It is a topic I have successfully and purposefully avoided. But now that former Alaska Governor and defeated Vice-President contender, Sarah Palin, has compared herself to Shakespeare, I have no choice, and must enter into this dreadful fray.
Not surprisingly, my inbox has been flooded with requests for my thoughts on and possible explanations for (is any possible?) for the cultural phenomenon that is ShakesPalin.
I only dare to throw caution to the wind, as I take comfort in the fact that were the She-Wolf in Moose’s Clothing (or any members of her virtual and frightful army) ever to come across my discourse, she/they would flounder at the word “phenomenon”, give up on the reading and move on to something else.
Needless to say, Sarah Palin and her followers frighten me. I am frightened by their zeal, their anger and their popularity. I am enraged by her arrogance and her glibness and her ‘holier-than-thou, cos I’m dumber-than-thou’ attitude.
Ignorance is not bliss, it’s dangerous.
I will not waste time here chronicling the minutiae of Palin’s gaffes, shortcomings and nasty tactics. No cautionary tales of how powerful, successful and perilous a “simple, folksy, home-spun, person of the people” can become. History is glaringly full of examples: Hitler, Mussolini, etc.
“Why do Americans love her so?”
This is a question with which I am repeated faced. The answer is, I think, neither straightforward nor simple. Another question that arises is: “Could Sarah Palin become President one day?” To that, and my heart withers at the thought of it, there is a simple reply: “Yes, she could.”
There seems to be an enduring appeal to some sectors of the American society for leaders who would make “good drinking (bingo/hunting/poker/what you will) buddies” or “coffee companions”.
“I like George Bush because he talks like me. He’s just an average guy like me,” these words were uttered by the father of a close friend of mine. He was, and still is, a wonderfully simple, decent, and caring man. A man whom I respect, and a man I respect far more than I ever could W.
Herein, as Shakespeare put it, lies the rub.
In world that seems to be spinning out of control with endless war, debt, duplicity, crises and crashes, people long for simplicity. Directness. Fairness.
Palin and Co have seized upon this opportunity, and shaped the debate in their own image, and in their favour by drawing battling lines in the sand between the “Crafty, smarty-pants Elitists” vs. the “Down-to-Earth Dumbkins.” The message is, quite simply: “You can trust us, we’re as stupid as you!”
Sarah Palin wears her ignorance like a badge of honour. She’s proud of the fact that she doesn’t have wall full of degrees and certificates, she’s just a mom with a gun. Well, frankly, I feel that qualifies her to be just that: a mom with a gun.
This how we have lost our way, and before the General Election here, I feared Britain was headed in the same direction. The “everybody’s winner, because there are no losers” ethos. The “You-can-do-whatever-you-want-as-long-as-you’re-sassy-enough!” principle.
I blame Paris Hilton.
Success is not an equal opportunity, reality TV show; it must be earned. The American country singer Reba McEntire once put it beautifully: “Success is 10% talent, and 90% hard work.”
I believe this maxim to be true, and one that can be adapted for the leadership realm. A successful leader should be 10% personality/charisma, and 90% ‘hard work’ (i.e., knowledge, intelligence, skill, education, preparation, experience, etc.)
The bottom line for me is that I don’t want ‘the bloke next door’ to rule the world. (No offence to my wonderful neighbours!) I think world leaders are and should be special people. Ordinary people, yes, but ones with extraordinary gifts to match their extraordinary mission.
They should be well read. Full stop (Period). They should be educated. Education has become a dirty word thanks to Palin and Co. The ShakesPalin routinely and ruefully disdains the antics of “East coast college graduates.” However, education is about much more than if, and where, one went to school.
One of our most inspired and inspiring Presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was largely self-taught. I was staggered to find that this great man had only received about 18 months of formal education, but he was an avid and lifelong reader. He pushed himself to read any and all that he could.
The works of Shakespeare were a firm Lincoln favourite, as were the treatises of ancient and modern philosophers. The man was an incredible thinker, as well as a remarkable and eloquent do-er.
Potential leaders should be well informed. Having and regularly using a passport would also be a bonus. At the very least they should know the difference between countries and continents.
They should be able to communicate effectively, with grace and decorum across a spectrum of society --and without the need to make up their own words.
Imagine Sarah Palin meeting the Dalai Lama.
After quizzing her minders, “Hey, who’s that dude in the sheet? Is he going to jihad me or what?” Without skipping a beat, she would no doubt burst into song: “Well, Hello Dalai!”
And the folks back home would just love it: “Oh, that Sarah, what a character!”
I recall a recent news clip wherein the BBC interviewed some of Palin’s supporters outside one of her book signings. “I just love her!” a woman squealed into the camera.
When asked which of Palin’s policies she found most significant, the woman paused, stared about her wildly, then turned to her fellow Palinites and pleaded: “Y’all are gonna to have to help me with that one, I don’t know!”
Like leader, like follower.
I long for the days when “character” actually meant something. When a leader was someone you admired, looked up to, and even revered in some way -- even if you disagreed with his/her principles and policies.
The Roosevelts. Churchill. Gandhi. Kennedy. Golda Meir. Mrs. Thatcher. The list could go on and on.
I rarely, if ever, agreed with former President George H. W. Bush (Bush 1.0) in terms of politics and policy, but the man was undeniably a statesman, a scholar and a gentleman.
I recall seeing him in an interview wherein he was asked to name writers/commentators whom he enjoyed reading. Of course he listed several Republican/conservative stalwarts, but he also added, with a smile, “Lightening may strike me, but I really enjoy Maureen Dowd. She’s an excellent writer.”
Maureen Dowd, a featured New York Times columnist (and a hero of mine) was the bane of Bush 1.0’s existence. She dogged his steps at every turn, filling pages and pages with adroitly woven and beautifully written critical analyses.
What a wonder, that the former President not only read her work, but appreciated her skill and ability, even as she used them to criticise him.
By contrast, Sarah Palin, who is clearly unable (she would say ‘inable’) to read in the first instance, would merely have made minced-meat of such as adversary, by calling into question their patriotism and morals. She would then swiftly and dexterously lead the charge in an attack against “the East coast, liberal, elitist, feminist media that has tore this place apart!” [Sic]
And indeed, all very sick.