23 July 2010

Smart is sexy, Dumb is just dangerous

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.

Simplicity.

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.

8 comments:

Anne-Margaret said...

HERE HERE!

soggibottom said...

I know I should have read the rest of your post... but the name Sarah Palin kind of jump out at me... you must have lived here long enough now... ha ha ha ha....
and it was me that visited the witch museum at Boscastle during the week . x x x

ML Awanohara said...

Thank you for that stinging analysis. I am an American woman who has done what you did (lived in the heart of the UK) but am now back in the USA. I can honestly say that Sarah Palin and her gang of women is one of the phenomena (yes, I know the plural and am proud of it) that makes me feel the most like Rip Van Winkle. Since when did education become so devalued in this country? etc., etc.

In fact, I just now referred to Palin on my own blog, called Seen the Elephant. It focuses on the experiences of those who have been there and done that and then try to come home again. (I have just now added your blog to my blog roll!)

In essence, I'm a bit miffed that Palin stole the "pink elephant" metaphor for her Mama Grizzlies (a rather strange cocktail of metaphors, when you come to think of it).

But from reading your post, I see that she couldn't care less about the original meaning of the idiom. What counts is that she's successfully expropriated the term for her own purpose. Goodness, she's a piece of work!

But as much as I've enjoyed, indeed savored, your account of ShakesPalin, I have also had one niggling thought, which I think comes from my close reading of another New York Times columnist, David Brooks. (I like Maureen as well, but both Krugman and Brooks have been more helpful in terms of overcoming my Rip Van Winkle complex.) Brooks had a thought-provoking column at the end of May on how it's hard for any leader, even one as bright as Obama, to monitor what goes on in our "imponderably complex" societies--a column that of course was inspired by the Gulf oil spill.

I wonder if, under those conditions, you get the field opening up to any Tom, Dick, or Sarah? Not so much because people prefer to have things dumbed down but because smarts no longer seem to help?

Kneazle1 said...

Hear! Hear!

Jana said...

Dear crafty, smarty-pants Elitist American girl in England,
I like her and what she stands for - conservatism.
You sound jealous of her, and her accomplishments. Of course the BBC is going to find a stupid woman to quote - they HATE Palin too, and are going to paint all her supporters with a broad brush of ignorance. They hate Bush just as bad. The BBC is very biased against any Republican.
I'm glad you didn't list Obama on your list of people with "character", at least on that point we can both agree. Based on your beloved Obama's performance I would have to say that he is 90% charisma and 10% substance.

Ella said...

"They hate bush just as bad"

Dear me Jana, you just proved your allegiance in more ways than one.

Excellent blog, eloquently written.

Noel Reasoner said...

Dear Dangerous Palin Supporter (Jana),

I would consider myself a crafty, smarty-pants Americcan girl (certainly not an elitist as I am merely a school teacher) living in the land of freedom, where, yes, even the likes of people like you are free to worship Palin. You say that you like what Palin stands for, which is conservatism, which irks me beyond belief. Why do Republicans think that they have a cornerstone on the term "conservative." Palin does not exude conservative to me, even though she wears the nerdy librarian glasses and the dowdy Barbara Bush suits.

Let me dare ask: Do you consider a person who claims to be a prophet of God conservative? By mere definition, someone who is conservative is someone who is void of showiness and traditional in style and manner. What is traditional about a person who claims that God has spoken to her to deliver a message as she did when she spoke to a group of young people in 2002 at her beloved Wasilla Assembly of God church? By the way, I actually listened to the tape, not on Palin-bashing BBC, but on Palin-Glorifying Fox News- the ultra-Republican channel, which I am sure you are familiar with. Palin also claims to have spoken in tongues while attending this church, and her minister "laid his hands on her" to ward off any evil spirits. Oh yeah, he also prayed for campaign donations with his hand on her forehead while she was running for Governor of the state of Alaska, all of which can be seen on You Tube. It's pretty distrubing to watch.

Frankly, the fact that she seems to be a moron and that many people in the USA love her does not surprise me at all. Many people loved Bush 2.0 and he was just as stupid. The fact that she loves shooting animals with an oozie of some sort from a helicopter (where is the adventure in that sport?) is a matter of taste level (meaning hers is pretty low.) Again, I am not surprised that Republicans think this is "awesome, dude." After all, at the expense of 78 year old Harry Whittington, Rublicans seemed to get a kick out of the fact that the Vice President shot him when they were bird hunting. "I guess old Harry shouldn't have taken off in flight" must have been the "conservative" point of view.

I won't even address the unwed mother thing... I guess that Chelsea Clinton rebelled against liberalism when she decided to get married first, then think about having a baby. How "conservative" of her. Democrats should be ashamed. Of course, supporters laid blame on Palin being so busy being Governor and all that she didn't havee time to stay home to supervise her offspring. In reality, according to the state of Alaska, she only spent 37% of her term at the capital. Maybe we should blame the "My Guys" hobbies she embraced. The Pit Bull with Lipstick needs to step away from the oozie and take care of her children so they won't end up like their sister. Hey, there's a conservative idea!

I do have to agree that the majority of Palin supporters have been painted with a broad brush of ignorance... a sort of guilt by association deal. The fact of the matter is that according to Palin's IQ, she has a lower score than an average American, so I must give the average supporters credit for being smarter than she is.

This is the conundrum... If given the choice between a stupid, yet (by your definition) conservative Palin or an ultra intelligent, yet scoundral (someone like Bill Clinton) making life altering decisions for me, I'd put my life in Slick Willy's hands. Enough said.

Noel Reasoner said...

Dear Dangerous Palin Supporter (Jana),

I would consider myself a crafty, smarty-pants Americcan girl (certainly not an elitist as I am merely a school teacher) living in the land of freedom, where, yes, even the likes of people like you are free to worship Palin. You say that you like what Palin stands for, which is conservatism, which irks me beyond belief. Why do Republicans think that they have a cornerstone on the term "conservative." Palin does not exude conservative to me, even though she wears the nerdy librarian glasses and the dowdy Barbara Bush suits.

Let me dare ask: Do you consider a person who claims to be a prophet of God conservative? By mere definition, someone who is conservative is someone who is void of showiness and traditional in style and manner. What is traditional about a person who claims that God has spoken to her to deliver a message as she did when she spoke to a group of young people in 2002 at her beloved Wasilla Assembly of God church? By the way, I actually listened to the tape, not on Palin-bashing BBC, but on Palin-Glorifying Fox News- the ultra-Republican channel, which I am sure you are familiar with. Palin also claims to have spoken in tongues while attending this church, and her minister "laid his hands on her" to ward off any evil spirits. Oh yeah, he also prayed for campaign donations with his hand on her forehead while she was running for Governor of the state of Alaska, all of which can be seen on You Tube. It's pretty distrubing to watch.

Frankly, the fact that she seems to be a moron and that many people in the USA love her does not surprise me at all. Many people loved Bush 2.0 and he was just as stupid. The fact that she loves shooting animals with an oozie of some sort from a helicopter (where is the adventure in that sport?) is a matter of taste level (meaning hers is pretty low.) Again, I am not surprised that Republicans think this is "awesome, dude." After all, at the expense of 78 year old Harry Whittington, Rublicans seemed to get a kick out of the fact that the Vice President shot him when they were bird hunting. "I guess old Harry shouldn't have taken off in flight" must have been the "conservative" point of view.

I won't even address the unwed mother thing... I guess that Chelsea Clinton rebelled against liberalism when she decided to get married first, then think about having a baby. How "conservative" of her. Democrats should be ashamed. Of course, supporters laid blame on Palin being so busy being Governor and all that she didn't havee time to stay home to supervise her offspring. In reality, according to the state of Alaska, she only spent 37% of her term at the capital. Maybe we should blame the "My Guys" hobbies she embraced. The Pit Bull with Lipstick needs to step away from the oozie and take care of her children so they won't end up like their sister. Hey, there's a conservative idea!

I do have to agree that the majority of Palin supporters have been painted with a broad brush of ignorance... a sort of guilt by association deal. The fact of the matter is that according to Palin's IQ, she has a lower score than an average American, so I must give the average supporters credit for being smarter than she is.

This is the conundrum... If given the choice between a stupid, yet (by your definition) conservative Palin or an ultra intelligent, yet scoundral (someone like Bill Clinton) making life altering decisions for me, I'd put my life in Slick Willy's hands. Enough said.