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Meeting Mr. Palin

At home with the once (and perhaps future) "First Dude."

By 9.3.10

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WASILLA, Alaska -- The young lady at the desk of the Dorothy Page Museum and Visitor Center has blue hair -- not the blue-silver of advanced age, but a punk-rock razor-cut style dyed cerulean blue. She is friendly and helpful to out-of-towners who stop by the Main Street museum to ask about the town's most famous resident.

Has Sarah Palin become a tourist attraction in Wasilla? "I don't know," says the blue-haired woman. "I guess a lot of people have added it to their itinerary."

Rumor is that the Palins are out of town and hope of an interview seems doomed to disappointment. Then my cell phone rings. "This is Todd Palin," says the man on the phone. We chat briefly about the recent GOP primary victory of Joe Miller. I explain that I've driven 50 miles from Anchorage to Wasilla just to get a sense of the town where Sarah began her political career as a city council member and mayor. Todd then tells me that although his wife is out town, he's still in Wasilla and …

Half an hour later, I drive down an unpaved road past a large Miller-for-Senate campaign sign and turn into a driveway marked with multiple "No Trespassing" signs, past which no wise person would go uninvited. Here, nestled among birch trees on the shore of scenic Lake Lucille, is the home of the woman whom liberals love most to hate -- and Todd, the man who got the nickname "First Dude" during his wife's term as Alaska's governor.

Todd opens the front door and his youngest son, two-year-old Trig, scampers across the living room to greet the guest with a "high five." Rambunctiously energetic, Trig is the focus of his father's attention -- Todd bounces the toddler on his knee, reads him a book, and fixes him a bottle -- for the next several minutes until 16-year-old Willow comes downstairs, scoops him up and carries him upstairs for sisterly babysitting.

Getting an interview with Sarah Palin is difficult. Getting an interview with Todd is next to impossible, and I would never have gotten this far if mutual friends -- including Anchorage conservative talk-radio legend Eddie Burke -- hadn't vouched for my bona fides. So most of the conversation over the next two hours is off-the-record, or at least on background. To breach that agreement would be to put myself into that category of reporters whom Sarah Palin recently described to Sean Hannity as "impotent, limp and gutless."

That was most specifically a reference to a profile in Vanity Fair by Michael Gross that was, in the words of Politico's Ben Smith, "so bad that even her harshest critics are leaping reluctantly to her defense." Smith noted that Melissa McEwan, a hard-left feminist blogger and certainly no Palin fan, called the Vanity Fair article "the worst thing I've read all day" and accused Gross of employing "misogynist smears." How bad was it? It was even denounced by Shannyn Moore, one of Alaska's most relentless anti-Palin bloggers (which is a tough competition, by the way).

So often have the Palins been the targets of such media abuse -- thinly sourced hit jobs based on anonymous gossip from the disgruntled and deranged -- that one hesitates to approach them with notebook and pen in hand. And right next door to the Palin home is a classic case of the raging two-year-long pandemic of journalistic psychosis that Michelle Malkin was the first to diagnose as Palin Derangment Syndrome.

On the other side of a tall fence that Todd built to protect what remains of his family's privacy is a rental home currently occupied by Joe McGinniss, a journalist with a contract for a book about Palin. When McGinniss moved in and the Palins complained about this bizarre intrusion, McGinniss went on NBC's Today show to portray himself as the victim of "the same kind of tactic that the Nazi troopers used in Germany in the '30s." As ironic as that claim may be, perhaps the greater irony is that anytime Sarah publicly mentions the media's evident vendetta against her, her critics accuse her of "whining."

Todd Palin is no whiner -- a former oil-rig worker who has proven his toughness by winning the 2,000-mile "Iron Dog" snowmobile race four times -- and he seems mainly interested in pointing out how little credit his wife has gotten for her accomplishments during her truncated tenure as Alaska's governor. He talks at length about her success in securing an agreement to build a natural gas pipeline from the North Slope down through Canada to the "lower 48," to name just one notable achievement.

In fact, Todd can talk Alaska politics and energy issues with such a thorough mastery of details that he could easily be mistaken for a think-tank analyst, except that he's obviously not the sort of neurasthenic geek one usually finds in those policy-wonk jobs. He's a red-blooded hands-on kind of guy, and is proud to point out that he acted as general contractor in building the latest addition to the Palin property, a two-story structure that includes a state-of-the-art TV studio that Sarah uses for her appearances as a Fox News contributor.

He emphasizes that his wife began her political ascent with "in-your-face local politics," where the interaction between Sarah and her Wasilla constituents was direct and personal. The same kind of "in-your-face" quality characterized the recent Republican primary in which Palin's endorsement of Miller (who supported her in her 2006 gubernatorial campaign) was seen as the key to the Tea Party-backed insurgent's upset of Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Many have portrayed that race as the byproduct of a personal feud between Palin and Murkowski, but Todd disavows any such animosity, noting that the two women were often allies in the past.

Professionally, I'm obliged to mention speculation about Sarah's plans for 2012, but Todd says his wife is currently focused on the upcoming mid-term congressional elections, now less than nine weeks away. And after November? I wasn't taking notes and my memory is notoriously dodgy, so it's possible that Todd's answer was, "We'll see."

Or maybe he didn't say that. A good reporter never burns his sources.

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About the Author

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.