Those who have read my most recent blog entries already know I was fortunate enough to attend Smart Girl Summit 2011 this past weekend. I signed up for it several months ago, aware at the time who some of the speakers would be. However, I didn’t really take a close look at the agenda until early last week. I recall reading a tweet or e-mail that the new movie about Sarah Palin, “Undefeated,” would be screened at the summit, but didn’t really give it much thought. I’d seen articles here and there about the movie previously and, to be honest, had pretty well tuned it out. I guess you could say I’ve been ambivalent at best about Palin recently.
I wasn’t always. In fact, at one time, I was giddily enthusiastic about her. I still recall the big grin spreading across my face on the morning McCain announced that he’d selected her to be his running mate. I was in my car, driving to the license bureau to renew my license. It was two days before my 40th birthday. I was already somewhat familiar with Palin. I’d seen articles about her, some brief interviews. I liked her. She seemed bright, energetic. A real go-getter. I knew she wasn’t much older than me, and had just recently had her fifth child while serving as Governor of Alaska. I also knew that she was enormously popular. So when her name was bandied about as a potential VP candidate, I found the idea intriguing. And when it appeared for all the world the night before the announcement that McCain was going to opt for Pawlenty, I was somewhat disappointed. He was so….vanilla.
When the announcement was made, I was happily surprised. Most conservatives I knew were less than excited about McCain being the nominee. It felt as though “The Maverick” had been foisted upon us, compliments of an agenda-driven media, ridiculous structural defects in the GOP primary process, and with a slimy assist from spoiler Mike Huckabee. He’d garner, at best, our reluctant support, more as the lesser-of-two-evils than anything approaching ideal. The Palin selection, however, appeared to be a much-needed shot in the arm for McCain. Suddenly, there was cause to be excited about the campaign. Not only because of Palin’s positives, but also because her very selection implied that McCain – or at least those running his campaign – were bold enough to think outside the box and had their eyes firmly focused on what it would take to push past the Obama juggernaut.
A friend I spoke to on the phone that morning expressed a bit of hesitancy about the selection of Palin. He didn’t know much about her and wondered about her resume. I quickly brought him up to date and explained why I believed she was exactly the breath of fresh air McCain so badly needed. There was a big McCain rally planned here on August 31st (my actual birthday), and now that I knew Palin would be part of the mix, I resolved to attend and take my daughter with me. I had a sense that this might just be part of history. A sense which was further reinforced when I later heard Palin give her acceptance speech. “Yes!” I thought. Oh, this was going to be good.
Over that weekend news broke of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy. Ruh-roh. This was a little troublesome. I had the utmost sympathy for the Palins regarding it – it certainly didn’t make me think less of Palin as a candidate – or as a mother for that matter. But I knew the sharks would circle and attack, and so they did. With a degree of viciousness that surprised me. That was a helluva lot of feeding-frenzied hate for someone who’d only just begun to wade into the water. I didn’t let it dampen my enthusiasm for the rally, however. The day before, I attended a smaller event hosted by the local talk radio station where folks were supposed to be able to pick up “VIP” passes to the rally. Waited in the hot, hot sun for an hour or so, and finally snagged our passes.
Being that Sunday was my birthday, my folks were planning on hosting family birthday dinner at their house that evening. I let my Mom know that my daughter and I might be a little on the late side, as we would be attending the McCain/Palin rally. I detected a cool note of disapproval on that one. (My parents are diehard Democrats.) But, hey, it was my birthday after all, right?!
Sunday afternoon, my daughter and I made our way out to the rally. The crowd was significantly larger than I think the organizers had originally anticipated. We had to park over a mile away and walk into the minor league baseball stadium where it was being held. And it was very, very hot. As a six year old, my daughter’s interest in politics was virtually nil. Still, she was somewhat excited about this adventure – especially when I told her a bit about Sarah Palin. And she was a good sport, despite the long trek, the heat, and the obscenely long line we were forced to wait in just to get cotton candy and a drink. I never did figure out how to parlay our VIP passes into anything remotely approaching a decent perch, but once the guests of honor arrived, that didn’t really matter. We could hear them just fine.
There were several “warm up” acts – other candidates and local politicians. Then the headliners. I can’t recall anymore whether McCain spoke before or after Palin. What I do know is that there was a palpable buzz of excitement attributable purely to her. The crowd went wild when she began to speak. We couldn’t see her well from where we were, but there was a Jumbotron. I noticed she was wearing her hair down, rather than in its trademark “up do”, and she had a gorgeous white jacket/suit on. She looked professional and cool, even in the heat. She got the crowd seriously fired up. I was glad we’d had a chance to be there.
The family was all waiting on us for dinner. We arrived about 45 minutes late, hot, tired and somewhat bedraggled. I was still pretty excited about the rally, but they weren’t particularly interested in it. What little discussion there was regarding Palin centered on some of the negatives they’d already been hearing about her. I believe it was my sister who raised the concern about her religious views – was this a “bible thumper”? Someone who’d push for something akin to theocracy? I really wasn’t interested in spending dinner defending Palin or my affinity for her. I basically left it at, “Well, I like her. This should be interesting.”
Over the next several weeks, the feeding frenzy intensified. It wasn’t long at all before it was quite apparent what a lightning rod Palin had become. From those on the left, there was a visceral, knee-jerk reaction of disdain. She was alternately painted as an out-of-her-league ditz or a nutty Church Lady. At the same time, the disturbing trend of some on the right was to place her on a pedestal and brook no criticism of her whatsoever. Forget comparisons to Reagan – in some quarters, she was becoming the modern, female equivalent of Christ himself. Not only did I find this annoying – it was concerning. That degree of hero worship is unhealthy and, in my observation, often counter-productive to a campaign’s success.
People quickly lined up in the pro or con camp, and one’s thoughts on Palin became a sort of litmus test. And middle ground was hard to claim and maintain. I did my best. I’ve always bristled at being labeled. I wanted to be able to make a case for her without being branded a starry-eyed fan girl. Repeatedly, though, I found myself defending her. The sheer volume of crap being lobbed at her was stunning to me. Even my own mother, a woman I love deeply and admire greatly and would never characterize as petty or mean-spirited, bared her claws. On the day my daughter had school pictures, she opted to wear her hair in an “up do.” I found this amusing, and when I relayed it to my Mom, was taken aback at her response. “Oh, God – not like that Sarah Palin?!” Really? Seriously? I frequently wear my hair clipped up. I assumed my daughter got the idea from me. There was no political statement being made. But to Palin is where my Mom’s thoughts immediately went.
And it wasn’t just those on the left who reacted so negatively toward her. There were more than a few on the right who, rather than take up for her and applaud the energy and enthusiasm she brought to the table or the policy stances with which many of them otherwise agreed, turned their noses up and sniffed at her lack of Ivy League pedigree and her unconventional approach. They couldn’t seem to get past the fact that she was no cookie-cutter GOP candidate. She was an outsider, an “other”. For some reason, her very presence at the table threatened people.
One thing I found myself liking about her more and more was her seeming ability to take a blow and swing back around and use it to her advantage. At the time, I was blogging at a political message board I belonged to. One Sunday, inspiration hit and I authored a piece about that very skill of hers. It flowed easily, and I was pleased with the final product:
That Moose Don’t Hunt
September 14, 2008
In 1983, Democratic Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder said this of Ronald Reagan:
“After carefully watching Ronald Reagan, I can see he’s attempting a great breakthrough in political technology. He has been perfecting the Teflon-coated presidency. He sees to it that nothing sticks to him. He is responsible for nothing.”
This was, of course, intended as a criticism; a pointed tine, designed to scrape off a bit of Reagan’s polished veneer. Ironically, the pointy part didn’t leave its intended mark. Instead, it bounced back off the pan, and a Teflon exterior became yet another attribute for which Reagan was admired.
In fact, as Schroeder later noted, “I was hoping people would say, “Yes, he is commander in chief, he should be responsible.” Instead people said, “Yes, that is a Teflon coat. How do I get one of those?”
Comparisons have been drawn, of late, between Sarah Palin and Ronald Reagan. Michael Reagan even penned a column titled, “Welcome Back, Dad,” in response to her rousing convention speech. And there certainly are some similarities between the two.
However, I would submit that Palin’s coat (typically NOT a fur, as she prefers those on her wall, or draped decoratively over her office couch) is not tipped in Teflon, but rather something akin to Flubber.
Since her August 29th debut as John McCain’s Vice-Presidential pick, all manner of slings and arrows have been hurled at Governor Palin, none of which appear to stick. But they don’t merely slide off of her – many of them, instead, appear to bounce right back at their respective hurlers. Sneer at her experience as a “small-town mayor,” and tick off the denizens of small-town America. (You know – the folks who bitterly cling to their guns and Bibles, and don’t give a rat’s patootie what arugula costs.) Wonder, patronizingly, if she can truly be an effective leader while still taking care of her *ahem* larger than “normal” family, and incur the wrath of millions of multi-tasking, hard-working, butt-busting moms across the country. Make a careless lipstick on a pig reference right on the (well-appointed) heels of her hockey-mom/pit-bull joke and sink from enlightened, noble inspiration to petty, panicked, “typical” politician. Stare down your bespectacled nose at HER “hubris,” and expose your own biased agenda for all to see.
Palin’s no absent-minded professor, though, who managed to cook up an anti-gravitational batch of “right backatcha.” The secret to her resiliency, I believe, is her authenticity. She is REAL. She isn’t an Ivy League intellectual, who ponders, reflects and pontificates. She isn’t a battered war hero, who regularly rubs even those in her own party the wrong way. She is, in many respects, an Everywoman. (Sorry, Oprah – she may have stolen Obama’s thunder, but I think she swiped YOUR theme song.)
And for millions of American voters, her being someone to whom they can truly relate makes any attempts to bring her down – especially those aimed at the very things about her which make her so real and relatable – all the more repugnant. Their reflexive response is not to pile on, but rather to turn on her attackers; to direct their distrust – and even their ire – right back at the source.
So, word to the wise, for the Obama Campaign and those in the media whose agenda leans left (though you’ve long since lost the integrity and capacity for intellectual honesty which would permit you to acknowledge it): You may want to rethink the throw-everything-at-her/nothing-is-out-of-bounds approach. ‘Twould appear that moose don’t hunt.
Pleased, that is, until someone I considered a close friend, and an excellent writer, weighed in with his critique. He was among those in the anti-Palin camp. Though he’d couched his criticisms in more refined terms than many, it was clear she got under his skin and grated on him. He was, at heart, a product of his East Coast liberal upbringing. And though his views had moderated somewhat rightward over time, one concept which really seemed to baffle him was the contrast between flyover country (Middle Earth, is it?) and the coasts – the people, the attitudes. Palin and her appeal truly puzzled him, and I imagine watching a number of his friends fawn over her and sing her praises got to be a bit too much. So when he saw the opportunity to take a stand against it, he did. His comments regarding my blog cut me more than they should have, and the whole exchange dealt a serious blow to our friendship. It also put me off blogging for nigh on two years. To be fair, that’s not on him – that’s on me. I allowed my own insecurities and sensitivities to get the better of me. Unfortunately, Palin became associated with a very hurtful episode in my life, and I suspect that played a role in my beginning to distance myself from her.
Still, as the election drew nearer, there were certain levels of craziness I couldn’t resist stepping back up to combat. For instance, the fellow message board poster who prided himself on his intellect and rational thought process who apparently started channeling Andrew Sullivan and staunchly maintained that Trig Palin was not in fact Sarah Palin’s child. He laid out all manner of evidence in support of this theory, most notably, the fact that her ankles did not appear swollen in a photograph taken when she was around seven months pregnant. There’s not much you can do but shake your head in the face of that level of Palin Derangement Syndrome, but it still struck me as bizarre, the lengths to which some would go to discredit the woman. Lost in most of this was any sincere, substantive discussion regarding her policy positions. Heaven forbid she be accorded even the slightest smidge of credibility.
After the election, I confess I felt relieved in some respects. Now maybe she could return to her home state and get back down to the business of governing, as she’d done so effectively in the past. Sadly, that isn’t how things shaped up. When I learned of her decision to step down, I was sorely disappointed. On some level, I understood the reasons she gave, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this would permanently brand her a quitter and haunt her for the rest of any political career she sought. That, combined with a growing degree of Palin burn-out and prompted me to withdraw from the Palin arena. Others could continue to do battle over her. I was done. I felt badly for her in many respects, but I also felt let down by her, and by the promise she’d once held but been unable to deliver.
From that point on, when Palin’s name was mentioned, I’d either refrain from comment, or say something non-committal. “There are a lot of things about her I like, but….” Yada, yada, yada. I took the safe road. No sense in getting burned by standing too close to the lightning rod.
And so, as I alluded at the beginning of this piece, I wasn’t all that interested when I learned that “Undefeated” would be screened at Smart Girl Summit. I didn’t know much about it, frankly. I assumed it was a Palin-backed propaganda piece, and that, in and of itself, turned me off a bit. She isn’t in the race, but here she was going on this bus tour, and putting out this film. Was she just playing games? Playing “hard to get”? There’s too much at stake here for that.
I was so tired on Saturday, I seriously thought about skipping the movie. But something Andrew Breitbart said during his Q&A session caught my attention. He talked about the fact that so few in the GOP – especially at the leadership levels – seemed inclined to back up the folks who were actually doing the heavy lifting. Himself. Palin. It struck me that he was right about that. No one could seriously argue that they hadn’t been out there on the front lines, hadn’t been bloodied. The least I could do was sit and watch the film.
And so I did. And as I did, I found myself overcome with a very unexpected emotion: shame. As I relived her story, the relatively humble beginnings, the young mother who decided to get involved and then rose and met each challenge that came her way, the can-doer who won office repeatedly with odds stacked heavily against her, the fearless fighter who took on corruption, the wildly popular and successful Governor, the exhilarating and scrappy Vice Presidential candidate, I was reminded of all the reasons I’d admired her. And as I watched the absolute hatred and viciousness directed at her from all sides, the zeal with which many sought to take her down – yes, like the zebra set upon by the lions – I could not escape the realization that it was I who had let her down. Not personally. I am but one lowly fiscal conservative/social moderate/with libertarian leanings, far removed from her world, far from influential in any meaningful way. But I stopped standing up for her. And for the principles and values she’s fought so very hard for. I became complacent and allowed others to badmouth her and besmirch her character without so much as the slightest challenge, without any effort to persuade them to stop, take a step back, and consider any of it.
There may be many eunuchs in the GOP who’ve abandoned her to cover their own political backsides. But what does that make me? In many respects, Sarah Palin is me: She’s close to me in age, a PTA Mom, a Christian, a runner, a professional, a true believer in America and the principles upon which it was founded. The difference is, she’s a fighter. And I have been…a coward. Rather than following her lead and boldly exhibiting the courage of my convictions, I allowed myself to become discouraged – DIS-couraged. I’ve rationalized this by noting that in my line of work, and considering some of the career aspirations I possess, sticking my neck out and taking a clear stand could be dangerous. I have a daughter to support, a mortgage to pay, a house to try and keep from falling down. I can’t afford to take risks like that. I need that security. But at what cost?
I alluded to this in my second SGS11 recap blog – the recurring theme about each one of us having not only the ability but the responsibility to stand up and fight for the things we hold dear. Not for fame or glory or validation. But because it’s what’s right. I’m not certain of the movie’s run-time, but I do know that for much of it, I found myself fighting back tears. Because I am ashamed – I’m ashamed of my fellow human beings who’ve made it their life’s work to tear down and destroy those who dare fight for and take pride in our great nation. I’m ashamed of my fellow conservatives who’ve abandoned one of the greatest champions for the conservative cause because it was politically expedient to do so. And I’m ashamed of myself – for not fighting like a girl. For not fighting at all.
I haven’t yet figured out what this revelation will or should translate into in my life. I only know that I’m no longer comfortable sitting back and letting others do battle for me. So, to those who question whether “Undefeated” is worth a watch, my answer is, “Yes. Unless you lack the courage.”