Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Making Sense of Sarah

Too much ink has been spilled on Sarah Palin. But since this is electronic, and therefore no ink is being spilled, here's a bit more:

One of the things that comes through in this Slate piece on Palin is that since she emerged on the national scene, everyone has been trying to make sense of her, in every sense of the term. Not only have the media, voters, and incredulous international observers been trying to make sense of her non-existent syntax, but of her, as a person and as a political phenomenon.

One of the questions that the emergence of the Marco Enríquez Ominiami candidacy in Chile raises is whether he actually represents a phenomenon. No matter how far off the mark Carlos Huneeus' public opinion polls are, he is right when he says that Ominami is not a phenomenon. He would be a phenomenon if there were evidence of massive public appeal (not 10 to 15%), of a movement developing around him, or if he truly came from nowhere to emerge as a viable presidential candidate. As a sitting deputy, married to a glamourous TV personality, as the son of a public icon, step-son of a senator, cousin of well known members of the Chilean elite, Enriquez Ominami did not come from nowhere.

Plus, he is smart, media savvy and coherent, at least in Spanish. Probably in French as well.

Palin, by contrast, was a phenomenon. She really did come from nowhere, and even though she was a governor, she was governor of a state that's in the middle of nowhere, and within that state she lived in a nowhere town. She was not the daughter of anyone (I suppose she was someone's daughter), and she was utterly unschooled in anything, including, apparently, English. As the recent Vanity Fair article shows, any claim that she was smarter or saner in private than her public persona would have us believe is simply untrue.

That she reached the heights she did, the following she built, the media attention she attracted, is amazing, and it makes her a phenomenon. It requires further study. Who, or what, catapulted her to the top? Her looks? Too sexist. Her political positions? Too radical, or undefined. Her party? Too divided. Her handling of the media? Maybe, when they weren't laughing at her.

It is a fascinating case study for contemporary American politics. That some members of her party still think she would be a good future candidate does not augur well for the Republicans or for American politics.

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