Mrs. Palin Goes to Washington

I'm a sucker for Frank Capra movies, movies like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington "which underscore the difference an honest person dedicated to the common weal can make to his community and his country. While today the stories may seem dated and too black and white a depiction of good and evil, they resonate still in American hearts even after decades of public viewing.

We are cock-eyed optimists at heart. And we have been forever in love with the common man (or woman) who loves his family, his God and his neighbors enough to work hard to make their lives rich and full and better than they are.

I do not think I am alone in my love of these stories. And I think that's why the selection of  Governor Sarah Palin as Senator McCain's running mate has struck such a powerful nerve among the electorate. She is not a part of any ruling elite. She comes from no moneyed family. Her family and its strengths and problems are familiar to us all. She's smart, courageous, honest and personable.

What is amazing to me is that it is so rare for such a fine, brave, likeable candidate as Mrs. Palin to make it so far. We didn't always have only very rich people or children of politicians running for higher office. Harry Truman, one of my favorite presidents, for one, was a failed haberdasher.  I have been trying to figure out when and why we developed an almost iron clad rule that presidential and vice presidential candidates had to fit a certain template  -- come from rich and/or politically prominent families, have Ivy League degrees and/ or have spent years in the House or Senate.

Personally, I blame it on the myth of Camelot. The JFK family was rich, politically prominent, young and the darlings of an adoring press. Of course, that narrative about them was very one-sided, not terribly accurate, and a tribute to their ability to manipulate media coverage. But it seems to me that ever since, anyone running for president or vice-president needed to have very substantial public recognition often because of the prominence of their family or long service in Congress and lots of  money-inherited, donated or contributed.  Maybe it's the polished, well-attired and groomed  visage we'd grown to consider an essential  attribute for those positions.

We've paid dearly for the notion that only a small cadre of Americans are among those fit to serve. For one thing, we have a boringly similar field from which to choose -- people increasingly out of touch with their countrymen and loath to risking anything to advance principled positions. It has made our campaigns tediously predictable and our voters understandably cynical and disengaged.

Every primary season we see the candidates appealing to the outer reaches of their parties, and then swing rapidly to the center once they've sewn up the nominations. What we call "debates" are laughably similar year after year: The candidates pretending it's possible to square their primary positions with their utterly inconsistent stands in the general election and memorizing carefully parsed tip toes through those minefields. The increasingly expensive ad campaigns are filled with the candidate's losing primary opponents' criticisms of him, now strikingly and embarrassingly in contrast to their fulsome praise and endorsements in the general election. The positions they are running for require the exercise of executive authority and yet most of these candidates absolutely lack authenticity.

Finally, there is the press. I doubt if many are still alive who recall the legendary old Kennedy era Georgetown dinners where press and President mingled easily, though I suspect the dinners are more scintillating and glorious in recollection than they were in real terms. Even foie gras and champagne is poor pay for having sold themselves so utterly to a White House which played the press like violins.

Still, many in the press corps dream of days like that again, so when someone like Palin is named, the dream is scotched for sure. Downing moose burgers and beer is not quite how they see themselves spending idle Saturday nights in D.C. In fact, having spent so much time cultivating the present ponce parade in the Senate and House, their dismay at the selection of a governor -- especially one so far from the Beltway, which increasingly has itself taken on the flavor of the old Court of the Sun King where adherence to the constantly changing meaningless customary externalities meant far more than talent and brains -- is understandable if not ridiculous.

In "Mr. Smith "the press regarded the hero as a bumpkin, too, and believed he had no business in the hallowed precincts of Capitol Hill as to which they regarded themselves as experts. But Mr. Smith, the naïve, good hearted, honest and courageous man won in the end, and the oh-so-sophisticated press looked like fools, having covered for the corrupt liars they knew very well. The press has largely turned up its nose at Governor Palin for much the same reason, and is as wrong in real life as they were in the movie.

I love Sarah Palin. I wish her well. She reaffirms after decades of ignoring what is in the heart of every true American: We can indeed move mountains if we have the will to do so, and the person best able to lead us to do that can come from every station of life and every background.

Clarice Feldman is a retired attorney in Washington, DC
I'm a sucker for Frank Capra movies, movies like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington "which underscore the difference an honest person dedicated to the common weal can make to his community and his country. While today the stories may seem dated and too black and white a depiction of good and evil, they resonate still in American hearts even after decades of public viewing.

We are cock-eyed optimists at heart. And we have been forever in love with the common man (or woman) who loves his family, his God and his neighbors enough to work hard to make their lives rich and full and better than they are.

I do not think I am alone in my love of these stories. And I think that's why the selection of  Governor Sarah Palin as Senator McCain's running mate has struck such a powerful nerve among the electorate. She is not a part of any ruling elite. She comes from no moneyed family. Her family and its strengths and problems are familiar to us all. She's smart, courageous, honest and personable.

What is amazing to me is that it is so rare for such a fine, brave, likeable candidate as Mrs. Palin to make it so far. We didn't always have only very rich people or children of politicians running for higher office. Harry Truman, one of my favorite presidents, for one, was a failed haberdasher.  I have been trying to figure out when and why we developed an almost iron clad rule that presidential and vice presidential candidates had to fit a certain template  -- come from rich and/or politically prominent families, have Ivy League degrees and/ or have spent years in the House or Senate.

Personally, I blame it on the myth of Camelot. The JFK family was rich, politically prominent, young and the darlings of an adoring press. Of course, that narrative about them was very one-sided, not terribly accurate, and a tribute to their ability to manipulate media coverage. But it seems to me that ever since, anyone running for president or vice-president needed to have very substantial public recognition often because of the prominence of their family or long service in Congress and lots of  money-inherited, donated or contributed.  Maybe it's the polished, well-attired and groomed  visage we'd grown to consider an essential  attribute for those positions.

We've paid dearly for the notion that only a small cadre of Americans are among those fit to serve. For one thing, we have a boringly similar field from which to choose -- people increasingly out of touch with their countrymen and loath to risking anything to advance principled positions. It has made our campaigns tediously predictable and our voters understandably cynical and disengaged.

Every primary season we see the candidates appealing to the outer reaches of their parties, and then swing rapidly to the center once they've sewn up the nominations. What we call "debates" are laughably similar year after year: The candidates pretending it's possible to square their primary positions with their utterly inconsistent stands in the general election and memorizing carefully parsed tip toes through those minefields. The increasingly expensive ad campaigns are filled with the candidate's losing primary opponents' criticisms of him, now strikingly and embarrassingly in contrast to their fulsome praise and endorsements in the general election. The positions they are running for require the exercise of executive authority and yet most of these candidates absolutely lack authenticity.

Finally, there is the press. I doubt if many are still alive who recall the legendary old Kennedy era Georgetown dinners where press and President mingled easily, though I suspect the dinners are more scintillating and glorious in recollection than they were in real terms. Even foie gras and champagne is poor pay for having sold themselves so utterly to a White House which played the press like violins.

Still, many in the press corps dream of days like that again, so when someone like Palin is named, the dream is scotched for sure. Downing moose burgers and beer is not quite how they see themselves spending idle Saturday nights in D.C. In fact, having spent so much time cultivating the present ponce parade in the Senate and House, their dismay at the selection of a governor -- especially one so far from the Beltway, which increasingly has itself taken on the flavor of the old Court of the Sun King where adherence to the constantly changing meaningless customary externalities meant far more than talent and brains -- is understandable if not ridiculous.

In "Mr. Smith "the press regarded the hero as a bumpkin, too, and believed he had no business in the hallowed precincts of Capitol Hill as to which they regarded themselves as experts. But Mr. Smith, the naïve, good hearted, honest and courageous man won in the end, and the oh-so-sophisticated press looked like fools, having covered for the corrupt liars they knew very well. The press has largely turned up its nose at Governor Palin for much the same reason, and is as wrong in real life as they were in the movie.

I love Sarah Palin. I wish her well. She reaffirms after decades of ignoring what is in the heart of every true American: We can indeed move mountains if we have the will to do so, and the person best able to lead us to do that can come from every station of life and every background.

Clarice Feldman is a retired attorney in Washington, DC