Thursday, July 09, 2009

The latest take on the curiosity that is Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin is a rather sad, empty and unimaginative person of little importance. Personally she does not matter much to me. But right now she is representative of some real American problems, like why America's education system is falling behind that of so many competing industrial nations (education doesn't matter enough for public funding) and why we turn out Lawyers and financial MBA's instead of scientists and production engineers (The top career rewards aren't as big and its a lot harder to learn to be an competent engineer or scientist than it appears to be to become a celebrity.) But let me just start with Sarah. Why did she resign so suddenly out of the blue?

Josh Marshall has posted the best explanation I have yet seen for Palin's strange and rather shocking resignation as Governor of Alaska. It makes a great deal of sense to me. She is a grifter, and the grift has finished. She is getting out of town while the getting is good. So now we can wait for the announcements of her money-making opportunities. She won't keep such deals from the Paparazzi (in this case mostly political and business reporters) because that kind of publicity is what she needs to extend her celebrity. She'll tell the Paparazzi because she needs them as much as they need her. Her reason for feeding the frenzy will be that the Paparazzi will extend her celebrity and keep her bankable. That dynamic between the celebrity and the press is the core of the entire celebrity culture as well as being the business model of the such journals as supermarket tabloids, People magazine, and the business publications Forbes, Fortune and the Wall Street Journal [*].

My read is that Palin has a single overriding motivation and that is ambition. She has a single major asset for her ambition to ride which is her celebrity status, the result of a lifetime spent chasing celebrity with no apparent significant interest in anything else. That's been her career. Her single asset has reached its apogee and was suddenly sliding away (stolen by her "enemies") so she has taken this opportunity to renew it. She will sacrifice anything to feed her ambition, including honor and the respect that can be earned by living up to your commitments. She has just proven that by her resignation.

Why do I care enough to blog about her? Two reasons. First, like the entire Pop Music scene, she seems to be emblematic of America's long celebrity obsession fueled by greed and the power of publicity experts to milk the public through the developing new forms of mass communications being created since the 1960's. That trend is run by grifters like Sarah Palin. It is a trend that runs counter to the great strengths America has always demonstrated as a solid, hard-working middle class productive nation with a culture centered on the strengths of well-trained and experienced journeyman workers.

The creation of the barely out of her teens Britney Spears is a symptom of the disaster of that celebrity culture. But the celebrity culture to which Sarah Palin now belongs is not isolated in society. It has broader implications. It has meant that America as a society and as an economy has failed to provide adequate rewards to the very many extremely capable people who might be induced to become engineers in college and learn new ways to invent and manufacture improved products. Instead, the best and the brightest are becoming lawyers and MBA's in the hopes of somehow suddenly getting rich by cashing in on a celebrity event of some kind. America's economic rewards are being redirected to celebrity status rather than to production of real goods and services of real value [**].

The second reason is that Sarah Palin's case is a cautionary tale of the utter vacuousness of the modern Republican Party. Their interest is in gaining power, nothing else. John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, not because she was best qualified if as President he died she would take over and run the country, but because he simply could not be elected to the office that fed his personal ambition and his feeling that he deserved to become the next President. He bought into Palin's celebrity to feed his own unbridled and undisciplined ambition. McCain is the son of American Naval Royalty, and he deserved the job of President more than anyone else by right of birth.

McCain is a conservative in part because it is an excellent justification for laziness. He resists working for his rewards because he feels he is entitled to them by right of birth. He is angry that so many people don't just hand them over because of who he is. Give such individuals a social problem to solve that does not involve their own interest directly and their solution is "Ignore it. If there is someone else with a good idea, skills and some idea how to get rewarded for it, they will solve the problem and we don't have to do any damned thing about it. "They call that the "free market" solution. What it really results in is a statement of "Let someone else do it, I don't want to think about it because I've already got mine. What? You want me to do hard work?"

So what we have is a toxic and unproductive celebrity culture that is taking over America, together with a political party representing and built on that culture that is made up of people who offer an economic ideology that advances that toxic culture. They are in it, like Palin, solely for their own personal benefit. Sarah Palin is just one more example of that culture, together with her national political mentor, Senator John McCain. The results of that culture, both in the failure of America to remain economically competitive against so many other industrial nations and in the clear emptiness and nastiness of the conservatives running the modern Republican Party are very clear.

So tell me. Why should we care about the sad spectacle that Sarah Palin is making of herself? Should I add Governor Mark Sanford?

[*]An interesting side note. I was told by the journalism prof of a public relations course I took that the articles in the Wall Street Journal that had no byline were simply public relations articles written by the company that were their subject. No real independent reporter was involved in writing them. Such an idea gives a very interesting view of such Wall Street Journal news articles.
[**]In a world that is populated by too many people to feed and in which half the worlds population exists on less than a dollar a day, the idea that the national economy that is using up as much as a quarter of the world's resources is using them to create celebrities for export is an ethical issue I will leave you to ponder. It is clearly one that the American conservatives and the free marketers wash their hands of.

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