Not long after she was introduced to U.S. politics on a national level in August 2008, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) became the subject of the political meme of the time — a chain email.
The email circulated in some circles under the name “Our Little Sarah,” but it also surfaced in newspaper letter sections within a month after her speech at the Republican National Convention confirming she would run as Arizona Sen. John McCain’s running mate in that year’s presidential election. We’ve looked at a number of the claims made in the chain letter.
- “Palin recently said that the war in Iraq is ‘God’s task'”: True.
This claim made reference to a speech Palin made in June 2008, when she was still governor of Alaska. While addressing a graduating class at the Wasilla Assembly of God church, Palin mentioned the ongoing U.S. occupation of Iraq, saying:
Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right, also for this country. That our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out for on a task that is from God. That is what we have to make sure what we are praying for that there is a plan and that plan is God’s plan. So, bless them with your prayers, your prayers of protection over our soldiers.
Palin defended her remarks in a September 2008 interview with ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson. She claimed:
The reference there is a repeat of Abraham Lincoln’s words when he said — first, he suggested never presume to know what God’s will is, and I would never presume to know God’s will or to speak God’s words.
Gibson pushed back, saying, “I take your point about Lincoln’s words, but you went on and said, ‘There is a plan and it is God’s plan.'”
“I believe that there is a plan for this world and that plan for this world is for good,” Palin replied. “I believe that there is great hope and great potential for every country to be able to live and be protected with inalienable rights that I believe are God-given, Charlie, and I believe that those are the rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That, in my world view, is a grand — the grand plan.”
When Gibson noted that Palin’s oldest son, Track, was being deployed to fight in Iraq and asked if she was sending him on a task from God, she replied “I don’t know if the task is from God, Charlie.”
- “She’s even admitted she hasn’t thought about the war much — just last year she was quoted saying, ‘I’ve been so focused on state government, I haven’t really focused much on the war in Iraq'”: True.
This quote is taken from an interview Palin gave in 2007 to Alaska Business Monthly magazine that was widely publicized after her nomination. She said at the time:
I’ve been so focused on state government, I haven’t really focused much on the war in Iraq. “I heard on the news about the new deployments, and while I support our president, Condoleezza Rice and the administration, I want to know that we have an exit plan in place; I want assurances that we are doing all we can to keep our troops safe.
Gibson pressed her on this topic as well in their 2008 interview, asking, “Really? Somebody who wants to be vice president hasn’t focused on Iraq?”
He also asked her why she said it, a question which Palin did not address in her response:
Of course, I — of course, I’ve been focused on the war. Of course I’ve been, as every American has been since 9/11. And what we’re doing in Iraq today, I believe, is the right thing, as we are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Iraqi people, fighting against Al Qaeda, fighting against Shia extremists and other terrorists who would seek to destroy Iraq’s democracy, who would seek to destroy America and our allies.
When Gibson again asked her why she made the remark, Palin said:
It was an honest answer for the question that day by a reporter asking me about Alaska “Business Monthly” issues, was my focus being on energy independence and security, those things that Alaska could supply to help make this country better and safer.
- “Palin has actively sought the support of the fringe Alaska Independence Party (AKIP). Six months ago, Palin told members of the group—who advocate for a vote on secession from the union—to ‘keep up the good work’ and ‘wished the party luck on what she called its ‘inspiring convention'”: True.
In September 2008, Palin submitted a video that was played at the party’s convention that year in Fairbanks, saying:
Your party plays an important role in our state’s politics. I’ve always said that competition is so good — and that applies to political parties as well. I share your party’s vision of upholding the constitution of our great state. My administration remains focused on reining in government growth so individual liberty and opportunity can expand. I know you agree with that.
I hope that you all are inspired by remembering that all those years ago, it was in this same city that Alaska’s constitution was born. And it was founded on hope and trust and liberty and opportunity. I carry that message of opportunity forward in my administration, as we continue to move our state ahead and create positive change. I say good luck on a successful and inspiring convention. Keep up the good work, and God bless you.
As for the claim that she “sought” support from the Alaska Independence Party, former party chair Mark Chryson claimed that that question was moot, because they considered her an ally throughout her political career.
“Every time I showed up her door was open,” Chryson told Salon in 2008. “And that policy continued when she became governor.”
According to the story:
During the 1990s, when Chryson directed the AIP, he and another radical right-winger, Steve Stoll, played a quiet but pivotal role in electing Palin as mayor of Wasilla and shaping her political agenda afterward. Both Stoll and Chryson not only contributed to Palin’s campaign financially, they played major behind-the-scenes roles in the Palin camp before, during and after her victory.
Palin backed Chryson as he successfully advanced a host of anti-tax, pro-gun initiatives, including one that altered the state Constitution’s language to better facilitate the formation of anti-government militias. She joined in their vendetta against several local officials they disliked, and listened to their advice about hiring.
The party did retract a statement identifying Palin as a member, saying that her husband Todd was a member instead. NBC News reported that Sarah Palin had been registered as a member of the Republican Party since 1982.
- “Palin wants to teach creationism in public schools. She hasn’t made clear whether she thinks evolution is a fact”: Mixed.
In a 2006 gubernatorial debate, Palin said:
Teach both. You know, don’t be afraid of education. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.
However, the Los Angeles Times reported two years later that while she had not discussed her views on evolution in public, state law afforded her a loophole in not outwardly pressuring teachers to take up the “debate” on its merits:
Since taking office in December 2006, Palin has made no moves to impose the teaching of creationism or “intelligent design,” the modern version of creationist thought, in Alaska schools.
“As far as teachers are concerned, we haven’t seen any push,” said Joan Sargent, a Fairbanks teacher who heads the Alaska Science Teachers Assn. Teachers already have the flexibility to introduce creationist views, as an addendum to the mainstream study of evolution, Sargent said.
After joining McCain’s ticket she maintained her position, saying, “I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class. I’m not going to pretend I know how all this came to be.”
She also backtracked on introducing creationism in school curriculums during her heavily-publicized interview with Katie Couric in September 2008, citing the “respect for science” instilled in her by her father, a science teacher.
“I won’t deny that I see the hand of God in this beautiful creation that is Earth,” Palin told Couric. “But that is not part of the state policy or a local curriculum in a school district. Science should be taught in science class.”
- “Palin doesn’t believe that humans contribute to global warming. Speaking about climate change, she said, ‘I’m not one though who would attribute it to being manmade'”: True.
In September 2007, then-Gov. Palin signed an order establishing the creation of what she called the Climate Change Sub-Cabinet, saying:
Scientific evidence shows many areas of Alaska are experiencing a warming trend. Many experts predict that Alaska, along with our northern latitude neighbors, will continue to warm at a faster pace than any other state, and the warming will continue for decades.
According to Palin’s order, the group’s responsibilities included devising recommendations on “the prioritization of climate change research in Alaska to best meet the needs of the public and policymakers” and “the policies and measures to reduce the likelihood or magnitude of damage to infrastructure in Alaska from the effects of climate change,” among other areas.
Palin tried to backtrack on her stance in the September 2008 interview with Gibson:
I believe that man’s activities certainly can be contributing to the issue of global warming, climate change. Here in Alaska, the only arctic state in our union of course, we see the effects of climate change more so than any other area with ice pack melting.
“Color me a cynic, but I hear a little bit of change in your policy there when you say yes, now you’re beginning to say it is manmade,” Gibson responded. “Sounds to me like you’re adapting your position to Senator McCain’s.”
“I think you are a cynic, because show me where I’ve said there’s absolute proof that nothing that man has ever conducted or engaged in has had any effect or no effect on climate change,” Palin then claimed. “I have not said that.”
Except she had said that. The quote listed in the claim is real; she made the remark to the right-wing broadcaster Newsmax when she was asked to give her “take on global warming.” She said:
A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I’m not one though who would attribute it to being man-made.
She also said in December 2007, “I’m not an Al Gore, doom-and-gloom environmentalist blaming the changes in our climate on human activity, but I’m not going to put my head in the sand and pretend there aren’t changes.”
Palin’s views on climate change shifted further into denial as time went on; in 2009, she told right-wing broadcaster Rush Limbaugh:
It’s kind of tough to figure out with the shady science right now, what are we supposed to be doing right now with our climate. Are we warming or are we cooling? I don’t think Americans are even told anymore if it’s global warming or just climate change. And I don’t attribute all the changes to man’s activities. I think that this is, in a lot of respects, cyclical and the earth does cool and it warms.
Meanwhile, the Huffington Post reported in 2013 that the sub-cabinet she had assembled to study climate change had stopped meeting for three years under the administration of her successor, Sean Parnell.
- “Palin is extremely anti-choice. She doesn’t even support abortion in the case of rape or incest”: True.
- “Palin opposes comprehensive sex-ed in public schools. She’s said she will only support abstinence-only approaches”: Mixed.
Palin’s stances against health choices date back to 2002, when she told an Alaskan right-wing group as “pro-life as any candidate can be” and condemned abortion as an “atrocity.” According to CNN:
In 2006, during the race for governor of Alaska, she reiterated that belief in a questionnaire sent to all gubernatorial candidates.
“I am pro-life. With the exception of a doctor’s determination that the mother’s life would end if the pregnancy continued. I believe that no matter what mistakes we make as a society, we cannot condone ending an innocent’s life,” she said.
In that same questionnaire, she was asked if she supported funding for abstinence-until-marriage education instead of “explicit sex-education programs.”
“The explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support,” she said.
But as the Times reported, during a debate that same year she flip-flopped on that stance.
“I’m pro-contraception, and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues,” she said in that forum.
In her September 2008 interview with Couric, Palin said she would not support making an exception for rape or incest victims seeking an abortion. She told Couric:
I’m saying that, personally, I would counsel the person to choose life, despite horrific, horrific circumstances that this person would find themselves in. And, um, if you’re asking, though, kind of foundationally here, should anyone end up in jail for having an … abortion, absolutely not. That’s nothing I would ever support.
Despite again claiming in the same interview that she was “all for contraception,” however, she did not signal support for the method commonly known as the morning-after pill.
“I would not choose to participate in that kind of contraception,” Palin said.
In the interview with ABC’s Gibson, however, she did say she supported making an exception for abortions if the life of the mother was in danger.
- “She did support the Bridge to Nowhere (before she opposed it). Palin claimed that she said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to the infamous Bridge to Nowhere. But in 2006, Palin supported the project repeatedly, saying that Alaska should take advantage of earmarks ‘while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist'”: True.
Palin’s shift on the “Bridge to Nowhere” — which would have actually connected the communities of Gravina Island and Ketchikan — became of interest after she boasted in her speech announcing that she would be McCain’s running mate that she told federal lawmakers “Thanks but no thanks” when it came to funding for the project.
As governor, Palin stopped it from advancing, citing rising costs. As the Washington Post reported in September 2008:
After defeating incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski in the 2006 Republican primary, Palin appeared before the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce in September 2006 and indicated support for the bridge project. “This link is a commitment to help Ketchikan expand its access, to help this community prosper,” she told the local chamber of commerce, according to an account in the Ketchikan Daily News.
By the time Palin became governor, cost estimates for the bridge soared to nearly $400 million. She had three options: pay for the bridge project with state funds, get more federal funding or kill the project.
“Despite the work of our congressional delegation, we are about $329 million short of full funding for the bridge project, and it’s clear that Congress has little interest in spending any more money on a bridge between Ketchikan and Gravina Island,” Palin said in a September 2007 statement saying the project would not advance. “Much of the public’s attitude toward Alaska bridges is based on inaccurate portrayals of the projects here.”
Gibson noted in the ABC News interview that Congress had already appropriated $223 million toward constuction of the bridge before she pulled the plug on the project — but not the funding, a move she defended.
“Those are infrastructure dollars that a local — a state government and a local government needs to figure out how to best prioritize those federal funds,” Palin told him. “We best prioritized those in strengthening existing bridges across our state. We strengthened our infrastructure by paving more roads and building new roads, and building up the water and sewer lines throughout our communities, some communities in Alaska that don’t even have water or sewer lines.”
But Keith Ashdown of the budget watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense (who coined the “Bridge to Nowhere” nickname for the project in the first place) pointed out the disparity in her rhetoric in an interview with NPR.
“She killed the Bridge to Nowhere — that is correct,” Ashdown said. “To say thanks but no thanks would imply that they didn’t take the money, and they got every dime of it.”
Palin and McCain lost the 2008 election to Democratic nominee Barack Obama and his own running mate, Joe Biden. Biden would go on to defeat another Republican, Donald Trump, in the 2020 presidential election.
The former governor made headlines again in February 2022 when her defamation lawsuit against the New York Times was separately dismissed by both the judge and the jury.
Update 2/16/2022, 12:30 a.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. -ag