Over Christmas of 1988 my wife and I drove our junker north along the beautiful, winding coastal road from L.A. to the Esalen Institute in Big Sur to attend a workshop while also trying to make a baby. If you're a wuss like me, North is a good way to drive Highway 1, since you don't have to look down the sheer cliff-face to the rocky whitecaps below.
At sunset the view will take your breath away, and -- on a good day, I often tell the kids -- you can see Japan.
Christmas Day we went to Monterey to visit the Aquarium, eat some sushi and find a mindless diversion. Monterey was really sleepy back then. The only thing playing in town was Twins, a silly B-movie in which Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito are the unlikely results of a genetic experiment. Arnold, of course, plays the high-minded, high-achieving ubermensch which scientists hoped to create, while DeVito plays his unforeseen twin, a completely irresponsible, fun-loving lowlife, source of the film's comic tension. A real maverick.
Danny DeVito is a personal icon, and Matilda -- a wonderful movie he starred in and directed in 1996 -- is one of my all-time favorites. But my heart sank when I learned the only choice was a Schwarzenegger film. An inveterate snob, I'd rather watch a cut-and-paste documentary about extreme weather events on the CBC -- yawn -- than one of the Governor's thrillers. Still, despite my misgivings, it was a good date. My wife liked it. It made us talk about what our unborn kids -- every one a love child -- would be like.
When we left the theater, there was a ticket on our car, and my heart sank. But it simply said: "Visit us often but don't park here again. Merry Christmas. Monterey PD." Nice. Classy.
My mood soared and, over dinner, I was heard to say (1) that Arnold was not a dummy; and (2) he had actually made a very shrewd decision four years earlier when he turned down the role of "Kyle Reese," deciding instead to play the "Terminator" itself. Bogie's career, after all, depended on his early portrayals of really bad guys whose careers ended in extremely memorable death scenes.
Since that time, my appreciation of Arnold's shrewdness has increased. His performance in the current economic crisis contradicts what his image (a body builder whose accent is as exaggerated as Bruno's) used to suggest. Early on, Arnold must have realized the value of playing to stereotypes, and of using them instead of fighting them. "I'm Jherman! I'm a superman! Vatch me play the robot." This is not stupid. He may even have a sense of humor.
(You heard it here first.)
Arnold continues to make the right moves in complex environments. The Terminator has morphed into the Govinator and he's now trying to force California to adopt vital budget reform using his own upcoming retirement as a lever. Because he doesn't have to run for office again, Arnold has no need to apologize to anyone. He can dig in his heels and try to do something genuine about the state's serially dysfunctional economy. He's using his status as a gubernatorial lame duck to behave in a way that's anything but lame. Nice. Classy.
Which brings me to Sarah Palin. Like Danny Devito in Twins, she was and remains totally unpredictable. But...
The first thing someone with political aspirations should realize is that you need to give the appearance of responsibility. The easiest way to do this is by actually finishing your term-of-office. To decline to serve after being elected is -- what adjective should I use -- irresponsible...disrespectful...ungrateful...capricious...flakey? To me this crucial and very weird decision by an ambitious woman (who looks remarkably like Tina Fey) makes it a safe bet that she is withdrawing from public life (whether she actually wants to or not).
By gosh, there must be a durn good reason for Silly Sarah to cut and run so abruptly. The thin excuse that she doesn't want to take advantage of her lame duck status is cheesy at best. And y'know, I really do hate explanations by politicians that insult your intelligence. After eight years of George, the simple-minded rationalizations Republicans often settle for just make me angry. For me, this is also the most noticeable difference between the national leaders Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Barack Obama. The first says any old BS, knowing no one believes it but no one has the power to contest it. Objective truth has now become irrelevant in Iran (and possibly in Alaska, too). For Iranians the whole world is exactly whatever Ahmedinejad says it is until he too decides he's had enough and its time to leave. For Iranians, of course, this cannot be soon enough.
On the other hand, Obama doesn't talk until he either knows what he's talking about or is free to give it to you straight up. This is the main contrast between political BS and political substance, and these are the terms of my comparison between the Barracuda and the Terminator.
On Friday, the Internet was full of rumors about how an FBI investigation into kickbacks that Todd Palin took from construction and oil companies might result in extortion charges against the adults in Alaska's gubernatorial family. (Question: Would the feds be able to figure out who they are?). Then, on Sunday, we were warned that if you repeat this accusation, Palin's attorney, Thomas Van Fein, will file a suit against you for defamation. Van Fein specifically (I am so proud) threatened HuffingtonPost.com among others. Since then at least one blogger has responded irately to Mr. Van Fein's attempt at intimidation, here:
Well, the Internet sources concerning Todd and Sarah's alleged embezzlement deals were still on the "think progress" and "bradblog" sites yesterday. The old, 2008 Village Voice piece entitled The Book of Sarah that first suggested potential irregularities in the way Mayor Palin awarded a contract for a municipal sports facility to Spenard Builders Supply, can also be found here.
Of course, it is possible -- even likely -- that the Governor is no more corrupt than the average, indebted American politician and has simply awakened to what the rest of the nation already knew: "Caribou Barbie"* can do a small town, but her simple "you betcha" appeal is not an act. She is not playing dumb or using a stereotype to guarantee her appeal. She really doesn't have the moral or intellectual equipment for higher office. If this is true, then she's getting out while the getting is good.
Ms Palin can now supplement her generous book contract from HarperCollins with large speaker fees. She can also raise money for the Good Old Party and, in this way, help to raise it (or at least some portion of it) from the dead (GOP Zombies?). At the same time, she will end the wave of ethics investigations (15 of them) which have allegedly cost the Palins $500,000 in legal fees. This is only slightly less ($35K) than the value of their Wasilla home. (Imagine taking a job that cost you your house? It would give me pause.) Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell has hinted that a major reason Sarah quit was the actual price of staying in office via the dozen or so ethics charges she has had to face and beat.** The Alaskan Governor is paid a paltry $125,000. No sense sticking around if you don't clear a profit.
Best of all, by withdrawing and elevating Parnell to incumbent governor, Silly Sarah has probably determined the outcome of the 2010 Alaskan gubernatorial election. Of course, once ensconced in his old running mate's office, Mr. Parnell will be too busy catching up on Sarah's unfinished paperwork and getting his next campaign ready to pursue investigations of his old boss. And -- doubly sweet -- this move also prevents Sarah's old rival, Senator Lisa Murkowski, from becoming Governor any time soon.
As Governor, Murkowski, an unusually professional politician in the rough-and-tumble street-fight Alaskans call the state Republican party, might find Palin's gubernatorial dealings worthy of much more official scrutiny which, in turn, might require more expensive legal representation by Thomas Van Fein. But wait! Alaska doesn't need another investigation and/or scandal now after those of Senator Ted Stevens and representatives Bev Masek, Vic Kohring and Pete Kott. Best then to hand off to Parnell, and to do so selflessly for the party, for the team, for Alaska, and for the first family.
Yeah. Nice. Classy.
Sarah's resignation confirms what her values actually are by defining what is most important to her. Like Danny DeVito in Twins, Governor Palin is going to keep as much of her newfound money as she can. Okay. In America, earning and keeping money doesn't make you a bad person. Remember, however, that Hillary Clinton didn't quit over a little thing like scratch. Hils burned through borrowed cash like there was no tomorrow, knowing from first-hand experience that power in America never comes cheap. (This, incidentally, is the great and undemocratic weakness of our system: the indebtedness of our politicians makes them vulnerable to being bought. Joe Biden has been saying this since he first came to office, and this uncommon honesty is the reason I like Joe Biden.) Well, Hils spent like a sailor to get power, and it was a strategy that worked. If Sarah, however, chokes, coughing up a mere $1/2 million, could she ever face the financial risk of a national campaign for presidency?
No. It's just way too rich for her blood. But that's okay too.
In sum, there are only three things for certain today: (1) that the Barracuda has an expensive and litigious lawyer who's eager to bill her for more work now that the ethics charges against her have dried up; (2) that she does not match the Terminator in terms of political substance, integrity or personal finances; and (3) that all my boys turned out (one of them is only four) to be like Danny DeVito, irresponsible, fun-loving mavericks. Of course, I love them deeply and don't have a problem as long they never run for office.
Silly Sarah's departure also bothers me not a whit. I feel exactly as Cary Grant did in Bringing Up Baby when he says to a very flighty Katherine Hepburn:
"Let's play a game.
I'll close my eyes and count to ten, and when I open them...
YOU WILL BE GONE!"
Of course, at the end of the film they marry.
*I have unconscionably stolen the phrase "Caribou Barbie" from Maureen Dowd's deliciously witty piece "Sarah's Folly" in June 5th's New York Times.
**Lt. Gov. Parnell's remarks about Governor Palin's legal fees can also be found in the July 5th New York Times as "Legal Fees Swayed Palin, Official Says."