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.
Such bewilderment, I believe, was a function of her essential good nature, her moral dignity, and her natural optimism. These are attributes that would by no means handicap her in her dealings with actual and potential enemies of the country she obviously loves and is sworn to defend -- no Michelle-like resentment of America in her bones -- but did have a paralyzing effect on her ability to respond to fellow citizens she may have considered merely as Americans who might not agree with her beliefs and prescriptions. Despite her street smarts, she was plainly unprepared for the viciousness with which she was assaulted by her nominal compatriots, as we too are often unprepared when family members, no matter how estranged, become our worst enemies.
Palin is surely wiser now that she has been put through the domestic wringer. And when compared to her major political opponents, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, she comes across as prime presidential material indeed. The gaffes committed by the president and his hobbling mate during their pre-election speeches defy credulity and betoken not only the sort of “shallowness” that Moran accuses Palin of, but suggest an ignorance so profound and entrenched as should have disqualified them immediately from running for office.
Further, as has been often pointed out, Palin has actual hands-on experience of what it means to govern; Obama was a short-stint senator who voted “present.” Palin’s record as a mayor and governor is squarely in the public domain and is undeniably impressive; Obama’s CV remains largely sequestered in sealed archives and nobody quite knows what a “community organizer” really does. Palin has genuine accomplishments to her credit; Obama is a cryptograph, who is, in addition, devoid of any notable achievements. One cannot in good faith accuse Palin of Obama’s faults and deficiencies and get away with it indefinitely. For the fact is that Palin knows reasonably well what she is talking about but Obama is like the captain of an ocean liner who never stepped into a rowboat and whose only experience of the sea is a view of Lake Michigan from the Hancock Observatory. Honestly now, who would you really trust at the helm of state?
There are many factors that render Sarah Palin fit for high office, not the least of which is a generous helping of common sense -- a faculty sorely lacking in the current leadership. She is unpretentious and is nearer to the majority of ordinary people than her faux-sophisticated competitors, the beltway schemers, insider traders, brazen peculators, and outright liars now in power. This is precisely what an indignant punditocracy cannot forgive her: the plainspokenness, the deep convictions, the sense of loyalty, the chiming with ordinary folk -- what the pointy-headed can only interpret as blunt-mindedness. But Palin’s moral and political values hew closer to the heart of the American republican experiment -- individual liberty, personal integrity, Emersonian self-reliance, responsibility for choice, true patriotism, unobtrusive government dedicated to the public weal -- than do those of almost any other political figure on the American scene today, with the exception of Mike Huckabee. I have no doubt that such stalwart values would stand her in good stead in the perilous world of international politics and that her decisions would invariably strengthen rather than weaken the United States, which latter is the deplorable case in today’s international theater.
Moreover, it seems clear that Palin is capable of learning whereas Obama appears incorrigibly learn-proof. I suspect that Victor Davis Hanson is absolutely correct when he sums up Palin’s imperatives for the future: “The best thing she can do is to go out and talk, take her licks, promote her book, fend off foes, and gain experience in the arena of ideas -- while spending her evenings reading and debating wonks and politicians.” Palin is deemed by her defamers as a polarizing figure and a disaster for both the Republican Party and the nation. This is pure nonsense but it will take much cerebral scrubbing to redeem her. Thankfully, she seems up to the job.
One can never predict the result of the primaries. In the Liberal leadership campaign prior to Canada’s last election, a coalition of less unqualified candidates delivered their block votes to the utterly incompetent Stéphane Dion. Something similar happened in the U.S., the only distinction being that Dion is a bland cipher and Obama is blessed with charisma. The unexpected can always happen. But pace Moran, Frum, Couric, Olbermann, Friedman, and company, with their mean-spirited and catarrhal denunciations of one of the best America has on offer today, things may turn out differently next time around. We may now be looking at the making of the future American president. To quote Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation, who had the Ferengis’ number: “Make it so.”