Thursday, September 04, 2008

Aspiration v Reality

The New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, has written a brilliant piece about Sarah Palin:

"reality, in all its messy, crazy, funky glory, has flooded the party, in the comely, crackling form of Sarah Palin.

Unable to stop the onslaught of wild soap opera storylines erupting from the Palin family and the Alaska wilderness, McCain campaign adviser Steve Schmidt offered caterwauling reporters a new mantra: “Life happens.”

Indeed, it does. Only four days into her reign as John McCain’s “soul mate,” or “Trophy Vice,” as some bloggers are calling her, on the ticket known as “Maverick Squared,” Palin, the governor of Alaska, has already accrued two gates (Troopergate and Broken-watergate), a lawyer (for Troopergate), a future son-in-law named Levi (a high school ice hockey player, described by New York magazine as “sex on skates”), and a National Enquirer headline about the “Teen Prego Crisis” with 17-year-old daughter Bristol."



Surely this is why the whole world is rivetted with Sarah Palin. Because she represents America as it really is as opposed to America as it aspires to be. Millions of Americans in the hinterland really do hunt for food (which is OK), as opposed to hunting for sport, and if they didn't they wouldn't have enough to eat. Some Americans experience poverty that would shock Polly Toynbee and make her appreciate the Labour party a bit more. Of course Ms Palin is a crack shot and knows how to cube, skin and cure a whole moose. That's how her family fed her when she was young. Millions of them have children who are quite out of their control, indulging in underage drinking and teen pregnancy. They feud scrapily with their inlaws, they get drink-driving tickets, they don't get much education (due to getting knocked up at 17).

The Obamas by contrast are pure aspiration. Black America in it's ghettos and Latino America with their 100-hour weeks look at them and think, I'd like my kids to end up like that. Cool, intelligent, sophisticated, educated and so mainstream normal. They've made it. Hillary, who toured America with her mother Dorothy Rodham and daughter Chelsea, also represented an aspiration, albeit a different one. They represented solidarity amongst women across generations where you aspired for your daughter to be educated and successful (Dorothy), and aspired to combine a career with being a good attentive mother (Hillary) and aspired to be a credit to your mother and grandmother (Chelsea, but also Hillary). What makes the Clinton story piquant is the messy reality of Bill thrown into the mix.

Which will win? Aspiration or Reality? Americans like to relate to their presidents, which is why Dubya, of the bluest American blood (way bluer than the Kennedys) adopted a Texan accent and style and played to certain stereotypes (how much was real and how much was calculation by a shrewd politician is up for debate). Bill Clinton was of course aspiration and reality all rolled into the one complex person (someone from real Arkansas hillbilly stock, as a child he witnessed his stepfather fire a gun at his mother, but he got himself to Oxford).

Nobody is looking at McCain anymore than they are looking at Biden. McCain is simply an old guy of 72 who has had cancer four times and is expected to pop his clogs soon. This election will turn on Obama versus Palin for president. Both young, both inexperienced, and representing two separate threads in the American story - the American dream versus the American reality.

Those of us in the aspiration wing of politics find Palin a little too ruthless and red-meat for our tastes. Women struggling to be a good mother and good daughter and good careerist at the same time will blanch at the way Palin tossed her daughter Bristol to the wolves by making an announcement about her pregnancy. Then again Bristol knew her mother was in the public eye and still got herself in trouble - no solidarity across generations from either of them.

Aspiration rules in the UK. We don't know if Brits would elect a chav simply out of identification with them, because no party here would select such a person as a candidate so they wouldn't even make it to Parliament. Reality looks like Nightmare to us, so we steer well clear. In the USA it's different, and it's difficult to tell from this far away how this will play out. But it's bloody good entertainment all the same. No fiction could compare to the US 2008 presidential race.

1 comment:

Harry Flashman said...

Great post - finally we agree on something.

I wonder if Obama could have his time again whether he would pick Biden ?