As the Republican Convention tries to get back on track, and as Sarah Palin and John McCain prepare their crucial acceptance speeches, there's been an interesting buzz in the background about Palin's relationship with the Alaska Independence Party.

The AIP (or AKIP, as it likes to style itself) is an exotic but locally significant political party that's long advocated a reconsideration of Alaska's 1958 decision to accept statehood, with a return to territorial status, an independent "Republic" position, or secession to Canada (or to some new confederation of Western Canadian provinces) being lively options. AKIP is also a state affiliate of the Constitution Party, a far-right fringe group founded by Howard Phillips "to restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries."

Thanks to some investigative work by Mark Kleiman, we know that AKIP claims that Sarah Palin is a former member of its party who attended their 1994 convention. On an inquiry by TalkingPointsMemo, Alaska election officials confirmed that Palin's husband was a registered AKIP voter up until 2002. There are disputed claims about Governor Palin's own party registration, but she did send a warm-and-fuzzy video greeting to their latest convention.

Whether or not Sarah Palin was ever a member of AKIP, her easy acceptance of this fringe group is significant. In the odd, neo-colonial poltical culture of Alaska, AKIP is not that far out of the mainstream. But make no mistake: in the politics of the South 48, and particularly Republican politics, the AIP is, well, anti-American. Whatever she represented in Alaska, she is now the putative vice presidential candidate of a super-patriotic GOP and the handpicked running-mate of a presidential candidate whose message is "country first." "Alaska First" or "Canada First" are not acceptable points of view for John McCain's GOP, no matter how happy conservative activists may be about Palin's reactionary views on cultural issues.

In this respect, Palin's reminiscent of Trent Lott, who casually expressed a time-honored southern regional point of view about the Dixiecrat heritage in 2002, and thanks to Josh Marshall, got nailed for it.

It's another bit of evidence that Sarah Palin's a real, authentic, Alaskan wingnut: acceptable in her own political culture, but not so much in the rest of America.