But there's more to it. Alaska is not merely a vast northern West Virginia, producing pompous sticky-fingered polls to shoplift from the U.S. Treasury. In 1959, the U.S. accepted Alaska into the Union in exchange for nearly 60 percent of its land. Since then, the share has gone up to around 65 percent. The rest of the land is controlled by the state, tribes and municipal governments. All told, only 1 percent of Alaska's land is in private hands.
It's no surprise Alaskans see nothing wrong with gaming the government since the government is the only game in town. Business is in bed with government here because there is no other bed.
Sarah Palin, the popular governor of Alaska, plausibly claims to stand athwart that culture. In a talk in Juneau last weekend, she called for a new compact with the federal government. She exhorted Alaskans to become "less dependent on the federal government." Let Alaskans control their own resources, and Alaskans in turn will stop treating the nation's taxpayers like a national resource. (One reason Alaska is in danger of turning into a blue state - though not any time soon - is that its government-centric culture leads to government-centric voters, and the Democratic Party remains the party of government).
McCain, the self-styled maverick and environmentalist, is famously - and foolishly - opposed to drilling in ANWR, even though drilling technology is extremely safe, and oil and gas reserves there could be enormous. (A fully exploited Alaska could produce seven years of complete crude oil independence, according to Palin.) One motivation rarely discussed outside of the Senate cafeteria is McCain's intense dislike for Ted Stevens. Stevens represents nearly everything McCain loathes about Washington: business-as-usual coziness with lobbyists, (alleged) bribery, pork barrel spending, backroom deals, etc. McCain should openly campaign against Stevens while simultaneously embracing reform agenda that would include opening up ANWR.
The Stevens indictment (perhaps coupled with tapping Palin as a running mate) offers McCain a golden opportunity, in that Stevens is unpopular with the conservative base, thus - finally! - giving McCain a Republican to beat up without infuriating conservatives. McCain sorely needs a new narrative arc for his campaign. He need only ask - and then honestly answer - the question "What's the matter with Alaska?" to find that arc.
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