Monday, September 29, 2008

Like Lipstick on Schadenfreude

I don't know how people like Andrew Sullivan or Ariana Huffington do it, how they write opinion about the state of politics day after day after day. I can still get my head around the idea of a print - including electronic print - reporter amassing and distilling facts from wire services and colleagues in the field to come up with 'Polls Show Prohibition Costing Hoover Crucial Votes' or 'Hearst Deal Likely to Solidify Roosevelt's Lead.' But as truly insane and lamentable as things (what things? nearly all of them! pick one, and just see if it's not insane and lamentable!) are now in this country, and this election, I am incredulous that anyone with an analytical, rational, or even humane bent can be calm enough to render opinion on all this obscenity. Admittedly, I don't get paid for it, which might well be a great tonic for wordlessness, but I'm verklempt. Vollständig. I can't begin to think about it properly in its entirety, let alone take an opinion.

That being said, as the Sarah Palin circus grinds on twenty-four hours a day, the one thing I am absolutely certain of is that I feel sick for her, and I also feel sorry (although more mitigatedly so) for McCain. When her nomination was announced, my first reaction was that it was patently a slick and dirty tactical move: the Democratic Convention seemed very successful, galvanizing millions of exhausted and angry voters. So the Republicans timed this bizarre announcement to take a bit of that attention away.

And that succeeded. She was a crazy pick, an unknown who had figured nowhere on McCain's short list. Plus, unlike those (Above-) Average White Guys McCain was considering, she was a woman, a (rather fertile) mother, a hottie, an elsewherian, and politically quite distinct from McCain. Like Reagan or Bush II, and unlike McCain, for Palin there is a set of ideas on which she will not compromise, and which undergird all her opinions, and which must always be beyond discussion or negotiation. We have seen that there are plenty of voters who can relate to that, if, admittedly, sometimes in the 'I don't know nothin bout art, but I know what I like' manner.

My first reaction was that, being ostensibly a tactical move, it would be short lived. It would serve its purpose of notoriety, exultation, hairstyle commentary and scandal, and then when the attention had died down in a couple weeks, the McCain campaign would find a way to release her back into the wilds of Alaska and settle down with a more predictable, truly marriageable partner. Rural grassroots support for Palin would carry over to the new VP candidate easily, provided a convincing exit narrative had been contrived and managed adroitly. The new candidate would continue to mention Mrs. Palin and her values, and she would continue to be a presence in the campaign, heroic, lionized, as though she had actually died for the struggle. He would promise to uphold her - and 'the American Public's - ideals as he took up her mantle. She would live on as a Photoshopped patron saint, her all-too-human imperfections fallen away effortlessly in post-mortem hagiography and cable-news apathy.

But that didn't happen. Or it hasn't happened yet. And while I do not for a second believe McCain should have picked her (nor that it was McCain who did), nor that she should have accepted, her precipitous rise to stardom based, apparently, on looks, maternity, domestic oil production, and an antagonistic relationship to northern fauna, has, in addition to showing how little news is actually possible to unearth on a 24-hour news station, catapulted this very average madonna-executive into the vicious world of international sarcasm. Every aspect of Sarah Palin to which we have access has been vilified ad nauseum. Even her pregnant daughter and her jock boyfriend/sudden fiance are global laughing-stocks. I may find the boyfriend an atrocious little boy personally, but that is of course irrelevant for very many reasons (just to start, neither of them are running for anything except cover, and neither are responsible for the choices of their elders, let alone the Republican Party), and I would have known nothing about him, his (18-year-old's) stance on matrimony, his sporting preferences, his measurements, his academic record, his misogyny, or his apparent willful ignorance had McCain's handlers not proposed this wild scheme to Palin, nor she accepted. We are all idiots, sinners, bad friends, worse enemies, and only cautious good-doers: that two average rural high-school students are now in the position of being lampooned and excoriated globally for being two average rural high school students is disgusting, and something that should trouble us all.

***Break in the middle of this long post: Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Atlantic said something similar and different here, so if you are tired with my position, or my crappy way of expounding it, you can go there, and have a different exposition of a different argument which comes out to a similar injunction: to not be so bloody mean. Or something. Close.

Part of my point is that we're all imperfect, and we all do stupid things, immoral things, and tasteless things. The majority of us are fortunate in that usually only about twenty other people know about them. And while I do not think Mrs. Palin is without culpability in any of this - she is an adult; she could have said no - whatever it is that motivated her assent does not mean that what she is experiencing now, as arguably the most famous person on earth, is to be relished. It is as lamentable as the rest of the heretofore unimaginable crap which daily assaults us.

For me, it was terrible to see her with Katie Couric. She looked at times like she was going to cry, and she was so nervous that even with her notes she frequently couldn't form complete sentences. Instead, she strung together repetitive dependent clauses and catch-phrases that had nothing to do with the question asked. For me it wasn't sport; it was rather like canned hunting. She may be a nice lady, or she may be an execrable human; she may be bright, and she may be utterly incurious; she may be both, always, at the same time. And it may be the case that it was nothing but hubris and a thirst for self-aggrandizement at any cost that drove her to accept the nomination. Manifestly, however, whatever her innate and cultivated aptitudes, and however much one agrees with or loathes her values, she is not ready for Vice- or real Presidency.

McCain is old enough to have said,' What, wait: --who??' and insist that the Party let Palin's family, her political experience, and her global curiosity mature a decade or so before inviting her into national politics. And McCain, as the Presidential candidate for the Party, the person who would have to work with the Vice-President for up to eight years, would, under ideal circumstances, have been able to, expected to, and insistent upon, personally vetting all potential candidates. She, likewise, could have reiterated the famous 'thanks but no thanks' and gracefully suggested that she had a few years more of study, and a few family matters to attend to, before taking the national stage. But, as fame now consistently outscores looks, smarts, and likability in polls of what Americans would prefer to have, her acceptance of the nomination is well within the bounds of normal American behavior. It may be sad, but it is hardly counter-cultural.

And it is because of that fact, the fact of her more strident, obvious, palpable, and less Photoshoppable humanity (especially as versus 30-year political veterans) - not because I agree with her on international or domestic issues, not because I see myself in her womanhood or motherhood, not because I, too, have a complex family, have made mistakes or misjudgments, have succeeded at some things at the expense of others, or have neglected to cultivate parts of myself - that I deeply empathize with her and her family right now, being the brunt of jokes no normal person (even a gorgeously postmodern, outlandishly cynical, Liberal one) could ever have never imagined, every detail of her life scrutinized in absurd fashion, her sartorial choices alternately mimicked and lampooned, her marginal, symbolic, token, silent role as envisioned, extrapolated to its (not entirely illogical) end as potential Ruler of the Last Great Empire.

I hate the whole thing. She shouldn't be there. She is suffering, her family is suffering, friends of friends of her family are suffering. And the country, all the millions and millions of us who are doing no-so-very-well-thank-you-at-the-moment-already will suffer tremendously should someone of so little curiosity and rationality end up as head cook, let alone Captain, of this blighted Narrenschiffe. -- Look, Margaret Thatcher was unique. Indira Ghandi, Golda Meir, Benazir Bhutto, Tansu Ҫiller, and Megawati Sukarnoputri were unique, and I'm only picking up the notable notables. There doesn't have to be a woman, or a black guy, or a gay guy, or an ex-bishop, or a prole, or relative of a prole, or a person with a disability, or a person with a large family, or no dependents, or a preference to baklava over awamat -- or a Poodle-studding business or a temporary obsession with lapidary. There just has to be a truly exceptional, historically grounded, ethically centred, utterly visionary, multiply capable, unfailingly prudential and unwaveringly calm individual of whatever genetic or gonadic makeup.

Do I think it was a brilliant cynical move? Sure: it got them what they wanted, which was attention. Do I think we all suffer when those in power think tactically rather than strategically, and of Party rather than country or world? You bet. And I'll see you in Paraguay!


headbang8 said...

Hear, hear!

Palin's major crime is not be the political views she holds, nor her personal life.

It's the fact that she is not wise. That is, immature. Her public statements are those of a sixteen year-old. Bombastic, snarky, black-and-white.

It is sad that this political child is being eaten by the wolves. That Bristol and her boyfriend will have no chance to reflect on their behaviour and become more mature and wise. That the kids' wedding is going to be an election event (which, apparently, it is). That the spotlight gives none of the players the time nor space to reflect on experiences which may make them wiser, and more mature.

Maturity. A devalued virtue in modern America

Vifargent said...

Ah, maturity. I should harp on that again. I used to always bring that up, and its general lack in our culture. Of course, it's far scarier when it's not just a matter of a boyfriend or boss steadily regressing toward adolescence, but the most powerful people in the world thinking, speaking, and acting like children.

It's quite terrifying, really.