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2008 Presidential Election

Rose-colored glasses

Forget Palin’s shortcomings as a running mate—who’s going to play her in the movie?

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In Minneapolis last week, as Sarah Palin introduced herself to the world, the 44-year-old governor of Alaska talked about her small-town values, and her life as a small-town hockey mom, and her experience as a small-town mayor. Outside of a John Mellencamp song, the phrase “small town” had never been used so often so quickly, and the crowd ate it up and asked for seconds. Meanwhile, amid her repeated efforts to establish her heartland authenticity, Sarah Palin’s glasses stood out like a pregnant teen at an abstinence rally.

Crafted with minimalist architectural precision by industrial designer Kazuo Kawasaki, they cost $370 a pair, lenses extra. They aren’t the kind of glasses you wear when driving your kids to the ice rink or gutting a freshly shot moose. When you say “hockey mom,” “titanium designer eyewear” is not the first thing that pops into your mind, or even the millionth. Kawasaki frames are rimless, screwless, ostentatiously discreet. They’re the frames Hollywood elites such as David Letterman and Whoopi Goldberg wear when they want to tastefully signify their underappreciated intellectual dimensions, but no one has ever deployed them more effectively than Palin did on that night.

They showed she knows exactly what part she’s been drafted to play. Indeed, while Barack Obama may be Hollywood’s choice on election day, Palin presented herself as the kind of character Hollywood falls for every other day of the year. Sure, her positions on abortion and gay marriage may not go over all that well in the average studio commissary, but whose story would the town that gave us Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and countless other populist fairy tales in which the little guy takes on the Establishment be more likely to embrace? The one about the charismatic but lofty Harvard Law graduate whose life outside of politics seems to consist mainly of teaching constitutional law and writing uplifting memoirs? Or the one about the spunky former beauty queen who shoots caribou in between nursing babies and just might have the gumption—and the glasses—to make it all the way to the White House?

Barack Obama exudes the cool glamour of a movie star, but all he’s promising the masses is hope and change. Palin, on other hand, is promising drama. Wacky, quirky, fish-out-of-water drama. And right now, America’s Got Talent and CSI reruns aren’t cutting it. Did you notice that Palin’s convention speech drew more viewers than both this year’s Oscars and the American Idol finale? America wants entertainment, and Palin delivers.

Does she know how Fannie Mae is funded? Can she name two cities in Iraq? What does any of that matter? She shoots wolves from airplanes! She eats moose-burgers! She’d be a fun vice president, an unpredictable vice president. Maybe she’ll try to ban some books in the Library of Congress, just like she did when she was mayor of Wasilla—that would be totally hilarious! Maybe she’ll put Air Force One for sale on eBay, just like she did with the governor’s private luxury jet in Alaska. She’s a reformer, Sarah Barracuda, ready to shake things up!

A month ago, Palin cheerfully told a cable news interviewer she has no idea what the vice president actually does all day. This, of course, only makes her more appealing. People want to see her wing it. They want to see her get by on pluck and nerve and common sense, and teach the permanent political establishment a thing or two about what a small-town gal can accomplish when she takes a break from posing for photos with animal carcasses and sets her mind to representing Big Oil’s interests in Alaska.

Of course, you can’t just let anyone be vice president, especially when that particular vice president will be only one 72-year-old heartbeat away from the highest office in the land. And that’s where Sarah Palin’s designer glasses come into play. In Legally Blonde, Reese Witherspoon’s superficial but hard-working fashion-school ditz dons a pair of smart-person glasses and instantly turns into a brilliant legal scholar capable of credibly engaging with Harvard law professors. And Witherspoon’s smart-person glasses weren’t all that impressive. They were actually kind of clunky and cartoonish, more like a hockey mom’s idea of what Ivy League elites would wear rather than the genuine article. Palin’s own choice in spectacles suggests a much sharper eye: They’re so sophisticated even the elites are clamoring to get a pair. They fit her face perfectly, and for her millions of new fans, they are pretty much the only resume she needs.

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