Political Mercury

December 23, 2010



By Douglas Burns


An authentic mom otherwise ‘outside’ comfort zone

Parents, particularly busy moms, know the drill. And it has to be frustrating.

So many modern events are “adults only” in our culture, places where kids are not welcome, where mothers with baby and toddlers in tow, are the objects of frowns, scowls and murmurs.

For the jugglers of careers, child-rearing, and, yes, political activism, there is one place at least where your kids are embraced and share in the fun: Sarah Palin rallies and book signings.

That was evident a few weeks ago in Spirit Lake, as moms and young daughters stood for hours or even stayed overnight in the local Supercenter, waiting for their heroine, the former governor of Alaska and TLC reality star, to autograph her new 269-page book, “America By Heart: Reflections On Family, Faith And Flag.”

Nancy Vierkant of Spirit Lake, a stay-at-home mother who is active with the Dickinson County Republican Women, came with her 9-year-old daughter, Maddie.

“She is a huge Sarah Palin fan,” Nancy Vierkant said. “We’re Republicans in our house, so we talk about her a lot.”

Maddie was the one in the family who asked her mom to go to the event. Palin really engaged Maddie, asked her a lot of questions, naturally. This made an impression.

“I think that she just can really relate to families,” Vierkant said. “I think having young children herself, I think that she’s got that natural ability to relate to them.”

In her book, Palin resorts to the good-versus-evil analysis of the world, a kind of Disney-fied politics peopled with “Hollywood hotshots” and “cultural elites” and “warrior souls” and “mamma grizzlies.”

And there is, in a nod to Dr. Phil and other authors in this genre, plenty of conventional wisdom masquerading as revelation. As when Palin tells us, “Nothing worthwhile comes without effort. And big things come with great effort. That’s what made America great.” It is encouraging to see that Palin can channel her inner sixth-grade gym teacher or junior varsity basketball coach.

In “America By Heart” Palin lets us in on some Alaska terminology. True Alaskans, she says, refer to the lower 48 states as “Outside.”

On matters of family, Palin is in her wheelhouse, and these are the strongest parts of the book — the ones that if readers shed presumption and ideology, flow and inform to some extent.

Palin, who liberally quotes a variety of sources, many at length in the book, gives us this from political scientist and author James Q. Wilson who famously wrote: “To avoid poverty, do three things: finish high school, marry before having a child, and produce the child after you are 20 years old. Only 8 percent of people who do all three will be poor; of those who fail to do them, 79 percent will be poor.”

Who can argue with that?

Palin shows in an in-depth understanding of the perils of false self-esteem in America’s kids today.

“The culture of undeserved self-esteem is getting worse,” Palin writes.

She is dead-on right about this, noting young people too often earn their self-identity from what others tell them about themselves rather than through actual accomplishment.

“No one they’ve encountered in their lives — from their parents to their teachers to their president — wanted them to feel bad for hearing the truth. So they grew up convinced they could become big pop stars like Michael Jackson,” writes Palin.

Where Palin is at her worst, and awfully off-key, is her attempt to discuss race, a matter the former governor clearly has not rolled over in her developing worldview or struggled with much.

“In my experience, Americans are too busy raising their families, building their businesses, and looking after their neighbors to spend a lot of time fixating on the color of someone’s skin,” Palin writes.

About 20 minutes after reading Palin’s dismissal of racism as a living, breathing threat, I was having dinner and watching football with some Hispanic friends. One of them showed me a bruise on his arm that resulted from a physical altercation last week in Ames in which he had been called an ugly racial term for simply speaking Spanish to another Latino whom he just met. Some white twentysomethings didn’t like hearing the Spanish — even though my friend is fluent in English, too, and speaks it without accent.

Not surprisingly, Palin uses “America By Heart” to attempt to cast Barack and Michelle Obama as black militants, and their supporters as blind followers guided only by a sense to right racial wrongs.

“After all, if we’re motivated only by the fact that there is a ‘black man in the White House’ and not by serious policy differences, what’s the point in discussing those policy differences?” Palin writes.

Palin does something else you won’t see often. She quotes Calvin Coolidge, suggesting he is a forgotten sage. Reminds me of Congressman Steve King’s attempts a few years ago to resurrect what he said was the unfair sullying of red-baiter U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s reputation.

“Is it just a coincidence that one of the presidents who most appreciated our founding principles is one of the least celebrated by the academic elite?” Palin writes as she leads into a 1926 speech — one Silent Cal delivered on the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Palin quotes a king’s ransom of philosophers, conservative thinkers, founders and authors. On Page 110, we find Abigail Adams eloquently discussing the “patriotism in the female sex.”

Palin’s takeaway, “You go, girl, Abigail.”

The use of slang, the stuff of high school texts and slapdash tweets, has no place in the discussion of our founders. It is, well, downright disrespectful of America to minimize Abigail Adams with bubble-gum praise.

Really? “You go, girl.”

Perfect for the moms and daughters in Wal-Mart in northwest Iowa.

But anyone who reads John and Abigail Adams’s brilliant correspondence to each other and even thinks “you go, girl” to herself — much less writes it in a high-profile book — is projecting an image that is far more TLC Sunday nights than presidential. CV


Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.


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