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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 11/23/10

Sarah Palin's Narrative Makeover: Cosmetic Surgery Applied to Her Story

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Message Bud Goodall

Yesterday was Sunday, a peaceful day of promised rest from the great gigamaflanks (yes, I made that word up) that define the usual politics of newsmaking the other six days of every week in 24/7 mediated America.   But on Sunday, no.   It is a day of rest.   Attend services or go for a long walk.   Maybe both.   Make a proper pot roast, watch some NFL football. Think about whatever.   Spend time with the family.   Tinker with the furnace before winter arrives.   But, alas, as is my nasty habit, I begin each and every day with large cup of black coffee and a perusal of several online news sources.

And so it was that my eyes were assaulted by a series of headlines about Sarah Palin and the 2012 presidential race.   These headlines were not good signs.   I read on.   Surely some modicum of sanity would prevail among my favorite columnists and reporters?    

Frank Rich, in the lead Op-Ed column, set off my alarm with his title: "Could She Reach the Top in 2012?   You Betcha."   Rich then details how, with substantial financial backing of Rupert Murdoch and soft-lit coverage from the Fox Teapublican News network, she is already poised to begin her new book tour with plenty of stops in early primary states--Iowa, South Carolina--that most authors either fly over or drive by on their way to major cities.   It makes no sense, unless " as Rich concludes:

"But logic doesn't apply to Palin. What might bring down other politicians only seems to make her stronger: the malapropisms and gaffes, the cut-and-run half-term governorship, family scandals, shameless lying and rapacious self-merchandising. In an angry time when America's experts and elites all seem to have failed, her amateurism and liabilities are badges of honor. She has turned fallibility into a formula for success.

Republican leaders who want to stop her, and they are legion, are utterly baffled about how to do so. Democrats, who gloat that she's the Republicans' problem, may be humoring themselves. When Palin told Barbara Walters last week that she believed she could beat Barack Obama in 2012, it wasn't an idle boast." 

 I opened the NY Times Magazine , hoping for relief.   Instead I found that the cover story, by sensible investigative reporter Frank Draper, was written in a way that only made the first alarm in my head sounded by Rich ring louder:

"In truth, few are underestimating Sarah Palin anymore. In that endearing manner of the Beltway echo chamber, the prevailing narrative of Palin in 2009 was that that she was an incompetent ditz. This year's story line is that she is a social-media visionary who purposefully circumnavigated the power-alley gasbags and thereby constructed a new campaigning template for the ages." 

Ah-hah , I thought.    There it is.   The reason itself lay bare.   The "prevailing narrative" was undergoing repair, a kind of mediated cosmetic surgery applied to the life surfaces of a probable presidential candidate, for the purposes of smoothing political wrinkles and lasering away unwanted blemishes.   A little nip and tuck applied here, a little Momma Grizzly botox there " and by prime time she'll be a fully restored face to be reckoned with, complete with a whole new storyline.  

For example:   The woman who was unable to name a single book or magazine she read in a televised interview with Katie Couric will suddenly become the woman who has been an avid reader her entire life.   To wit:

"Palin became testy when I asked her about the books I heard she had been reading. "I've been reading since I was a little girl,' she snapped. "And my mom is standing 15 feet away from me, and I should put her on the phone with you right now so she can tell you. That's what happens when you grow up in a house full of teachers -- you read; and I always have. Just because -- and,' she continued, though in a less blistering tone, "I don't want to come across sounding caustic or annoyed by this issue: because of one roll-of-the-eye answer to a question I gave, I'm still dealing with this,' she said, referring to her interview with Katie Couric. "There's nothing different today than there was in the last 43 years of my life since I first started reading. I continue to read all that I can get my hands on -- and reading biographies of, yes, Thatcher for instance, and of course Reagan and the John Adams letters, and I'm just thinking of a couple that are on my bedside, I go back to C.S. Lewis for inspiration, there's such a variety, because books have always been important in my life.' She went on: "I'm reading [the conservative radio host] Mark Levin's book; I'll get ahold of Glenn Beck's new book -- and now because I'm opening up,' she finished warily, "I'm afraid I'm going to get reporters saying, Oh, she only reads books by Glenn Beck.'

As I pointed out in a previous blog, narratives have trajectories.   They tend to begin with a desire to overcome an initial conflict (e.g., Palin's perceived lack of smarts) and move toward satisfaction of that desire (e.g. Palin as, if not exactly a learned person then at least an intelligent one who possesses the necessary gravitas and is therefore ready to govern).

In our era, narrative trajectories for politicians are enabled--some might say "pushed" or "shoved down our throats"--by commentators, Op-Ed writers, and other pundits.   If these coterie of narrative distributors happen to be on the payroll of a powerful person interested in the outcomes--say Rupert Murdoch, or the Koch Brothers, or (to be fair) George Soros--then chances are very good that all we will hear for the next two years is how intellectually fit Sarah Palin is for office without any mention of the cosmetic narrative surgery and scripted performances that make her appear that way.

What is really diabolical in this narrative makeover is how the newly freshened Sarah--once the darling girl "just like us" of those good-hearted heehaw citizens and soccer moms who distrust educated elites--will abandon working in the best interests of her supporters just as she abandoned Alaskans who voted for her to work as their Governor.

Why?   Because the rich that are paying for the makeover don't care a whit about the lives of the working poor or even what's left of the middle class, except as easily manipulated archetypal characters useful in building their "rugged individualism" master narrative or "Big Story."   In the Big Story they tell, all every American needs is individual liberty combined with "luck and pluck" to make it, because those are the narrative ingredients of the storied American Dream.   There is no place for governmental regulation of any kind, taxes to promote the greater good, or for providing a helping hand to those who need it.

If Sarah Palin's Tea Party narrative trajectory holds out any hope whatsoever for the poor and middle class, it is only the hope that will live long enough to see their social security sold to Wall Street and their children's education left up to them to provide.   The good news is that guns will be easy to get (you'll probably need them) and that if you fall on hard times but are truly righteous, God will provide.   Your taxes will be low, though, so don't expect the government to intervene because neither the states nor the feds will   have any spare change.   And don't expect a government job--from school teaching to firefighting to working as a police officer to serving in our armed forces--because we all know that, first and foremost, the federal budget must be balanced.   So pretty much, citizen, you'll be on your own.   You can always start your own small business, which, according to their master narrative is where all real jobs are created anyway.   Oh, and good luck with that because the government won't be helping you get it started with a small business loan!

You see, "We the People" makes a nice Tea Party slogan but it is ultimately a con.   Like Sarah's narrative makeover it smoothes over rough surfaces and hides what we do not want to see.   It obscures class differences and whitewashes race.   Its usurpers cherry pick one of Jefferson's best phrases while at the same time they write him out of the history books sold in Texas.   The party faithful, including the party hard-liner Sarah Palin, use "We the People" as a rallying cry to turn government into our enemy when government is the only friend large and powerful enough to help us through times of crisis.

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H. L. (Bud) Goodall, Jr. lives in Arizona where he is a college professor and writer. He has published 20 books and many articles and chapters on a variety of communication issues. His most recent books include Counter-Narrative: How Progressive (more...)
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