Redeeming Sarah

I admit at the outset -- to the shock and amazement of many of my friends and colleagues -- that I really dig Sarah Palin. I am drawn to her not because she happens to be the most babelicious of the current crop of female politicos -- at best, a pleasant distraction -- but for reasons that have nothing to do with her physical presence, which I will enumerate farther along. Like all political candidates, she comes with flaws and defects that are readily detectable, but since she is avowedly conservative, these have been invidiously exaggerated beyond the limits of discretion and common decency. The amount of ad hominem invective indiscriminately heaped upon her constitutes the real disgrace in what we might call the “Palin phenomenon.” Cutting short her recent book signing session in Noblesville, Indiana, distressing some of her many fans who had long waited in line, has metastasized into a public relations tumor. Had the culprit been a Democrat, the lump would scarcely have been noticed.

Lord knows, a battery of media anti-Palinists have been shooting from the hip and the lip since day one of her vice-presidential selection on the Republican ticket, the only agile move that John McCain made during his otherwise pedestrian campaign. We know about Katie Couric, David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, Keith Olbermann, Tina Fey, and many others among the media Ferengi, that famous species of sly and deceitful opportunists, who have feathered their careers by depicting Palin as a meeping leper. Even some of a Republican stamp have not held their fire. Former Bush speechwriter (author of the phrase “axis of evil”) David Frum also has it in for Palin. In article after interview, dating from August 2008 to this month, Frum has thrown the book at poor Sarah, including her own. She’s irresponsible, she’s vindictive, she’s a quitter, she prefers to play Madonna rather than Evita, and so on ad biliosum.

Similarly, a recent article by Rick Moran savages Palin for her “cotton candy” thinking, attacking her for not confronting “the verity of the present” and for not taking proper stock of the future -- but Moran never scruples to tell us what that “verity” is and what that future portends; nor does he specify how Palin has demonstrably failed in this regard. Such animadversion comes all too easy. One of the most blatant instances involves the Newsweek cover flap, which has also been blown completely out of proportion. The cover shows a woman in excellent shape dressed in a standard running outfit. There is nothing much there to make a fuss about, except, of course, from the perspective of a prurient and partisan press corps.

In this connection, I think, a little facetiously, of those mellifluous lines from the prologue to Chaucer’s The Legend of Good Women -- "As she, that is all flowers flower, Fulfilled of all virtue and honor" -- which are patently over the top in the cynical times in which we live, but which, I submit, furnish a better portrait of this “good woman” than the nasty distortions of her detractors.

Palin has two main problems. The first is that she is unashamedly attractive, a telegenic paragon, which infuriates the radical feminists and the pseudo-intellectuals who might have preferred an extreme and not particularly compelling feministika like Andrea Dworkin, and perhaps even tempts the vexation of her male adversaries. Far more importantly, she is (or was) largely innocent of how media muckraking and dirty electoral politics actually work. Her greatest weakness during the electoral run was not what she stood for, or her personal aura, or her knowledge -- or lack of same -- of foreign affairs, but an ingrained naiveté about the extent of the unmitigated hatred and disdain with which many liberal Americans and almost the entirety of the liberal-left media greeted her candidacy. She did not understand the fury and contempt she would have to face, especially in interviews with the likes of Katie Couric or the scandalous caricatures of a Tina Fey, media types who had inexhaustibly more embarrassing blunders and solecisms to exploit in the Democratic camp. Instead, they zeroed in on Palin, who resembled then the proverbial deer caught in the headlights.