Thursday, September 4, 2008

She's selling God, family, and the small-town, working/middle class dream, but are we buying?

I watched Sarah Palin's speech last night. I feel a little guilty about it since I didn't make time to watch any speeches at the Democratic convention last week, though I caught a few on NPR during my drive time. I made time to watch Palin last night because I wanted not only to hear what she had to say (I could have gotten the content later on a transcript), but because I wanted to have the entire Palin experience, if you will. I wanted to see her, observe her as a public speaker, and hear the partisan crowd's response. Like much of the rest of the country, apparently, her selection has gotten my attention. I'm intrigued.

I have to tell you, however, that I was not impressed with the content of what Palin said, nor was I particularly impressed with how she said it. She's a fine public speaker, but not a masterful one. Of course, my response to her speech may be primarily based on my disagreement with her on many issues -- beginning with the three E's: environment, energy policy, and the economy. Sure, the convention delegates were delighting in her recitation of standard Republican platitudes, but that's all the speech was -- that and grandstanding around her role as an "average hockey mom" and P.T.A. participant. Playing up her small-business credentials based on her sister and brother-in-law having just opened a service station seemed a bit contrived to me, but as I've already acknowledged, I'm a bit biased.

The network commentator said following her speech that it is traditional for the speaker's family to come onto stage at that time, and Palin's husband, five children, and soon-to-be son-in-law were soon there surrounding her. Even to my somewhat cynical eye, they were attractive and appealing -- never mind the irresistable, "ohhhhh, isn't that sweet" vignettes of 7-year-old Piper smoothing the hair of infant Trig, which peppered NBC's coverage of Palin's speech. (Speaking of the media, did you see the front page photo in today's national print edition of the New York Times, which showed McCain greeting Bristol Palin, her fiance, Levi Johnston, and Mom Sarah? The front page of today's Sacramento Bee showed the Palin brood on stage last night after the speech, with dad Todd gazing lovingly at his 4-month-old son. Neither photo is now available online for me to post here. The point of my comments, of course, is to ask whether Palin is being pitched to us primarily as a public servant, or primarily as a Mom. There were lots of other photos of Palin that both media outlets could have whacked on thier front pages).

But if general rhetoric about God, family, and the middle-class struggle is what Palin and her party are selling as good government, I'm not buying. Don't get me wrong. I love God and family, and I have a first-hand appreciation of working class struggles. I just support different solutions than Palin's regarding how to help the middle and working classes, regardless of whether they are in conventional families.

Palin seems like a decent person with many, many talents, strong personal convictions, and a lovely family, but that doesn't mean I want her to be Vice President. I acknowledge that everyday experiences such as raising children represent a valuable skill set, but it doesn't mean that I necessarily want an "average hockey mom" to be governing the country. An extraordinary hockey mom might do the trick for me, but only if her positions on a range of critical issues were closer to my own. I fully appreciate the Palin family's middle class existence (the governor of Alaska makes only $125K, and as mayor of Wasilla she earned about half of that), but Palin has drawn from her life experiences stances with which I strongly disagree. As one commentator said today, she stands for "I've got mine, now you get yours and get out of my way."

So where does this past week's Palinmania leave us? apparently it leaves a lot of "us" preoccupied with Palin as mother -- intrigued, charmed, inspired. I share some of those feelings. But my bottom line is that I strongly disagree with a great deal of what she and McCain want for this country. And those substantive issues -- not the visceral appeal of her charming family and her middle-class, small-town background -- will determine my vote.

No comments: