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Jewish World Review
July 9, 2009
/ 17 Tamuz 5769
We hardly knew ye, Sarah
In the beginning, Sarah Palin was the anti-politician. When all the nation's political ills emanated from Washington, she possessed an antidote from Wasilla. When Congress was debilitated by an addiction to earmarks, she threatened a fiscal intervention. When too many men confused power with beauty, she was an attractive woman who fought the good-old-boy system.
All this, in heels, was ominous enough. But there was one more menace the entire political establishment not just its liberal multitude really couldn't countenance. Palin was a commoner.
She didn't have an Ivy League pedigree. She did attend community college and a state university. She didn't have the fashion sense of East Coast elitists who shop at Bergdorf Goodman or the cultural affinities of West Coast elitists who patronize Rodeo Drive. She came from a different coast where, as one politician told members of refined society, people cling to guns and religion.
The cultivated set expected "Caribou Barbie" to melt before the cameras like a Wicked Witch of the Wild West. Instead, in her debut at the Republican National Convention 10 months ago, Palin was fresh, charming, even witty. Remember the one about the difference between hockey moms and pit bulls? Lipstick.
The Culture War Alert Warning System immediately went to Defcon 1. People who knew nothing about Sarah Palin, other than that she was not one of them, contrived every imaginable attack on her, her husband, her children, her church even her womb.
Feminists declared that the mother of five was not an authentic woman. Politicians avowed that the governor of Alaska was not a real executive. Scandalous and unsubstantiated Internet rumors about Palin percolated into the mainstream press that would have been ignored or suppressed in the case of a liberal candidate.
For Palin supporters, all this merely made her seem more endearing. Undecided voters and even people who didn't care for Palin's politics began to resent the snobbish, condescending assault.
Millions of Americans who have a legitimate distrust of the political process kept faith that the former small-town mayor could direct a 21st century sequel to a Frank Capra classic. This time, Mrs. Smith was going to Washington. Some Republicans even wondered aloud whether the wrong name was atop the GOP ticket.
Then there was silence. And more silence. For weeks after her acceptance speech in St. Paul, Palin was nowhere to be seen or heard. The silence was eventually broken by disastrous interviews in which she demonstrated not anti-intellectualism, but instead ignorance. Finally, Palin accomplished the unimaginable: She made Joe Biden look articulate and statesmanlike in the vice presidential debate.
By Election Day, Palin was no longer the fresh or charming and certainly not witty anti-hero of American politics. After an initial triumph, her performance on the national stage was more than a severe disappointment for citizens who wanted their interests not only special interests represented. For the arrogant, it also validated pretentious beliefs about who is fit to serve and lead this nation.
It was this same stale, irritating and stultifying politician who went before the cameras on a holiday Friday an old political trick to announce that she was resigning as governor because … well, who can tell? Her stream-of-consciousness discussion of sports metaphors, rhetorical boilerplate and self-pity was even less coherent than her campaign ramblings.
Palin's dismal vice presidential run did inestimable harm to the American tradition of egalitarianism. Her decision to abandon the governor's office when the going got tough is another nail in the coffin of the Republican brand. Only the most cynical Democrat could hope she is not retiring from public service.
In the end, that was no maverick in front of a float plane last Friday. It was just a conventional pol, without the Ivy League pedigree, doing what politicians do best thinking of herself first.
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JWR contributor Jonathan Gurwitz, a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News, is a co-founder and twice served as Director General of the Future Leaders of the Alliance program at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. In 1986 he was placed on the Foreign Service Register of the U.S. State Department.
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© 2009, Jonathan Gurwitz