Monday, October 6, 2008

Sarah Palin

OK, why do I care that Sarah Palin drops her gs? Why does the winking and the "aw shucks" stuff get to me? As someone rightly pointed out, I don't mind when Bill Clinton gets all folksy. I don't even really mind when Joe Biden starts talking about Scranton (though when he puts on the accent pretty thickly, I do).

I believe there is a fundamental difference in what is being communicated in the f0lksy manner of Sarah Palin and that used by Joe Biden (or Bill Clinton). It's not just an "I get you," it's also an "isn't this the way you'd like to be represented"?

When I'm listening to the candidates, I'm listening for someone to lead. I want to go away thinking-- yes, that is how I want to be represented in the world and that is someone who can represent America. And I want that person to sound as smart as he or she is, like a vice president, like a leader in the free world. Not like a hockey mom.

Which isn't to say there isn't a time to sound like a hockey mom. It's when you're at a hockey game. It's when you're overseeing the grand opening of the annual moose hunt-- plenty of times even when you're running for vice president call for this. But not as a preface to or comment on the collapse of the financial system in America or relations with the Middle East or Russia. No, not then. When we're talking about the energy crisis, it is not time to insist that it is "Drill, baby, drill," not "drill, drill, drill." She said that in the debate as a way of saying, "Joe Biden, you don't get it. You're not one of us." Oh, but we do get it. You're saying "Drill, baby, drill," and you mean "drill, drill, drill"-- but cuter. And cuter doesn't make it less problemmatic.

To my mind, this starts with Presidential candidate Paul Tsongas in 1992 being asked if he knew the price of a gallon of milk. His answer was low. And he was portrayed as out of touch-- despite the fact that he'd spent his whole life serving people. But he was Washington-out-of-touch. Or no, he was just busy doing other things. Things people had elected him to do. Learning about complex problems and working hard to solve them-- so that the price of milk would be as low as it could be, or wages could be higher.

What the mass of supporters of Sarah Palin seem to be saying is it is enough to know the price of a gallon of milk. In other words, it is enough to have lived like we have, to talk our talk. But it isn't. You have to know what to do about it. And "doin' some fixin' and some workin' on things" ain't it. Style is not substance. And that style could be enough to make someone vote for her, well, it is scary to me.

I want her to talk like a vice president-- and get elected to office because she knows how to talk when she goes into a room full of world leaders, knows what to say and how to say it. Because cute won't cut it there.

Cute should not cut it in the debate.

I guess it scares me more if she's not putting it on. I hope she's putting it on, and that most of the time she talks like someone who deserves to be mayor and governor and vice president.

If Palin were my vice president, I would be ashamed-- ashamed that a large number of Americans don't know what kind of person would make a good leader. I don't really care if Joe Biden has sat around the kitchen tables of America recently. But I do believe that he cares and makes it a priority to know what goes on around the kitchen tables and that ultimately it is because he wants to help people that are struggling like his parents struggled. He believes in their goodness and hard work and struggles. I think Palin thinks everyone's kitchen is just like hers and together we can all be one big America sitting around a kitchen table like hers and more than that, that she is one of the struggling working class Americans she's going to help-- and that's more dangerous, because she's not those people. She is a middle class woman from a small town in Alaska. You have to know about more kinds of experiences than that to be vice president-- Don't you? Not to have lived them, but to know about them?

I want my leaders to know how hard it is for American working people to afford a gallon of milk or what it means that a gallon of gas is that high. But I don't want them to talk to me like they are those Americans who have trouble affording that gallon of milk. They aren't. Sarah Palin isn't. I want her to talk like a smart person who can represent us in the world and lead. I want her to have more of an answer than "drill, baby, drill," because that's is what someone who doesn't have a real answer to the problem would say.

About whether drilling is the answer we can talk, right? About whether the "baby" belongs in there, well, who cares?!!

Of course, I'm not as worried about her as I am about an American public who would choose this style over substance. If you want to see how dangerous this can be, watch one of the most under-appreciated films of all time, A Face in the Crowd. You'll love it. It's entertaining. It moves fast. It's the debut of Andy Griffith. It's stunning and powerful, the story of a man who was as genuine as they come, who was 100% folksy, with no platform at all. Nothing but his own life experience-- and it was one of hardship and trouble-- and talent and charm. And that genuineness gets put to use, first by radio, then by advertisers, and finally by a politician. You can get it on Netflix! Seriously, put it in your queue.

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