As I watched the Memorial Day newscast, the breathlessness with which the national media followed Sarah Palin’s “non-political” trip to the Washington memorials reminded me of the smart kids in junior high who desired popularity above all else, all the while despising the various lunkheads and vacuous cheerleaders who claimed that exalted status. No other politician could possibly get away with hiding her intentions for the day but still expecting that the “lamestream media” (her term, not mine) must come find her as if seasoned political writers had nothing better to do than play hide and seek. The reward for winning the first round was the equivalent of a coy wink from the queen bee when asked if she might run for student body president.
American politicians have held themselves above the fray before. It was a strategy that worked for Ike, who we asked to be president but not so much for MacArthur, who we forgot. We did not have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore until the Republican elders begged him to save the party. But Ike, MacArthur and even Tricky Dick had skins on the wall. West Point trained or dirt poor somehow making a way to Duke Law School. Saving the world from a true axis of evil or eight years being a heartbeat away. There were reasons these men felt like the nation might invite them to occupy the Oval Office.
Sarah apparently has the same feeling; that the nation will call if she hints at her availability. But why on earth would she think that the nation would give her a second thought? Mayor of Wasilla and an unsccessful half-governorship of Alaska? In the immortal words of Seth Myers and Amy Poehler: ‘Really?” Yet apparently there is a legion ready to sound the rallying cry. That fact, more than anything I can think of, describes our celebrity culture.
Time and time again, I have heard old fogies and even some young fogies wonder what it is that drives the media mad about Paris Hilton. The best that can be said about her is that she is pretty and has been born at the right time to the right bank accounts. The moment she tries anything that requires talent, we are reminded that she has none. But it just did not matter. People still pay her to show up and remind us that she is just more fabulous than we mortal Joes. How does that happen, exactly? I guess because the object of our affection has the ability to make people suspend their disbelief. But as long as Hollywood producers resist the urge to cast Paris in movies that otherwise might be decent, there is no harm done.
Sarah, however, is playing a far more dangerous game. Our economy teeters; we are at war with the most unconventional of enemies. In the next twenty years we will have to change the way we care for a large and growing portion of our society. How we power our lives involves choices of stunning technical complexity.The challenges and opportunities that are before us require judgment and intelligence. Sarah’s track record of actual governance demonstrates nothing of the sort. More than anything else her time in office has been marked by petty bickering over personal loyalties. Her academic career is notable only for an absence of rigor.
Yet she passes for a stateswoman in the twitter universe, undoubtedly helped by the 140 word limit. Our media culture lavishes attention on Sarah because, like Paris, she is physically attractive and because she has a snake charmer’s charisma. As far as I can tell people want Sarah to run so they can be part of the “in crowd.” Some of us apparently want to believe that if we just will let the head cheerleader have her way things will be better for us all. Anyone who went high school, however, should know that when the head cheerleader runs things the only person who stands to gain is the queen bee herself.