Archive Note: This post, which was linked to far-and-wide, appeared on September 18, 2008, about a month-and-a-half before the presidential election. One question is, does the connection to the John Birch Society in particular, and far-right fringe groups in general, seem more likely today than it did last September? Original post/comment thread here.
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Here is a biographical and personality insight one would only turn up through a more careful examination of political pictures.
Last week, the NYT published a widely-read story about the way Sarah Palin treated her friends and foes as the Wasilla mayor. The photo leading the article, supplied by the Heath family, shows Palin flanked by the council in 1998, two years into her mayoral tenure. If you scroll down, however, the article offers a second photo, also supplied by the family, of Palin when she was still a Wasilla councilwoman. (Although undated, she was a city council member from '92 – '96.) The photo is one of those easy-to-pass-by, standard sitting-at-your-desk shots in front of your name plate.
The picture, however, is also one of those published by The Times you are invited to click to enlarge.
Doing so, what you can suddenly make out quite clearly is what Palin chose to be photographed attending to, which is a newsletter with a photo of a guy in a suit, the page headlined with the title: "Con-Con Call." A "con-con" call, if (like me) you're not versed in government-speak, is a call for a constitutional convention, intended to either revise or completely rewrite the constitution of a state or the federal government.
The point is, and what the photo telegraphs is that, even at this early stage of her local career, Palin is revealing herself as an activist officeholder with not just ambitious, but much larger and radical notions.
Update: 8:55 pm PST — Thanks to a BNN reader for identifying the article by Don Fotheringham ("Saving the Constitution: unbeknownst to most people, ten years ago the United States nearly had its Constitution rewritten under the guise of bringing the federal government to heel") published in the September 19, 2005 issue of American Opinion Magazine. American Opinion was the official publication of the John Birch Society.
The article outlines the effort by the Birch Society to oppose constitutional conventions where, as Fotheringham writes, "demagogues, internationalists, and think-tank reformers could get their hands on it." Totheringham explains how this and previous articles on the subject had been published or copied and distributed widely by the Birch Society to state government officials across the country to expose:
… the groups bent on a federal convention, which was now being promoted under almost any wishful pretext, such as term limits, the right to life, school prayer, anti-flag burning, and lately, same-sex "marriage."
In the article, Fotheringham identifies himself as the author of the article Palin is holding, published in March 1995 in The New American, also a John Birch publication and the bi-weekly replacement of American Opinion. The magazine features Utah's Governor Leavitt on the cover, as Leavitt was spearheading a legislative attempt in Utah to approve an constitutional convention in favor of a federal balanced budget amendment. (Fotheringham describes how 32 of the necessary 34 states had already signed on.)
With a sense of urgency, 100,000 reprints of the article were made and distributed even before the actual magazine was printed. Fotheringham goes on to explain how the efforts of the Birch society were instrumental in successfully blocking the effort to convene a constitutional convention to approve a balanced budget amendment, or anything else.
In light of this additional information and research, it is important for me to state that possession of this article doesn't, in itself, suggest Sarah Palin was an advocate for any particular agenda. Certainly, her posing with it could just as simply mean she was one of the thousands of state elected officials who were in receipt of this reprint distributed by the John Birch Society.
On the other hand, David Neiwert over at FDL examines the photo from the standpoint of the Palins attendance at Alaskan Independence Party gatherings; the couple's befriending of AIP leadership; and Todd's membership in the organization. Given the John Birch Society's sympathy for militias and Todd's overlapping notion of the government as "illegitimate," Neiwert sees ample possibility the Palins had more than a casual interest in the Birch society and its political philosophy. Jed Report raises similar questions.
Update 2: 9/19. 9:41 am PST: Of course, it doesn't help the argument that the visual association here is a completely innocent one after Palin anonymously quoted the right wing reactionary Westbrook Pegler in her RNC acceptance speech. Pegler was primarily known with his attacks on government power, and his specific hatred for Roosevelt who he characterized as a dictator. Pegler himself was a writer for the JBS publication, American Opinion, before being kicked out of the society in 1964 for his anti-semitic views.
Update 3: 9/19/ 1:28 pm PST: A commenter at Huffington raises an interesting point. Although the John Birch Society went out of its way to distribute this article to state elected officials with voting authority in the case of a constitutional convention vote, it is much less likely Palin would have been on such a distribution list as a member of a local city council.
Update 4: 10/4/08: David Neiwert has been interviewing people in Wasilla about Palin's past. Her connection with the far-right fringe makes him even more convinced the publication didn't just cross her desk by accident.
(image: Heath family via AP nyt.com)