“Palin Is Like Obama”

December 20, 2009 at 12:51 am (By Amba) (, )

Phrased like an Althouse tag (though I don’t know if she’s ever made it a tag), a meme I picked up on before Sam Tanenhaus of the New Yorker:

The fascination with Palin owes something to the way that her cultish aura mirrors, or refracts, the aura that surrounds Barack Obama, the other political figure who comfortably inhabits the nexus of politics and celebrity. It has become fashionable to ridicule Palin as a tabloid creature, but it was not so long ago that Obama was being depicted as the chum of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Even now, the nimbus of celebrity clings to him, often with deflationary effect—for instance, during his recent visit to China, when at times he seemed less the leader of a major diplomatic mission than an attractive student ambassador, genially exporting good will and posing for photographs. When CNN intercut its evening coverage of Obama’s trip with Palin’s first bookstore appearance, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the two mise en scènes seemed eerily equivalent.

For the moment, Obama and Palin divide the electorate, and are bound by a strange symmetry [my point exactly]: born in the nineteen-sixties, the only candidates from outside the Lower 48 ever to grace national tickets, and the beneficiaries of powerful social movements that they were too young to have participated in (civil rights in Obama’s case, women’s liberation in Palin’s). Just as Obama, with his “post-racial” affect and his Ivy League pedigree, made an older African-American political figure like Jesse Jackson seem the relic of a vanished era, so Palin—with her lustrous mane and form-fitting skirts, her coddling of her infant son in the full glare of TV cameras—presented a new model of the spontaneous woman politician, free of the overmanaged self-discipline that constrains Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.

Enthusiasts of either one who disagreed or criticized me for comparing them were focusing on content; I was focusing on form.  They are similar and symmetrical containers for antithetical contents:  avatars of the two poles of a riven America.

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