Sarah emerges, guns blazing
September 8, 2008
For a thrilling moment last week, I assumed the headline “McCain Chooses Palin as Running Mate” referred not to Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin but to British TV presenter Michael Palin.
How intriguing their foreign policy would be, I mused. McCain would kick swarthy foreigners’ butts; Palin would meander up to them in an old straw hat, offer them a gingernut and compliment them on their rail network.
McCain and Palin both seem affable sort of blokes, and I was happily imagining the two of them performing the dead parrot sketch to a baffled Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office when I spotted a second news headline pointing out that the Palin in question was Sarah, rather than Michael.
On the face of it, Sarah Palin was only a marginally more surprising choice.
A former beauty queen and “hockey mom” whose only experience of public administration till 2002 was being mayor of a town with a total of three traffic lights, Palin seemed such a ludicrous addition to the ticket that I momentarily wondered if McCain was a closet Obama supporter.
Palin herself seemed to be shooting not for the vice- presidency, but for a role in Legally Blonde III. “As for that VP talk all the time, I’ll tell you, I still can’t answer that question until somebody answers for me what it is exactly that the VP does every day,” she trilled to a reporter.
Given McCain’s age and state of health – “she’s pro-life and he’s clinging to life,” as Jay Leno remarked – it was hard not to shudder at the thought of Palin’s response to the 3am phone call scenario that Hillary Clinton used to such effect in her campaign ads (“It’s 3am, and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want to answer the phone?”). I’m figuring Palin would either assume the 3am call came from a telemarketer, and refuse to answer it, or send her husband (“the first dude”) to give the caller a piece of her mind. Frankly, she can’t spare it.
Palin’s main credentials for winning the chance to play Katie Holmes to McCain’s Tom Cruise appear to be that she is really good at fishing, loves guns and babies, looks hot even in librarian spectacles and, in the words of former Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson, is “the only candidate who knows how to field-dress a moose”. The West Wing – a televisual wet dream for liberals – featured a president who had a Nobel Laureate in economics, spoke four languages, played chess and had heavyweight tastes in literature. It’s hard to imagine any of these qualities being celebrated on the 2008 campaign trail.
In American politics, intelligence is interpreted as elitism; idealism is seen as naivety. Barack Obama has undermined his chances of being elected president by being too serious, too visionary, too committed, when what the voters really want is someone fun.
Why choose a vice-president with, say, innovative ideas for health policy reform when you could have one who, when thrown into a river in full flood, would not only swim to safety but climb up the riverbank clutching a prime-condition Chinook salmon between her teeth? Who says snowmobiling is any less important than diplomacy? And isn’t it better to be cool and mediocre than dull and smart?
Perhaps the most cynical of the Republican Party’s reasons for recruiting Palin is the assumption that women of all political stripes will vote for her simply because she is a woman. Margaret Thatcher taught British women the danger of casting their votes solely on the grounds of the presence of breasts; in Thatcher’s time in power, she froze child benefits, mocked the provision of workplace creches, elevated only one woman to her cabinet and, far from advocating for families and communities, declared “there is no such thing as society”.
Palin’s contribution to women is likely to consist of seeking to overturn Roe v Wade – on which US abortion law is based. Still, it’s all working out so well for Palin that I expect New Zealand politicians to adopt a similar strategy. Bill English may have six kids – one more than Palin – but he’s not nearly as cute as her and I doubt he could field- dress a kereru, let alone a moose. Surely it’s time for John Key to dump him as deputy and bring in Nicky Watson.