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Obama's Live Performance vs Palin's Taped Audition

Jan 13, 2011 | Updated May 25, 2011

Sarah Palin really, really wants to be your president. She wants it so badly, in fact, that she elected herself to submit the Republican response to President Obama's speech in Arizona before he even delivered it. This preemptive move basically amounted to a taped audition for the role of President In A Time Of Crisis, offered up just in time for the start of the 2012 campaign.

What is confusing is who Palin's intended audience was. Was it the production team (the government) or the underwriters (you and me), or was it the casting directors (Republican primary voters)? It seemed to start out promising -- arguably the second most prominent figure on the national political stage making a genuine attempt to lead a horrified nation. But before she was halfway through she had alienated just about everyone but her most hardcore base, the 70 percent of Republicans that have a favorable view of her. For three days they've been harboring feelings of guilt which quickly turned to indignation. They were in need of absolution, and Palin was there to give it. To these folks her tryout played pretty well, most likely. To the rest of the general public, well, it didn't exactly leave us wanting more.

Fast forward to primetime, in which the man who already passed the audition successfully had his shot. Bear in mind that politics is the only type of theater in which you have to audition again for the same gig after you've had it for years. No sweat. His live performance was so compelling that even his routine detractors at Fox News had to give it up for him. After three days of hearing mostly about the Tucson killer and countless attempts to cast him and his act as a product of either the right or the left, President Obama took the spotlight and aimed it squarely on the victims of January 8.

Through him we got to know those people better than we ever would have in life, and in their name we were given a simple challenge: to try in each of our own way to build a future through our words and deeds that would make them proud. Palin had the opportunity to do the same, but she chose instead to devote three fourths of her presentation to over-defending herself and her party while accusing anyone who suggests maybe toning it down a little of stifling free speech. "Not exactly a big league move," as Mad Men's Don Draper would say.

What prevents her from inspiring the country she loves when it's called for? Lack of imagination? Hardly. Only the most vivid imagination could have read "death panels" into a simple right to talk with a doctor about the end of life. Lack of intellectual curiosity? Not exactly. She did make some rather astute observations on the history of our political discourse and used it to defend her "symbolic" use of gun rhetoric in the same way some of us defend Quentin Tarantino's use of fake guns and fake blood. No, what it really boils down to is a lack of human compassion and respect.

Where Obama saw a shocked and wounded public that was crying out for solace, Palin saw an angry mob that was out to get her (a vision no doubt aided by her prior conversation with Glenn Beck). So the mama grizzly reloaded, chiding the punditocracy while ignoring the fact that she's not only a pundit herself, she is the pundit. The one who shirked her duty of public service in order to make millions from punditry without responsibility. Now she plans to use this role to propel her into the White House in the next two years. It's going to take a lot more political maturity than what we saw Wednesday. Was the Arizona shooting in any way her fault? I doubt it. But in the aftermath, she faced an important test of character and blew it. A misstep in the audition process that will haunt her all the way through the callbacks.