h&f 0041 Titanic Overtones: How Obama Fans’ Pride Can Boost McCain/Palin Chances

Passenger Margaret Devaney said:

“I took passage on the Titanic for I thought it would be a safe steamship and I had heard it could not sink.”



New York, NY – First, a disclosure – I am an Obama voter.  However, I’m aiming to comment beyond partisanship.  Now, on with it…

It is quite interesting to look at how history writes the future time and again.

We verge on that today, as many Obama fans have declared the Palin vice-presidential prospect an immediate “win” for their side.   Easy bait, considering the glaring lack of experience that vice-presidents normally bring. [“I think she is the most inexperienced person on a major-party ticket in modern history,” said presidential historian Matthew Dallek. ]

Meanwhile, despite the myriad questions raised on her experience for the job, she gains strong advocates and increasing legitimacy.  Consider this excerpt from an editorial in the Christian Science Monitor: “Palin really is what Obama pretends to be, but is not: a citizen activist who entered politics in order to fight entrenched interests and bring about tangible, practical change.” 

Or, check this take on Politico.com:

“Fishing permit violations. A blue-collar husband who racked up a DUI citation as a 22-year-old. An unmarried teenage daughter who is pregnant and a nasty child custody battle involving a family member.  …’Authenticity is the most important characteristic for someone seeking public office,’ said Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association. ‘Any news that comes out about her is not going to hurt her because it reinforces the point that she is authentically one of us. ‘ All of this, to one degree or another, has surfaced in recent days as a result of efforts to discredit or undermine Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. But these revelations may have the opposite effect: In one sense, they could reinforce how remarkably unremarkable she is.  

For me, there is a huge distortion here, worth noting as an indicator of a much larger context. That is: an activist or, a “remarkably unremarkable” person is not a figure we should aspire to for the vice-presidential post.  I’m not talking about Palin per se or her job qualifications.  I don’t think you’ll find a job posting requiring those stated particulars that make her attractive.  I’m talking about us.  If we want a President and a Vice-President, we should demand exactly that.

Let an activist be an activist.  That is an honorable undertaking.  I’m not sure I would have wanted Martin Luther King Jr. as president.  Let a supposedly unremarkable person contribute somewhere else.  I know many “ordinary people” who have the kinds of unremarkable pedigrees absolutely well-suited to effect major change at levels lower than that of international government.  There’s no shame in that.

But, with respect to the highest offices in the land, we are seeing a  see a major shift in priorities.  We’ve lowered the standard for office to a proof of one’s humanity through rudimentary measuring systems: diners and guns. This shift places incentive to pander low in order to win.  If that can be accomplished with a nod to qualifications, so be it.  If not, no matter.  We are the drivers for this case, now openly requiring that our leaders be anti-intellectual underachievers or “just like us.”

I imagine, if we carried this thought into other arenas we’d all be doing our own plumbing, building our own houses, putting out our own fires, and bashing Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt for not slowing down to a pedestrian’s pace …so we could better identify with them.  Drat to all of that specialized high-performance elitism!  I want ME for president.

Politicians have been kissing babies for years, but that is not to say that pandering standards cannot be lowered to the extreme.  I can hear Rudyard Kipling’s sentiment coming to mind as a rebuttal here:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
‘ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

Yes, a President must be plain old people, too. 

But, I bet that Kipling wrote under the assumption that you couldn’t conjure humanity in the eating of 250 “lumberjack breakfasts” at local diners or by showing the world that you can drop a moose from 150 yards with a .243.  Those are things that we may find out, but they shouldn’t be the litmus tests for being down to earth.

So, that’s the Titanic scenario.  Obama’s ship can sink on the touch of a populist iceberg.  I’m not sure he’s buying into the hype, evidenced by his immediate hushing of the fan base now rumouring about Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy and his attempt to return to McCain and Palin’s qualifications.

But the arrogance of dismissing Palin and thus, not recognizing the new context in which we vote [this extreme populism, esp. as positioned against Obama’s alleged aloofness due, oddly enough, to his background and his literacy] combined with traditionally arrogant assumptions on points of belief, e.g. citing Palin’s espousing of creationism as a weakness [weakness in whose eyes?], could find many in for quite the swearing-in shock in January.

We vote on intuition and feeling.  That’s fact.  Or else we would have presidential spreadsheets to point to.  If you’re an Obama supporter, underestimating Palin is the pride that goes before destruction, the haughty spirit that goes before the fall.  If you are a McCain supporter, you should take heart in the fact that he has tapped into what really moves us, for better or for worse.  I think for worse.

Epilogue: If we keep this up, we’ll be left wanting for a real President – someone much smarter than the average citizen about that whole running a government thing, someone with no time to shake every hand, eat pancakes at your diner, or shoot guns with the regular folk …except on welcome coincidence.  If you meet him/her in those latter circumstances, at random, and don’t shake hands or pass some syrup together, then that would truly be the mark of the inauthentic. 

But we would have noticed long before that.


~ by ericjhenderson on September 2, 2008.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: