nothin's scarier than a blank page

04 June 2011

Sarah Palin's Ride

Pop Quiz!  Which of the following phrases and descriptions are applicable to Paul Revere's Ride?  (I will use the colloquial terms American and British, rather than the more historically accurate terms British and Regulars.)
A. One if by land, two if by sea.
B. The British are coming!
C. Paul Revere was a lone rider.
D. Paul Revere warned the British
E. Paul Revere warned the Americans
(Answers at the end.)

Ruh-Roh! The media caught Sarah Palin again...  During her One Nation tour, she stopped in Boston and checked out the Old North church, of Paul Revere fame.  A reporter had a chance to talk to her.  Did he ask about her views on the debt ceiling?  Medicare?  Libya?  NOPE.  Did he ask about founding principles (which is, after all, the purpose of her tour -- to educate and energize Americans about our nation's founding principles)?  NOPE.

Actually, we don't know what question was asked.  That's conveniently not included in the video that's been running around the internets like a rat at the county fair.  Presumably, it was a question about early American folklore/history.
“He who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms uh by ringing those bells and making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free and we were going to be armed.”
(The clip cuts out before she finishes her sentence, but you can catch those last few words here.)

OMG!  Palin said Paul Revere was warning the British?!

Well, actually, yes.

And she's right.

Paul Revere was captured during his ride and did, in fact, warn the British that we were ready to go.  What?  All you know about history is Longfellow's poem?  And you dare criticize Palin for a "flub" on a topic about which your knowledge base is a poem written decades after the event?

If you don't believe that Palin was accurate, try reading Paul Revere's own words here.

This isn't what bothers me, though.  Do people really care if a presidential candidate is an early American history scholar?  If so, then why was Obama never asked these kinds of questions?  The answer is simple.  It's a non-issue.  The media asked Palin a question that they had no business asking her; they might as well have asked her if she knew the Lone Ranger's nephew's horse.  The media likes to watch Palin flounder, so they ask her obscure questions -- obscure when compared to the large amount of information that a candidate must have on the tip of her tongue at any given moment.

There have been times when, caught off guard, I have answered questions about my personal life with stutters and stammers.  It's not that I don't know the information (I mean, it's my own frickin' life), it's that I wasn't expecting the need to flip through the file cabinet in my memory and pull out the story of losing my first tooth, for example.  Palin's biggest crime here is that she was not prepared to answer questions about historical trivia.

Actually, there's one more thing.   I have a deep love of early American history, and one thing I find very satisfying is learning the real stories behind the oral mythology.  Sam Adams lost his brewery, because he was too interested in revolution to manage a business.  There was no George Washington cherry tree.  In 1776, Abigail Adams' husband John was serving in the Continental Congress, and she wrote to him and asked that he "remember the ladies."  African-Americans and women even had the right to vote in many of the colonies.

When I learn something new about American history, the most fascinating things are those that change my previous conceptions of reality.  You know what I'm talking about, those Aha Moments.  New information is exciting, and it takes time to mentally repaint your previous perspective.

So here we have Sarah Palin.  I don't know if she loves American history in the same way that I do, but she certainly loves the founding principles.  Loving the history isn't a far stretch.  The day of this interview, Palin had just visited the Old North church.  Prior to that visit, she might have always known the basics as they were taught in high school and college, cemented into her brain by the Longfellow poem and general American folklore.  (I know I didn't remember that Paul Revere had been captured, and not only have I spent much of my adult life reading about Early Americana, but I've also been to that church.)

Honestly, Paul Revere was never one of my favorites.  I like Sam Adams, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin...  Paul Revere and John Hancock always felt like the pretty boy jocks of the revolutionaries.  That's okay.  You can be enthralled by early American history, hell, you can be a maestro... but that doesn't mean you know everything about everything.

But Palin had been to the Old North church, so the reporter asked a question about it.  I am incredibly suspicious about the framing of this video clip, because we are not shown what question was asked.  If the question weren't clear or was disrespectful, that could account for Palin's uncomfortable oration style.  I think something else was happening.

I think Palin knew the familiar story, and if she had been asked about it prior to visiting the church, she would have been fine.  Instead, she had this new knowledge floating around her head.  Now, put yourself in her shoes.  You can do this even if you dislike her.  (That actually makes it easier.)  You know that the media is trying to catch you saying something stupid every time you open your mouth.  This time, they ask a question about something you learned THAT DAY.  Hells yes!  You can show them.  You can pull out the big guns and tell the story, including the new information you learned that day.

Unfortunately, you only learned it that day.  It's not cemented in your head.  It comes out as if you're searching for words.  And the information you provide does not align with what the general, uneducated public believes.  The reporter wanted the storybook version, and you're giving the f-a-c-t-s.

It doesn't help that you stumble over your words.  Then again, if you had spoken clearly and concisely, it would sound just as bad.  Speaking "lies" with certainty makes one look calculated and cunning.  Speaking "lies" while babbling makes one appear buffoonish.

The nail in the coffin for Palin is her body language.  She looks drunk.  She obviously is not drunk, but she has all those signs -- wandering speech, swaying, eyes a little unfocused.  I don't think anyone's accusing her of being drunk... But let's think about her day.  She had been to three different national landmarks that day, and she's a week into her tour.  She has minimal staff with her, and she has family with her.  With no scheduled press stops, she has to be On all of the time.

I get exhausted going to the Farmers Market.  That's a few blocks from my house, I go alone, and I'm home within a few hours.  I cannot imagine how exhausted Palin must have been during that interview.  Imagine, if you will, taking your family to Disney World and, at the end of a long day, being asked to recite your favorite poem.  You would stutter.  You would sway.  You would look confused as you search for words.  Add on to that being asked to recite a poem you had learned that day.  Sheesh, America.

Watching the Palin video certainly is uncomfortable.  I wonder if, after she spoke, the reporter said "uh... he warned the British??" and she succinctly replied, "Yessirree.  I was surprised when I learned that, too.  Here's what happened... [Much less uncomfortable clip of the Paul Revere story]."  Given that the point of the clip was to embarrass Palin and given that the entire clip (question, reply, reporter saying thank you) was not shown, it is not unreasonable to presume that the omitted portions of the clip could be redeeming for Palin.

We can't know what's not there.  All we know is that people are taunting her for giving an uninformed answer, which she did not.  What people could reasonably talk about is Palin's questionable speaking style.  I provided a detailed possible explanation for her appearing, well, not presidential.  Ultimately, it doesn't matter why she appeared that why.  The issue is that she did appear sloppy.

We don't want a sloppy president.  We want a president that will present herself with decorum while winking at the camera to make us feel special.  With Obama's stumble through Europe and public meeting with Israel's Netenyahu, we want a president who will emit strength while being diplomatic, empathy while laying down the law, intelligence while managing children in Congress.  We want this all of the time, at any time, whether or not she is exhausted from her tour.

Why, then, didn't the media and the public pick up on that?  Yes, for whatever the reason you believe, Palin is now a target for Gotchas, especially those that could make her appear unintelligent.  Apparently it doesn't matter if she's actually saying intelligent things or not.

The much strong argument against Palin's oratory is not that she is unintelligent, it's that she appears unintelligent.  This is a matter of opinion, of course, but it's an easy argument to make.  Everything from her accent to her chosen phrases ("hockey mom", "fight like a girl", etc.) speaks to stereotypes associated with lesser intelligence.  I have no counter-argument to someone who says that they don't want a president who appears unintelligent, even if she's the smartest person in the world.  One of our president's largest jobs is to be the face of the country and communicate with other countries.  I don't want someone in that role that the rest of the world sees as a bumpkin.

The media does not choose this meme.  The public do not choose this meme.  Instead, it's just "Palin's dumb."  From a marketing aspect, that sure is easier to push, but aren't the media supposed to be above marketing tricks?  (I know, I know...)   But there is another way to look at it.

"Palin appears dumb" is the most appropriate meme, and it would be just as effective.  In marketing terms, it's less effective than "Palin's dumb", but since it's impossible to disprove, it measures out ahead.  There's one vital flaw, though.  To say "Palin appears dumb", it is assumed that she has something of merit to otherwise be considered.  Not necessarily that she's actually smart but appears dumb, but something deeper: Sarah Palin is legitimate.  To contemplate how she delivers the message inherently implies that she has a message that  is worth contemplating.

As a previous governor and vp candidate, she obviously has something legitimate to consider.  If the Palin haters were being sincere with their hatred, they wouldn't be afraid to let that something *be* considered.  Instead, they use every attempt to delegitimize her.  On the surface, there's not much difference between "Palin is dumb" and "Palin appears dumb", but use of the latter prevents the possibility and prevents contemplation of the message.

I mean, why even bother listening to the woman's words?  She said Paul Revere warned the British.  She's dumb.

Here's what I want to know: who is calling the reporter dumb for demeaning the country by asking a politician trivia questions.

answers: A, D, E

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