Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Power of a Wish, or, Little Sarah's Dream Comes True

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is a charitable organization that grants the wishes of children who will never have the chance to live their dreams, due to terminal or chronic illness or other debilitating conditions.  I greatly respect their efforts, and since a co-worker organizes tours and such for Make-A-Wish kids from time to time, I've been able to help out a little, once or twice.

I want to tell you the story of a special girl who dreamed big, and thanks to the people's generosity, got to have the experience of a lifetime.  Her name is Sarah.  But she's not a Make-a-Wish kid.  No, this girl is Sarah Palin, and she's the political version of a Make-a-Wish kid.  She knows there are some things she'll just never be able to do, and everyone around her knows it, but by golly, we're all going to make her dream come true, if only for a day.

Now, I knew who Sarah Palin was before a lot of folks did.  What with her being governor of the 49th state, and me living in the 50th one, we share one of those "maritime borders" she likes to talk about.  There's just empty ocean in between, you know?  And if our mountains were taller, we'd be able to see each other, just like she can see Russia from up there in Alaska.  So there's a pretty brisk tourism trade between the two states, and I've got a very nice tourism catalog Sarah sent me a year or two back after I asked for it, encouraging me to come see all the beautiful things up her way.

So when her name started getting tossed around, I figured, okay, this is interesting, sure.  She's a pretty savvy female Republican governor; we have one of those down here in Hawaii too, and when I lived in New Jersey, we had one there, Christie Whitman, who went on to head the EPA.

But the way the McCain campaign brought her onboard really felt like a cynical attempt to pick up people who would have voted for Hillary Clinton - never mind that Sarah and Hillary are basically ideological opposites.  The way they presented her was insulting, both to independent voters like me, and (in my opinion) to Sarah herself.

Honestly, if you're a candidate for the second-highest office in the land, are you supposed to be 
flattered by being put forth as a none-too-bright former beauty queen (the last six words are a polite way of saying "bimbo") who likes snowmobiles, guns, and popping out babies (who follow in her footsteps in all 3 ways)?  Seriously.  Whatever people may think of her character, she's obviously savvy enough to have become governor of a state, and she's made a few good moves politically.

So what's with locking her away from the media?  What's with sending her to New York to make the rounds of the expensive hotels (with the media, again, locked out), chatting up selected world leaders (well, those who would even see her, since some refused) in what everyone admits was an attempt at a "crash course" in foreign policy?  Why not just let her make her own case, like any other candidate we've ever seen?

Well, after a few interviews and a debate, I think I have enough inputs to figure this one out.

Sarah Palin was a perfectly good mayor.  She is a perfectly good governor (pending the outcome of a few investigations).  She's a good fit for Alaska; she has a certain backwoods sensibility about her, and is the kind of person you could sit and "talk story" with, as we call it here in Hawaii.

Unfortunately, all that makes her about as qualified as a candidate for veep (and, as some like to point out, "one seventy-two-year-old heartbeat from President") as a random physically and mentally handicapped kid is to be an astrophysicist.

But when a kid flies out for his or her wish, do we look at them and say "look, kid, you're a retarded cripple, this is pointless?"  Of course not.  We applaud their curiosity and their interest in the science, and we share everything we can about it with them.  Partly because we're just nice people.  Partly because anyone who has curiosity deserves to be given knowledge.  Partly because so many more "qualified" people 
lack that curiosity.  And partly because each and every one of us who has the chance to work where I do knows that we are darn lucky, since worldwide, only about 1 person in 600,000 ever gets to do this for a living.

So it is with Sarah.  If she shows up for a debate and manages to string together a cogent sentence or two, pundits coo that she did so much 
better than they expected.  (Apparently the expectation is for her head to simply explode at the first softball question she's asked?)  And of course, the Campaign declared her the winner of the debate before it even ended, presumably on the grounds that with five minutes to go, she was still alive, and hadn't started spinning her head around, speaking in tongues or vomiting on the walls.

I don't think all the flak she gets is necessarily deserved.  Some of my friends jumped on her inability to, in an interview, name a Supreme Court decision she disagreed with, other than Roe v. Wade.  Well, I'm nobody special, but the only other Supreme Court decisions I can think of right off the top of my head are things like Brown v. Board of Education, or Virginia v. Loving... and nobody in their right mind would, in this day and age, claim to disagree with those!  Most of the decisions the Supreme Court makes are on non-controversial topics that people aren't "religious" about.

I am, though, a little aghast at what else I've seen of her in interviews and the debate, though.  And I'm nobody 
special.  I grew up in a middle-class, patriotic, church-going family, all of us smart enough to avoid blue-collar jobs, but none of us ever got a degree.  Nuclear family, summer road-trips in the station wagon, so on and so forth.  Very, very "normal" folks.  I grew up in a small town - smaller than Wasilla, even - where we got the county newspaper every day, knew the mailman by name, and so on.

So there are things Governor Palin says that just plain 
scare me.  For example:

Katie Couric: And when it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read, before you were tapped for this, to stay informed, to understand the world?
Sarah Palin: I read most of them again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media...
Couric: Like what ones specifically, I'm curious, that you
Palin: Um, all of 'em, any of 'em, that have been in front of me over all these years...
Couric: Can you name any?
Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news...

I'm lost, 
bewildered as to how someone gets to be Mayor, let alone Governor, without being able to name even her own local newspaper.  I know I grew up reading Highlights as a kid, and then National Geographic and American Rifleman and Model Railroader.  And always the Burlington County Times (well, the comics page, at first, but later, more of it) and sometimes the Courier-Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer.  I'm not that much younger than the good Governor, but I can still remember those titles.

And if I didn't feel like confessing to reading such down-home American things as the 
Burlington County Times and American Rifleman, I could easily lie and name close to a dozen big-city newspapers in the US.  One or two in Canada. Three or four in the UK.  One in France.  One in Italy.  Two in Kenya.  Two in Uganda.  Several in Australia. Competing papers, in most of those cities or countries, to make it clear that I was getting more than one side of things, as a politician should.

And there have been other questions, on important but not overly complex issues like relations with Russia, climate change, etc., where Sarah has gone rambling off in what sounds like a jumble of talking points spit out by a markov-chaining program.  For example:

Couric: Have you ever been involved in any negotiations, for example, with the Russians? 
Palin: We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state. 

Yes, folks, that was seven whole words of "answer" followed by line after line of increasingly unrelated verbal diarrhea. All I can say is, in the words of my parents, "Diagram that sentence!"  (In fact, after I noted this similarity elsewhere, someone actually created an "Interview Sarah Palin" site that uses markov chaining to create spoof responses

So if you're still with me, I'll sum up:

  1. Sarah Palin strikes me as a nice lady, and a great fit for politics in Alaska, where overall I think she's had a positive impact on things.
  2. However, she has had "greater things" flung at her that she's not at all capable of dealing with cogently, or, from all indications, even capable of becoming capable of dealing with, in less than four years.
  3. I view this as no fault of hers, but rather a callous and cynical exploitation of her perceived down home folksiness by the Campaign.
  4. I pulled a C average in high school, dropped out of college twice without making it past the first semester, and now work four to six part-time jobs, mostly low-paying, to barely scrape by, but when it comes to issues that matter in this election year, you could drag me out of bed on a half night's sleep, stand me behind a podium, and I could make more sense than Sarah Palin has, to date.
  5. For these reasons, I have to beg the rest of you to please, please not let this woman anywhere near the White House!
Little Sarah had her day in the spotlight today, in St. Louis at the Vice-Presidential debate.  I'm hoping she'll be able to make a dignified return to Alaska and continue her career as governor there, and someday, down the road, when she's more experienced, more informed and less tongue-tied, have another go at the national stage.

Of course, I may not get my wish.  Maybe people will vote for down-home folksiness over substance, experience, constitutional expertise and policies that actually differ at all from those of the last eight years.  But if it turns out that way, I guess I can always head to some other country - where, unlike Sarah Palin, I'd at least be able to ask for the local paper by name!

Newsboy!  The Sunday Monitor, please! 

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