Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Moment of Compassion

NYTimes Columnist Judith Warner ponders the unenviable position of Sarah Palin in a column so well-reasoned and well-crafted that I won't excerpt it here. Basically, she goes beyond the hype and the tribalism of the election campaign and considers the person herself.

Granted, it's probably a hopelessly liberal position to identify with your opponent on this level, but I think there are a few belief systems that demand it. As one reader comment put it:

There she was, a moderately successful governor of a modestly populated state, a big fish in a small pond. While I don’t agree with her conservative views, to her credit she did some good things ... And then along came McCain ... To select *any* small-town mayor or rookie governor without proper vetting, or even a modicum of serious pre-acceptance coaching and discussion about what life in the national limelight is like, seems unusually cruel. I am saddened for her personally since I fear she will be permanently caricatured in the national memory, much like Dan Quayle. How miserably unfortunate, especially for a woman so young, with so many years left to live it down ... I’m coming to realize Sen. McCain’s choice says far more unflattering things about *him* than it does about the Governor. Thanks, Judith, for expressing for her the compassion that any human being deserves when they’ve gotten themselves into a mess they don’t recognize until it’s too late.

And that's only a reader. Warner herself says it better.


Dann said...

While Mrs. Palin, the successful Governor, isn't enough to persuade me that Mrs. Palin, the Veep candidate, would become Mrs. Palin, the effective Veep, I do like her and many of the things she stands for.

That Ms. Warner can only express empathy with Mrs. Palin, the victim, is quite telling. IMO.


Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

And here i am thinking Warner absolves Palin for responsibility for a role that she not only wanted but that she actually relishes.

Okay, A. I'm not really a very nice person, and B. I worked for a boss from hell like Palin so i have my own prejudice. But Palin was also out of her element at first, as a mayor, and gladly played the "Oh I'se so liddle and vulnerable and that Big police chief intimidated me!" card, when she couldn't come up with a real cause for firing him, so when she's out of her element with world leaders and really is on the more vulnerable side of the equation, i can't help but feel like it's kind of karmic.

There's truth in Warner's observation, sure. I think Palin is ill-prepared and smart enough to know it. I think the commenter you quote is also insightful.

But I'm not working up a lot of empathy in Palin's case, and partly (partly!) because of a quality in her i can actually admire - she's made a life of reaching way beyond her comfort level and growing into the job, and by now probably willingly places herself out there because the rewards are worth it to her. She's right where she wants to be, and i can't help thinking " 'imposter syndrome' my ass."

Uncle Jed said...

Fox news is interviewing her parents.

'nuff said.

Sherwood Harrington said...

Dann, I'd like to see a post over on your blog concerning what it is that you admire about this person.

ronnie said...

Suggesting, as Warner does, that it is "cruel" of the McCain campaign to "do this to her" is the single most patriarchal, condescending thing anyone's said about her yet. Is she an intelligent grown ambitious woman, or a dancing bear? Are we to believe she is so stupid she didn't understand that being the Vice-President (or even the Vice-Presidential candidate) is really hard? This is somehow a compassionate thing to say about her?

Any pity I might've felt for Sarah Palin was beaten to death in utero on the night she stood at a bully pulpit and sarcastically mocked "community organizers", the shittily-paid, overwhelmingly female (at least in this country) people who work awful hours to try to improve their communities.

Rebecca Traister sums up my thoughts on the sudden crop of pity for Palin in Salon, and judging from the letters in response, Ruth and I are not alone.

Oops, looks like I've written a post for my own blog - thanks, Mike!

Mike said...

Ruth's comment started me thinking, then ronnie's made me finish the process ... well, sort of.

First, I can feel compassion for an opponent. I despise much of what Sarah Palin stands for on a couple of different levels, but I can still separate that from the person, who is in way over her head.

Of course, as Dr. Johnson said, "If a madman were to come into this room with a stick in his hand, no doubt we should pity the state of his mind; but our primary consideration would be to take care of ourselves. We should knock him down first, and pity him afterwards."

I certainly want to knock her down first -- I would be appalled if she came into power.

But now to the sexist-and-condescending portion. Why do I feel pity (compassion) for a woman who is self-destructing because of a compulsive need for achievement, when I can't think of a guy who has been in the position where I've felt the same way?

First of all, I have felt compassion for guys who compulsively put themselves in untenable positions. But not very deeply, because I expect them to get themselves out of the situation -- which is a sexist assumption that compulsive behavior doesn't effect men, that a "real man" can lift himself out of any situation.

I honestly think there is a difference between men with a compulsion to succeed and women with the same level of compulsion.

Why do so many compulsively over-achieving women develop eating disorders, a far less common syndrome for compulsively over-achieving men? What are the men doing that makes them less apt to respond that way to the compulsive need to live up to unrealistic expectations? What is the parallel behavior in men?

And, if it is condescending and sexist to feel compassion for a woman who can't turn down the chance to be praised even when it puts her in a position she can't possibly maintain, but it is okay to feel compassion for a woman with anorexia, what is the point at which we draw that line?