Leonard Pitts Jr. / Syndicated columnist
Sarah Palin and the mean wink
Sarah Palin's recent campaign attacks have grown increasingly strident and divorced from reality as John McCain's poll numbers have gone south.
Maybe you remember "Dave."
It was a 1993 movie starring Kevin Kline as Dave Kovic, an everyday guy who happens to be a dead ringer for the president. When the chief executive is stricken, his aides secretly recruit Dave to fill in for him. Problem is, Dave quickly begins to lose himself in the role. There's a wonderful scene where, trying to find money in the federal budget to fund a homeless shelter, Dave turns to his friend Murray, an accountant, for help.
"Who does these books?" asks Murray after taking an adding machine to the budget. "If I ran my business this way, I'd be out of business."
Like "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" in 1939, the central conceit of "Dave" is that what Washington needs is a jolt of reality from everyday people. As a movie, that's a charming idea. As real life, it has proved frightening and bizarre.
But we will talk more about Sarah Palin in a moment.
First, let's concede the obvious: Every politician wants to be seen as Everyman or woman. That's why every primary season brings the curious sight of millionaires in plaid shirts wandering through county fairs eating fried things on sticks. It's why Hillary Clinton hit that bar and Barack Obama went bowling, badly.
In that sense, Sarah Six Pack is nothing new. The "g" droppin', moose shootin', eye-winkin' hockey mom has plenty of antecedents. But there's a difference. Those antecedents were smart, wonkish people pretending to be one of us. Sarah Palin "is" one of us.
And by "us," I don't mean you, necessarily, or me. I mean the lowest common denominator us, the us of myth and narrative, the us of simple mind, the reactionary, ill-informed, impatient with complexity, utterly shallow us.
You think that's mean? Go back and look at the Katie Couric interviews again. Or the Charlie Gibson interview. I don't know about you, but I want a vice president who can identify Supreme Court rulings she disagrees with. Or define the Bush Doctrine. Or name a newspaper. Or — heck, I'm not picky — construct an intelligible English-language sentence.
Even many of her most ardent admirers no longer dispute that Sarah Six Pack is, shall we say, incurious. What's striking is how little that seems to matter. A McCain spokeswoman suggested before the vice presidential debate that it would be unfair to question Palin, "a woman who could be president," too closely on foreign policy. And when thinking conservatives (remember when the adjective was not necessary?) like Kathleen Parker and David Brooks declared Palin unfit for office, they were shouted down by their ideological brethren. Parker got e-mail she called "vicious and threatening." Brooks was dismissed by another pundit as a "conservative intellectual."
You're left to wonder when intellectuals — thinking people, for goodness sake! — became the enemy. Are we to regard unthinking conservatives (will that adjective soon be superfluous?) as the only true conservatives? Indeed, the only true Americans?
One gets that sense from Palin's recent campaign appearances. Her attacks have grown increasingly strident and divorced from reality as John McCain's poll numbers have gone south. She blames Katie Couric, and not herself, for her inability to answer fair questions. She frames Obama as some exotic unknown with terrorist associations.
And the rabble duly rouses. They boo Couric, which is not unlike booing Mickey Mouse. They scream death threats. Someone addresses an African-American sound man for one of the networks with a racial epithet and screams, "Sit down, boy!"
There is an ugliness here. It is disguised as decency, disguised as politics, but it is only ugliness, mean and raw and given license by the desperation of a man who used to be honorable and a woman who said she was just like us. And for the record: It's not a movie.
I only wish it were.
Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
2008, The Miami Herald