It's Myth America and we need a legend.
The Sarah Palin V.P. choice has ignited a powerful myth -- the daughter of the West, the maverick, the new gun in town. We cannot counter this myth with facts. George Lakoff has made this point very well: Palin's nomination, he asserts, "is not basically about external realities... what Democrats call 'issues' but about (symbol)... worldviews, frames, metaphors, cultural narratives..." This is another way of saying mythic reality trumps issue reality.
The narrative McCain and Company promote symbolically is a well-known myth of the American West: small town is threatened by outsiders from the Eastern establishment, corrupt and dangerous outlaws and craven townspeople. The marshal single-handedly bests the outsiders in a shootout and saves the town.
By interjecting the gun-toting, bible-thumping, critter-killing Sarah Palin at his side, McCain storytellers have set off a frenzy of joyous glee in Mudville. However, there are counter-myths to call upon to defuse this wild mania. Based on what we know thus far, there is one in particular:
Among the legendary, tough female characters of the West, the Indian fighters, mule-skinners, brassy brawlers of the saloon, one was holier-than-thou, brandishing bibles and lethal weapons - the temperance crusader, Carry Nation. This sermonizing reformer was so appalled at the sins of others, she often rose in church to rebuke the men present, including her husband, a teetotalling minister. She entered barrooms on her knees praying, citing scripture, weeping and then destroying everything. "I smashed 5 saloons with rocks," she bragged. Rocks, axes, even fists were her weapons of choice.
Western legend's female reformers like Carry Nation try to change individuals, not the system. They are not "change agents" as we usually mean it; they aren't working to make a society that protects and cares for its citizens. They are moral reformers, sermonizing to make sinners adhere to a strict authority. Carry Nation is no Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The opposite, in fact.
So who is Sarah Palin? She is a small-town mayor who shoots wolves and bears, eats caribou stew and speaks out in church, praying for oil pipelines. Unlike the true female heroes of the West (Ida Wells, Molly Brown, even Mary Fields, the rifle-toting mailcarrier of Montana), she doesn't fight for the collective good. She doesn't empower people through communal ventures, such as libraries, hospitals, schools. She's not a real reformer.
Although she has modified some of the grossest excesses of her predecessor, she has not reformed the Alaskan governship, charging the state per diem for living at home, falsely claming she sold the government jet on Ebay and being absent so much from her gubernatorial duties that legislators in Juneau took to wearing buttons which asked, Where's Sarah?
Sarah Palin is the anti-hero, the dark feminine, what Deepak Chopra calls the "shadow." She's the Crazy Church Lady with a high-powered rifle, shooting wolves from a helicopter. She's a moose-skinner, a caribou hunter and she has no great sympathy for humans either. She is extremist in her position on child rape, incest rape and pregnancies fatal to the mother. She backed a bill requiring rape kits be paid for by the victims, this despite the fact that her state has the worst record of incest and rape in the country. Sarah Palin is Carry Nation.
She is a moral reformer who has judged those who disagree with her policy decisions as Outside the Pale, instead of as equals who may disagree but still work together. She is a politician who changes positions when opportunities present themselves, such as hiring lobbyists for federal pork barrel projects like the Bridge to Nowhere, until they become unpopular. She is a crusader, a fundamentalist extremist who looks to the bible instead of the Constitution for guidance in running her elective office.
A moral reformer who's a fundamentalist? A politician who's absent from the office a lot? A crusader who doesn't tolerate dissent? This is George W. Bush. Sarah Palin is George W. Bush in lipstick, hairstyle and heels. That's her myth.
Obama is a more powerful myth: the hero who loves his country, fights for the people, overcomes the Economy Monster (a monster which devours lives, separates families and enslaves people in drudgery and poverty), empowers the citizens to unite and protect all God's creatures and our beautiful Planet Earth.
He needs to heal the sick, mend the lame, comfort the poor, care for elderly and teach the children. In other words, Health Care, Veterans Programs, Jobs, Social Security and Free Education for a better democracy. That's a real hero.
Diana Meehan taught Political Communication at UCLA for fourteen years, during the 1980 campaign and Reagan presidency, when there were myths galore.
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