The town I grew up in had, as I recall, a population of about 4,500. Since I moved away it has merged with three other nearby towns to form a municipality of 7,861, spread out over 20 square miles. When I was growing up the nearest city, St. Louis, was at least an hour and a half away by car. The school districts of the four towns merged back in the 1960s, which caused my graduating class to jump from maybe 20 kids to (I’m going from hazy memory here) about 80. Yee-haw.
I bring this up to establish my small-town cred. Now, my impression of Sarah Palin:
There’s someone like her in every small town — the alpha female who organizes all the bake sales and parades and Pancake Day and around whom the town’s society, if you want to call it that, swirls. Other women defer to her because she’s more energetic and assertive than they, and she’s probably very good at organizing the bake sales and parades and Pancake Day. They probably admire her for that.
But they don’t necessarily like her.
Watching Palin last night, especially when the family — including the pregnant daughter and boyfriend — joined her on the stage, made me wonder if small-town women would love her, as the GOP hopes, or whether she would remind them of that pushy Sally Ledbetter whom they’ve wanted secretly to tell off since high school. I think it could go either way.
The unmarried pregnant daughter factor probably doesn’t shock too many people. In small, isolated, conservative towns, pregnant teenagers are as constant as sun and rain. But it does make Palin seem no-larger-than-life. Meaning, she’s no Hillary Clinton.
Palin has lived her life as a big fish in a small pond. Now she’s in the ocean, where there are other fish a whole hell of a lot bigger than she is. She may not have realized this yet. She’s going to be on an interesting learning curve the next couple of months.
What struck me about last night’s speech was a lack of the Vision Thing. She didn’t talk about America as much as she talked about herself and John McCain, with some cheap digs at Obama. To connect with voters she presented herself as someone you might run into at the Rotary Club picnic. What I didn’t hear was that she had a clue about the real kitchen-table concerns of the people on the other side of the television screen.
She used the words “change” and “reform” a lot, but for the life of me I can’t tell what changes in Washington she wants to make. It sounded more like the same old wingnut shit. Cut taxes. Cut more taxes. Cut essential services. Cut taxes again. Promise “small government,” whatever they mean by that. They’ve been promising small government for at least 30 years, and it ain’t getting smaller.
I think Americans are in the mood for a government that can actually do something other than start wars. And I think small-town Americans realize that being chief executive of the United States is a lot more difficult than organizing Pancake Day.
Thatâ€™s the problem with the positive case Palin made for herself, with its emphasis on all that small-town stuff: It convinced me that she makes a good PTA mom, that she may make a fine mayor, that she hasnâ€™t totally bombed as the essentially brand-new governor of the third-least-populous state in the Union, even that I might like to have a beer with her, or a glass of fermented whale milk or whatever one drinks with mooseburgers. But just because weâ€™re a nation of a hundred thousand Wasillas doesnâ€™t mean all those hundred thousand mayors ought to be in the White House. Tonight, she sounded for all the world like an unusually sharp version of those â€œregular peopleâ€ they drag onstage at conventions to tell their stories in the off-primetime hours.
I don’t think we need to bring Palin down by ridiculing her, tempting though that might be. It would just buy her sympathy. We need to let the American people know when she’s lying (I’m still waiting for the fact checks on her speech), but other than that, just step aside and let America have a good look at her.