Monday, September 01, 2008

sarah palin

Like most of the world I was stunned by John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate (as potential vice-president) in the upcoming election. I keep up with mainstream politics, not to the extent that my wife does, but I must confess that I had never heard of her, and that is not entirely due to her being a Republican. She hails from Alaska, and her short resume includes service as mayor of a small town (roughly the population of Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte, Mount Tabor United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, and Christ United Methodist Church in Greensboro) and governor (briefly) of a small state.

As a United Methodist quite immersed in denominational politics, one of my first reactions was that this election, as it has shaken out, must surely be welcomed by identity politicians as something of a breakthrough, apart from matters of ideology, competence or credentials: in 2009, we will either have a President who is an African-American or a Vice-President who is a woman. The world has changed.

A part of Sarah Palin's story borders on the absurd, and almost blurs with popular culture: she eats moose meat and describes herself as a "hockey mom". Maureen Dowd's brutally satiric piece on her in the New York Times yesterday ("Vice in Go-Go Boots?") led me to imagine her in a remake of Northern Exposure, one of my all-time favorite television programs: she is the bartender, the older proprietor of the saloon is John McCain, Maurice is Dick Cheney, the disc jockey in love with his own voice would have to be Bill Clinton, and maybe Barack is the Ivy League doctor who comes to town and seems oddly out of place.

Her credentials seemingly match those of the Republican religious right, and yet, the more you explore that, there are inconsistencies. She seems to have been branded as a fighter against Big Oil in Alaska, and yet her husband works at least part time in that industry. She is something of a reformer and yet is also involved in a small-scale scandal. McCain had apparently spoken with her no more that twice (but, as Frank Rich also noted in yesterday's NYT, McCain and George Bush have not spoken since May...amazing). She is a woman (this might appeal to Hillary Clinton's followers), but she is not pro-choice (this will not). I must confess that some of her convictions and experiences appeal to me (here I would list her pro-life orientation and giving workplace benefits to gays and lesbians) while others do not (drilling in ANWAR, teaching creationism). Again, it is all a bit eclectic. One senses that this is a politicians whose convictions are not fully formed.

What is of greater interest is her family story, which becomes, at once and by contrast to all that has preceded it, very serious: she gave birth to a child with Down's Syndrome in the spring, a son will depart for Iraq in September, and now a daughter (seventeen years old and unmarried ) is pregnant. One hopes that she can shield the media from all of this, even as she must also, in the bargain, refrain from using it all for political advantage (the birth in relation to the issue of abortion, the enlistment as support for the war). I fear that she enters into all of this because of her family story (she was chosen because of family and gender image), and yet this will become fodder for a public that can be unceasing in its appetite for scandal. I have the sense that Sarah Palin is an icon of the socially conservative branch of the Republican Right, and that the difference between the image and the reality will continue to be magnified in the weeks ahead.

For Sarah Palin it must all be a bit overwhelming.


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