Monday, November 22, 2010

Woman Of Our Times

Sarah Palin is unpopular. Her activism on behalf of candidates in her home state, in Delaware, in Nevada backfired. She is an object of ridicule and scorn. Her ghost-written books wither on the shelves. Outside the tiny universe of some right-wing pundits, her continued presence in our national life is a source of a mixture of curiosity, fear, and laughter.

She now has a "reality TV" series on cable.

She is, in short, the perfect politician for our age of fake celebrity. She is the Snookie of politics, Paris Hilton without the cocaine bust, Lindsay Lohan out of rehab, Kim Kardashian in a sweater and muck-lucks. In other words, in a historical moment in which more Americans can identify "The Situation" than the future Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sarah Palin personifies almost to perfection the union of celebrity culture, tabloid journalism, and the destruction of our political sphere.

Her adumbrated tenure as governor of Alaska should not be accounted for by her excuses. Rather, she saw the main chance and grabbed it with both hands. Her record in public office is mixed, at best. The opportunity, however, to move out of the strictures and confines of public service offers action without accountability. No need to appear before those pesky voters with their preferences. No need to answer questions from a press corps that might not be charmed by her faux-folksiness or winning smile.

While I could be wrong (Lord knows I was wrong about the election!), I doubt very much she will run for office ever again. For one thing, despite press attention to her every word, and heavy-hitters in and out of the Republican establishment weighing in on the possibility, she has far more to lose by a run at the Presidency in two years than she could ever gain. She cannot win. I doubt she could win a single primary. Unlike, say, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom most of the press has dubbed "divisive" for two decades, but who actually enjoys pretty broad popularity, Mrs. Palin's approval ratings are dismal. They actually are made worse when she appears in public.

Rather than evaluate her in traditional political terms, we need, rather, to consider her not as a politician at all. Consider the attention paid, for example, to the doings in the Pitt/Jolie household as far more relevant to our understanding of Palin agonistes than anything else. Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, the Kardashian sisters are famous because . . . they are famous. One is the dysfunctional daughter of a hotel magnate. One is the seriously dysfunctional former child actress who has little future in front of her. The Kardashians are the daughters of a now-dead attorney who made his name fifteen years ago during the O J Simpson trial. Beyond these brief descriptions, there is little to attract our attention to them. They are followed, however, by photographers, the ups and downs of their personal lives, including purloined tapes of their private lives and photographs of their private parts displayed in public, because . . . they are famous! They do nothing, contribute nothing, and attract our attention for the same reason a bloody accident does. We all feel better knowing, "At least that isn't me."

Sarah Palin serves much the same function. She is the perfect politician for our historical moment, precisely because she does nothing, offers nothing, seeks only the affirmation of her own celebrity status through our continued attention, and wants nothing more than to continue to be before us, verifying and affirming her own existence for its own sake.

Understood this way, she is no more a threat to the Republic than would be another Britney Spears public meltdown. Entertaining, yes. Sad, too. Relieving because we can gaze upon the unnecessary overdramatization, the too-public nature of what should remain private, and remind ourselves how much better we are. Beyond any of this, she represents the final resting place for failed politicians in our society - to show up on heavy rotation on the cover of US magazine.

Virtual Tin Cup

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