Wednesday, November 18, 2009

November 18, 2009--Sarah Reflectus

This is Sarah Palin week.

While President Obama is away in Asia getting beat up by some for too much literal bowing and scraping in Japan and China (how, after all, is he supposed to behave when visiting our bankers?) and Senate leader Harry Reid is dithering with his version of a health care bill, Going Rogue (deep discounted to $9.00 at Wal-Mart) hit the stands and jumped right to the top of the bestseller list. And, in case you’ve been out of town, she’s been all over TV with Oprah and Barbara. Then, yes, the media elite has been in full mock, fact checking her every statement while continuing to have lots of fun at her and her Dogpatch family’s expense.

As so here, thus far, have I.

Yes it’s true that she can’t seem to stop herself from not telling the truth. Even about minor things such as her claim right after she was plucked out of Wasilla that she had her children vote whether or not to accept John McCain’s invitation to join him on the ticket (it was a unanimous “Yes”) which she totally contradicted the other day on Shawn Hannity’s Fox News show. Or about more important things such as her foreign policy qualifications—how, she claimed, yesterday that she had never said she was fit to confront the Russians since she could see them from Alaska while to Charlie Gibson, on ABC, early during the campaign she said that very (funny) thing.

We can fact check her all day and find something on almost every page that either doesn’t make sense or is an untruth, and God knows what Tina Fey will come up with for Saturday night. But as Maureen Dowd points out in her column in today’s New York Times (attached below), the subtitle of Going Rogue (which you can order from Newsmax for only 4 bucks) is An American Life. And, without dissembling or unintended irony it truly is just that—a quintessential early 21st century American life.

And we had better stop chuckling and take it and her seriously if we don’t want to wake up in three years to find her or someone like her snowmobiling on the White House lawn.

If this seems inconceivable to you look back just a few years and recall how a very junior senator from Illinois was doing in the presidential polls. Yes, at the moment 60 percent of Americans do not want Sarah Palin to be president, but that suggests up to 40 percent potentially do. If my arithmetic is correct that means she would have to convince only a little more than 10 percent to change their minds about her to be, help us, elected. Barack Obama at an equivalent stage in his run for the presidency had a lot more convincing to do.

OK, I can hear you saying that you know Barack Obama and Sarah Palin in no Barack Obama.

I agree but they do have at least one very important political thing in common—their innate ability to provide us with a reflective surface upon which we can project our hopes and fears. And from that surface we can take away what we want to see in them and in ourselves.

Recall that Barack Obama was spoken about in just this way—if we yearned for a president with high intelligence, we saw that in him; if we yearned for fundamental change, he radiated that possibility; if we wanted to demonstrate how tolerant we and our county had become since Jim Crow days, in his calm post-racialist demeanor we saw that and could embrace his non-threatening version of otherness.

In these and other ways he was perfect for our times and we collectively took the plunge into the relative unknown and decided to trust him for what we knew by the time Election Day arrived was a perilous time.

Enter Sarah Palin.

Many now look at her and see reflected back their own lives--the frustration, the anger, and the hope for their version of a restored America. They do not care if she did or did not poll her children before responding to John McCain. They do not care if she buys her clothes in Wasilla thrift shops or Saks. They don’t care if she reads anything at all. They don’t see it as hypocritical that while she preaches about God’s will and abstinence she has an “illegitimate” grandchild. (Many of them do as well.) And they don’t care that she appears to be untouched by education—that too reflects their reality since they feel imbued by something even more important: common sense

They do not care if she can or cannot see Russia from her house or even locate it on a map. They sense in her the same kind of no-shit attitude that they feel characterizes them. They feel that if Russia or Iran or North Korea or the Chinese get further out of hand, just as they’d like to do, she’d have the balls to nuke ‘em back to the Stone Age.

There would be an end to dithering, an end to pandering to immigrants and other minorities who are not real Americans, the government would get out of our lives and pockets, and they would have their America back. That can-do place that built highways and dams and skyscrapers and cars that were the envy of the world and won every war it ever entered.

To tens and tens of millions of Americans, who in their bones feel we have lost our way and our primacy, they look at Sarah Palin’s shiny surface and see themselves reflected back and the promise of change they can believe in.

So along with our week of having fun at her expense, let’s also spend some time thinking about her appeal and how we can get our version of America back. If we can manage to figure that out, it will actually and ironically be especially good for the very people who are currently lining up to buy her book and show up at her rallies.


Blogger jbs said...

Steven -

There is a lot more standing in the way of a President Palin than a 10% shift in the vote. Running for President is a full time job that requires extremely hard work by the candidate, a dedicated and skilled organization and constant fund raising. Being attractive, exciting or sexy didn't hurt Kennedy, Reagen or Obama but it didn't hinder Johnson, Nixon or Carter. Obama won because he had the best organization and fund raising not because he was the best orator (which he wasn't at the start). Clinton (Ms.) would have won with his organization.

Your complaint essentially is that Obama's organization plus his inspiration hasn't done much to make the federal government dynamic. But it simply can't. Too many politicians, lobbyists and now even bloggers have their say. And Obama's deliberative and thoughtful approach is aggravating because, well, it's deliberative and thoughtful. Shooting from the hip as per Palin or any other pure populist is exciting because it is simple minded but it is not going to get someone elected president, right or left, because there are too many interests, special and otherwise, that have to be balanced and reassured before you get to issue executive orders that civil servants will find ways to ignore.

Fortunately, it is so hard to run for president that by the time someone wins, that someone, the last one standing, knows a lot about the job. Perhaps a Newt Gingrich can make a good run but it is already too late for a Palin who should have started thinking about the job in college. And it is not a question of intelligence - In fact, I question the intelligence of anyone who runs for president even if he or she is very smart. It's like fighting a war to be king or queen with war replaced by campaigning. There nonetheless are pretenders to the throne out there. Hopefully what President Obama is doing is raising the bar on the competency voters expect and that a winner will be aggravatingly deliberative and thoughtful. If Obama can do that, it would be enough. If he can do more, that's great.

November 18, 2009  
Blogger Steven Zwerling said...

Thoughtful. Let's hope you're right. But we do need to figure out why she is so appealing to so many and must be careful not take her too lightly. There are unfortunately examples of people such as her coming to power when times turn truly bad.

November 19, 2009  
Blogger jbs said...

Steven -

If Sarah Palin is a political threat because she is appealing, then you really should get agitated about Megan Fox. Simply being appealing may get someone publicity, electon to a state or local office and in Ms. Palin's case crowds, but not far enough for political longevity or national office.

November 19, 2009  
Blogger Steven Zwerling said...

She's not just appealing. There's a lot more going on with her that I think you're missing. She's already an experienced political figure and her appeal is much deeper than just being appealing. I think you're confusing popularity and political power. She already has a lot of that kind of power. And, in the right conditions--when things fall apart--people here and elsewhere have turned to appealing demagogues to lead them Which, I feel she has the capacity to be. With a smile of course.

November 20, 2009  

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