Sunday, October 5, 2008

Runaway Train (Eliza Gilkyson)

The Sarah Palin pity party
Everyone seems to be oozing sympathy for the fumbling vice-presidential nominee. Please. Cry me a freaking river.
By Rebecca Traister
Sept. 30, 2008

Is this the week that Democrats and Republicans join hands -- to heap pity on poor Sarah Palin?

At the moment, all signs point to yes, as some strange bedfellows reveal that they have been feeling sorry for the vice-presidential candidate ever since she stopped speaking without the help of a teleprompter. Conservative women like Kathleen Parker and Kathryn Jean Lopez are shuddering with sympathy as they realize that the candidate who thrilled them, just weeks ago, is not in shape for the big game. They're not alone. The New Republic's Christopher Orr feels that Palin has been misused by the team that tapped her. In the New York Times, Judith Warner feels for Sarah, too! And over at the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates empathizes with intelligence and nuance, making clear that he's not expressing pity. Salon's own Glenn Greenwald watched the Katie Couric interview and "actually felt sorry for Sarah Palin." Even Amy Poehler, impersonating Katie Couric on last week's "Saturday Night Live," makes the joke that Palin's cornered-animal ineptitude makes her "increasingly adorable."

I guess I'm one cold dame, because while Palin provokes many unpleasant emotions in me, I just can't seem to summon pity, affection or remorse.

Don't get me wrong, I'm just like all of the rest of you, part of the bipartisan jumble of viewers that keeps one hand poised above the mute button and the other over my eyes during Palin's disastrous interviews. Like everyone else, I can barely take the waves of embarrassment that come with watching someone do something so badly. Roseanne Barr singing the national anthem, Sofia Coppola acting in "The Godfather: Part III," Sarah Palin talking about Russia -- they all create the same level of eyeball-squinching discomfort.

But just because I'm human, just because I can feel, just because I did say this weekend that I "almost feel sorry for her" doesn't mean, when I consider the situation rationally, that I do. Yes, as a feminist, it sucks -- hard -- to watch a woman, no matter how much I hate her politics, unable to answer questions about her running mate during a television interview. And perhaps it's because this experience pains me so much that I feel not sympathy but biting anger. At her, at John McCain, at the misogynistic political mash that has been made of what was otherwise a groundbreaking year for women in presidential politics.

In her "Poor Sarah" column, Warner writes of the wave of "self-recognition and sympathy [that] washed over" her when she saw a photo of Palin talking to Henry Kissinger. Palin -- as "a woman fully aware that she was out of her league, scared out of her wits, hanging on for dear life" -- apparently reminded Warner of herself. Wow. Putting aside the massively depressing implication that Warner recognizes this attitude because she believes it to be somehow written into the female condition, let's consider that there are any number of women who could have been John McCain's running mate -- from Olympia Snowe to Christine Todd Whitman to Kay Bailey Hutchison to Elizabeth Dole to Condoleezza Rice -- who would not have provoked this reaction. Democrats might well have been repulsed and infuriated by these women's policy positions. But we would not have been sitting around worrying about how scared they looked.

In her piece, Warner diagnoses Palin with a case of "Impostor Syndrome," positing that admirers who watched her sitting across from world leaders at the U.N. last week were recognizing that "she can't possibly do it all -- the kids, the special-needs baby, the big job, the big conversations with foreign leaders. And neither could they." Seriously? Do we have to drag out a list of women who miraculously have found a way to manage to balance many of these factors -- Hillary Clinton? Nancy Pelosi? Michelle Bachelet? -- and could still explain the Bush Doctrine without breaking into hives? This is not breaking my heart. It is breaking my spirit.

The Atlantic's Coates takes a far smarter, but ultimately still too gentle, approach to Palin in his blog. He writes, compassionately, "There are a lot of us lefties who are guffawing right now and are happy to see Palin seemingly stumbling drunkenly from occasional interview to occasional interview." Coates asserts that McCain "[tossed] her to the wolves" and notes that while she surely had some agency in this whole mess, "where I am from the elders protect you, and pull you back when you've gone too far, when your head has gotten too big."

Where I come from, a woman -- and especially a woman governor with executive experience -- doesn't have to rely on any elder or any man to protect her and pull her ass out of the fire. She can make a decision all on her own. (Palin was more than happy to tell Charlie Gibson that she made her decision to join the McCain ticket without blinking.) I agree with Coates that the McCain camp was craven, sexist and disrespectful in its choice of Palin, but I don't agree that the Alaska governor was a passive victim of their Machiavellian plotting. A very successful woman, Palin has the wherewithal to move forward consciously. What she did was move forward thoughtlessly and overconfidently, without considering that her abilities or qualifications would ever be questioned.

Christopher Orr writes sympathetically about the scenario that Palin may have envisioned, in which she tours the country on the wave of adoration that buoyed her out of St. Paul and through a post-convention victory lap. In his mind, she might well have continued to give winning, grinning interviews, charming the pants off regular folks all across the country, if the accursed McCain campaign hadn't nervously locked her in a no-press-allowed tower. Orr compares Palin to a talented athlete who, as a result of being over-coached, doesn't soar to new physical heights but instead gets "broken down, [loses] confidence in his game, [becomes] tentative, second guessing himself even to the point of paralysis."

Surely if Palin's political muscles were as taut and supple as Orr suspects, the campaign would not have been so quick to put her on a special training regimen.

It was so predictable that we would get to a pity-poor-helpless-Sarah phase. The press was already warming up for it on the day McCain announced her as his running mate, when NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell speculated that McCain's choice was designed to declaw scrappy Joe Biden, whose aggressive style would come off as bullying next to the sweet hockey mom from Alaska. Now, of course, we know about the hockey moms and the pit bulls; the more-powerful-than-expected Palin juggernaut forestalled the pity/victim/mean boy/poor Sarah phase.

So here it is, finally. And as unpleasant as it may be to watch the humiliation of a woman who waltzed into a spotlight too strong to withstand, I flat out refuse to be manipulated into another stage of gendered regress -- back to the pre-Pelosi, pre-Hillary days when girls couldn't stand the heat and so were shooed back to the kitchen.

Next page: When you stage a train wreck of this magnitude, then I don't feel bad for you

SONG: Runaway Train by Eliza Gilkyson (scroll about 2/3 of the way down)

The Powers to Lead by Joseph S. Nye

POEM: The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered by Clive James

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am pleased.
In vast quantities it has been remaindered.
Like a van-load of counterfeit that has been seized
And sits in piles in a police warehouse,
My enemy's much-praised effort sits in piles
In the kind of bookshop where remaindering occurs.
Great, square stacks of rejected books and, between them, aisles
One passes down reflecting on life's vanities,
Pausing to remember all those thoughtful reviews
Lavished to no avail upon one's enemy's book—
For behold, here is that book
Among these ranks and the banks of duds,
These ponderous and seemingly irreducible cairns
Of complete stiffs.

The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I rejoice.
It has gone with bowed head like a defeated legion
Beneath the yoke.
What avail him now his awards and prizes,
The praise expended upon his meticulous technique,
His individual new voice?
Knocked into the middle of next week
His brainchild now consorts with the bad buys,
The sinkers, clinkers, dogs and dregs,
The Edsels of the world of movable type,
The bummers that no amount of hype could shift,
The unbudgeable turkeys.

Yea, his slim volume with its understated wrapper
Bathes in the glare of the brightly jacketed Hitler's War Machine,
His unmistakably individual new voice
Shares the same scrapyard with a forlorn skyscraper
Of The Kung-Fu Cookbook,
His honesty, proclaimed by himself and believed in by others,
His renowned abhorrence of all posturing and pretence,
Is there with Pertwee's Promenades and Pierrots—
One Hundred Years of Seaside Entertainment,
And (oh, this above all) his sensibility,
His sensibility and its hair-like filaments,
His delicate, quivering sensibility is now as one
With Barbara Windsor's Book of Boobs,
A volume graced by the descriptive rubric
'My boobs will give everyone hours of fun'.

Soon now a book of mine could be remaindered also,
Though not to the monumental extent
In which the chastisement of remaindering has been meted out
To the book of my enemy,
Since in the case of my own book it will be due
To a miscalculated print run, a marketing error—
Nothing to do with merit.
But just supposing that such an event should hold
Some slight element of sadness, it will be offset
By the memory of this sweet moment.
Chill the champagne and polish the crystal goblets!
The book of my enemy has been remaindered
And I am glad.

QUOTE: "You can't lead anyone else further than you have gone yourself." ~ Gene Mauch


  1. Susan!! Our *M* led me to your blog...and I love it..lots of meaty thinking...the poetry, the music, your profile words, the images....


  2. Hey, Catherine!!!

    You beat me to it - M told me about *your* new (ad)venture yesterday... and I've been meaning to stop over and comment (crazy weekend... :-)

    Thanks dearly for your kind words - welcome to the blogosphere... and I so look forward to checking in on your continued creativity (art and prose and photos, oh my!).

    P.S. Would love to add you to my blogroll, if that's okay... <3

  3. Add away Susan...I'm tickled each time I see a comment given that I thought blogging might just be a more acceptable way of talking to myself. Love the poem on this post: My enemy has been remaindered....!

  4. Hey, Catherine ~

    I know exactly what you mean - whenever anyone comments, it's a delightful surprise... :-)

    I got into blogging, inspired by M's site, as part-journal/part-scrapbook/part-therapy/part-exercise in creativity - mostly, it's a way to keep all the "stuff" that swirls around in my head (and inbox and dining room table) in one place!

    It's become a touchstone and a soundingboard when all else is unpredictable - I enjoy attempting to rise to the challenge... and appreciate the after-effects of calm, if that makes a bit of sense...

  5. I have no sympathy for Sarah Palin either - even though sympathy for the Devil is one of my favourite songs.

  6. Hey, Helena ~

    Now, why didn't I think of using that song title?!? - wicked woman (love it!).

    Ms. Palin is certainly a piece of work (in that shudder kinda way) - the people in my circle (and so many beyond) are doing everything in our power to make sure that, this November, good triumphs evil (or devil, in this case... :-)