Reporters used to laugh when beauty contestants said they wanted to someday be television “news-anchors.” Note that they did not say “reporters.”
They wanted the lights!
They wanted the camera!
They wanted the action and attention that comes with “anchoring!”
All too often, anchoring is more about being center-stage than it is about journalism, and more about being the object than informing people about a subject. In some ways, the anchor and the beauty queen are logical companions. And so are politicians. It makes for quite a ménage-a-trois.
Imagine being all three at almost the same time?
That’s the amazing trifecta pulled off by the one-time Miss Wasilla, former television sportscaster, former Governor and, to the continued disbelief of many, Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Sarah’s willingness to answer the call, hit the mark and take center-stage created a “made to order” partner when Senator McCain needed a political make-over. In some ways, they were perfect for one another. Both had no problem confusing objectification for admiration. He apparently couldn’t stop that throw-back behavior, and she certainly wouldn’t.
But American voters did.
No surprise, though, that Sarah’s center-stage play had another act when, in February of 2010, she joined Fox News. For those of us who come from the Bible Belt, where the beauty queen is the equivalent of the almost-Godlike football quarterback, it didn’t take a genius to see Sarah was a woman of her times.
But that is the thing about time, it comes and it goes.
As the seasons go round and round, eventually, even the self-assured beauty queen or the all-star quarterback gets exposed if he or she doesn’t do their homework. No matter how much we like watching their lips move, their fingers wag, their hair doe or their dander up, eventually someone will notice that the words emerging from between those pearly whites just didn’t make a lot of sense.
Lately, however, Americans sure seem to take their sweet time spotting the empty containers. It must be (in part) because there are so many to choose from. It’s easy to hide in a very noisy, large crowd. But it’s harder to stand out, too. And Sarah stood out—gosh-darn it—mainly because she had a well-honed, folksy charisma. The cameras were drawn to her like a moth to a shiny, sparkling tiara.
Even under constant scrutiny, the heavy head that once wore the crown refused to put something as trivial as American history into it. While becoming a walking bumper-sticker for the Tea Party’s anti-intellectual contingency, this former beauty queen never proclaimed to want world peace. But, by God, she sure did want that old, worn out birth certificate. Seems it is possible to fool some of the people some of the time, particularly when you climb up onto a big-bully-pulpit like Fox News.
However, by the time anyone notices, a slaughterhouse worth of damage can get done. And Sarah—never eager to preach issues that unite us—seemed much fonder of burning the village even while believing she was saving it.
In the book “Game Change” Palin is re-named “Sarahcuda” by some working closest to her. That version of Sarah emerged as the campaign unraveled. But following the meeting in which Senator McCain told her she had a shot at the vice presidency, Sarah was later described as withdrawn, subdued and quiet. While in the passenger seat of McCain’s limousine, her silence was interpreted by the godless as arrogance or apathy. Coming from the land of tight Bible Belts and bubbly beauty queens, it occurred to me that she was likely praying for guidance—asking God to make her worthy of the job. In fact, she may have even believed she was “chosen.” The Alpha and Omega of beauty queens destined (as the popular Baptist Hymn implores us) for much “Higher Ground.”
I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I’m onward bound,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground
Despite the real possibility of being a heartbeat away from the presidency—by all accounts and by simply watching her navigate at the time—she never equated patriotism and love of country with knowing her own country’s actual history. Even when she got it wrong, she stubbornly refused to admit it. And the old saying that “God helps those who help themselves” didn’t seem to apply in her case. Apparently, God didn’t require much intellectual ambition as Sarah climbed the ladder.
Lord, lift me up and let me stand,
By faith, on Heaven’s tableland,
A higher plane than I have found;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
It was painful to watch. Especially for women who believe being pretty does not exclude being smart. Most of our grandmothers told us, “Pretty is as Pretty does.” But Sarah Palin’s heart did not seem very pretty and her intellectual laziness belied her polished exterior.
All hope of Palin’s success faded when Katy Couric (often sitting with pretty legs on display) asked Palin what she read to stay informed. Easiest question in the world, right? It is if one reads. But Palin couldn’t answer it. Like all fundamentalists everywhere, she reacted to criticism with steely indignation. After all, the good beauty queen, politician and future anchor is taught never to show weakness. When criticized for her answers—she took the coward’s way out, by blaming the question and questioner and desperately re-directing attention toward those ever-ready-divisive wedge issues. The wedge issues were the safe ground on which to make her combative stands.
My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where those abound,
My prayer, my aim, is higher ground
Watching from the outside, it felt as if we were walking right back into the impossible contradictions of the 1950’s—the baffling world of our mothers in which women were taught to be pretty and not study too hard.
Palin was famously quoted as saying, “I know, what I know, what I know.”
She’s since explained that she believes in her ability to relate to people (voters). And here I pause because voters need to understand democracy depends on their own hard intellectual work. Politicians and anchors should be held to a much higher standard than a former Miss Wasilla beauty queen—but, sad to say, in Sarah’s case, she was not. Even with all the breaks she got—time and again—she still claimed she was a victim. It was an amazing pattern of delusional behavior.
I want to live above the world,
Though Satan’s darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.
Instead, Sarah Palin ended up reinforcing the stereotype that told women their words don’t matter nearly as much as the plumpness of their lips or the fecundity of their hips.
Even after a book, a reality show, dragging her family to center-stage—it rarely felt like she was doing it all for the Christian good of the nation. She may have felt chosen by God, but it was the limelight she seemed to crave. That’s why it was so disconcerting to watch her be so full of promise and so bereft of book learning.
I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I’ll pray till heav’n I’ve found,
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
But these are complicated times.
And it’s not enough to be pretty and charismatic
Sarah Palin, sadly, was not enough.
The most amazing aspect of the story is that someone at Fox News finally noticed.