Filed under: Women of Campaign 2008 | Tags: Cinderella story, Disney, Matt Damon, Politics, Sarah Palin
We are a nation that loves princesses. Just ask my two-year-old niece, Neve, who rarely sits still, but is somehow hypnotized by the image of “Cindalella” swirling across her TV screen. Or ask any of my fellow Wellesley alumnae with daughters, who have tried in vain to fight the rising tide of princess mania. Or there is, of course, the simple evidence of this most recent Halloween, where every fourth piece of candy was distributed to a Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Snow White, or Jasmine. Despite the economic crisis, this was certainly the year of tulle and the tiara.
We are also a nation that loves Sarah Palin (another 2008 Halloween favorite): we love to love her, love to hate her, love to laugh about her, love to watch her. In a year that was already forged with political emotions, due to the virulent reaction to the Bush legacy, the historical promise of the Obama candidacy, and the unexpected demise of the Clinton campaign, when Palin joined the McCain ticket she became an unprecedented emotional lightning rod. For some (like my mom) this emotion was a visceral reaction to Governor Palin’s approachability: her “aw shucks” folksiness; her can-do approach as a mother of five; her unapologetic Christianity; her girl-next-door youth and good looks. But for others (like me), there was the shuddering horror at Palin’s lack of basic knowledge about domestic and world affairs, her questionable political pedigree, her rhetorically narrow vision of patriotism.
Two visions of Sarah: one of adulation, one of fear. Both extremes might have disappeared last week when she returned to Alaska after her defeat, back to her frozen exile of gas pipelines, political scandals, moose hunting, troublesome brother-in-laws, and snow machine races. But instead, she remains in the public eye, still very much a part of the zeitgeist. Journalists have flocked to Juneau to see if she might run for Ted Stevens’ senate seat; pundits have speculated about a future career in television; she has even received the longed-for summons from Oprah. But why, some might say? She failed. She should become a political footnote, like Dan Quayle. McCain’s loss has been (rightly or wrongly) attributed to her candidacy. So why can’t we let her go?
And then I realized: it all comes back to princesses. Gosh, Matt Damon was right. It’s Disney’s fault.
Perhaps many of you will remember Mr. Damon’s now infamous comments about the Palin candidacy back on September 10 (oh so politically long ago): “It’s like a really bad Disney movie–‘The Hockey Mom’; you know, ‘oh, I’m just a hockey mom from Alaska,’ and she’s facing down President Putin and using the folksy stuff she learned at the hockey rink. It’s totally absurd.” Check out this hilarious parody:
But beyond the obvious sarcasm behind Damon’s comparison, there is something that rings resoundingly true: America, and with it that uberAmerican institution, Disney, is all about the rags-to-riches story, about pulling characters from obscurity into the limelight, about making nobodies into somebody, dreams into reality. And what else is Sarah Palin but the embodiment of the ultimate political Cinderella story? The girl who went from Wasilla to Washington? You can almost visualize the scene of McCain at her doorstep, asking if the red patent stiletto will fit. (And enter the fairy godmother, the RNC, waving its wand and covering her in Neiman Marcus splendor.)
Say what you will about Sarah Palin, but know that in a very real way, she is a product of our own distinctly American Disneyesque design, for better or for worse. With her pretty face, skill at the podium, and sleek wardrobe she became a part of that cult of celebrity that has gained such esteem in our culture. We may have mocked her for the “I can see Russia from my house” claim, but 70 million of us watched her from our houses during the Vice Presidential debate. So perhaps the last laugh is hers.
Not surprisingly, as McCain gave his very gracious concession speech last week, I couldn’t help but stare at Sarah Palin. I could tell her eyes were tearing up, and I found myself questioning her motives. By then, news reports had been circulated about dissension in the McCain/Palin camp, Sarah “going rogue,” even planting the seeds for a 2012 run. Was it regret, I wondered, coming through those eyes, pity for herself and for her running mate after such a hard-fought race? Or was it anger, because McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt wouldn’t let her give a valedictory speech to her adoring fans? Or perhaps even resentment–I could almost see the Schwarzeneggeresque lines “I’ll. Be. Back.” being broadcast through her designer rimless glasses.
Thinking about it now, the teary-eyed emotion might have been something else entirely: triumph. Like a political phoenix rising from the ashes, who’s “not doin’ this for naught,” she saw her future pretty clearly. All we were missing was that quintessential moment from our political superbowl as the teams leave the field after the game is done. While the victorious Obama is carried off (to face some of the greatest historical challenges our country has known), we are left to question his smiling (victorious in her own way) challenger: Governor Palin, what’s next for you?
(Cue the instrumental music from “When You Wish Upon a Star.”)
And she will answer, with a knowing wink and a nod (for every princess gets her happy ending), “I’m goin’ to Disney World.” And the next stop in the political pumpkin coach? 2012. You betcha.