What Does John McCain's VP Pick Say About Us?
by Erin Aubry Kaplan
All my life I’ve resisted the philosophy of the Communist party members and other deeply disenchanted types that America is a lost cause. I’ve had my criticisms of this country, plenty of them. I still do. I don’t disagree too much with Communist Party’s analysis of America as a corporate plutocracy masquerading (very badly at this point) as a representative democracy.
But unlike the Party, I believe America can be redeemed. I believe it can change gears. I believe that beneath the rust and slime and infuriating hypocrisy is an ideal that’s battered but still intact, and we can save ourselves if we decide to use just a bit of it. I believe in a guiding light, even if we haven’t seen much wattage lately.
But with Alaska Governor Sarah Palin joined the Republican ticket as a vice-presidential candidate, I almost saw that light go out. The possibility I’ve believed in for the last 30 years felt, for the first time, like a complete sham, like I’d been believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
It’s not simply that Sarah Palin represents the worst American archetype out there—arrogant, cutthroat, contemptuous of any reality other than her own (which can often mean racist), smile-in-your-face smarmy, and proud of all of the above; it’s that this worst archetype represents so much of America itself.
I would like to believe Palin is on the fringe of our groupthink, but she isn’t. True, she doesn’t fully reflect all voters out there, with the exception of the rabid Christian right. But too many people identify with too many parts of her, whether it’s the Christian certitude, the unfettered ambition, the perky pitbull image, or most importantly, the blithe sense of entitlement and righteousness that markets itself as American chutzpah but is really white privilege with good PR.
Actually, white privilege in America is good PR. They’re the same thing. Whites get the fullest benefit of PR and the rest of us are always doing damage control, even when we haven’t done any damage.
Imagine, for a moment, if Barack Obama had chosen a personable but remarkably inexperienced running mate, like Snoop Dogg. Imagine Obama insisting that Snoop had the chops to run the country because he’s a wildly successful businessman and a “quick study.”
Imagine Obama touting Snoop’s commitment to his kids’ Pop Warner league as evidence that he’s just a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy and a devoted “football dad.” Imagine Snoop bragging about his small-town bonafides (he grew up in North Long Beach, one of a million small towns in and around L.A.)
Laughable, right? Right. So why is it that Sarah Palin isn’t equally laughable?
Why is her ignorance so charming, while black ignorance of any degree (associated heavily with hip-hop) so threatening? Forget ignorance for a moment--why is Barack Obama’s intelligence equally suspect?
The answer is that when it comes to marketing, that endeavor of American invention, there is no such thing as a really good Negro. There is no such thing as a Negro who credibly represents all of “us,” which we think of as hockey moms or lunch-bucket workers or Reagan Democrats. The distressing fact is, it doesn’t matter how credible Obama (or Snoop) is or isn’t, they can never be credible enough because of their color.
Sarah Palin only has to be as credible as a contestant on “American Idol,” and that’s evidently enough to capture our imagination. We eagerly lap up all the Palin details custom-built for mythology: the librarian up-do and glasses that coyly speaks to a beauty-pageant past, the red-carpet smile, the vague Minnesota accent.
What possibility, we say. Only in America could a relative (but good-looking) nobody come out of nowhere and nab the second-highest office in the land.
But I don’t want a nobody in that office. I don’t want an average hockey mom. Black or white, I want somebody qualified, knowledgeable, empathetic, even extraordinary.
Sarah Palin is none of those things, but the scariest part is, her supporters know that. But they’ll willingly swallow the hype because the alternative, putting a black man in charge (albeit with a white VP a hearbeat away), scares them—and a lot of us--even more.
That’s not possibility, that’s capitulation. Obama has said we’re a better country than we’ve been the last eight years. I’d like to believe him, but I have precious little belief in the country left. With the lack of light, my vision is getting dimmer all the time.