Defending Palin with Orbison

Continuing education can be a tricky business when it involves teaching people who sometimes treat arguments like songs. That's why a friend who despises Sarah Palin made me want to defend her. Pounding out a four-count indictment on the drumhead of what I hope was a cathartic essay, my friend accused Palin of being glib, uninformed, anti-intellectual and intolerant.  Although much of what he said to support those complaints was questionable, he knew enough to support them with examples. From a musical point of view, the passionate Whap! Whap! Whap! Whap! of each charge had a familiar rhythm.

Adding a bass line to his disdain, my friend also skewered Palin as a "failed governor," and called her supporters hicks for whom any kind of wisdom is "utterly beside the point." Every paragraph in his piece vibrated with contempt for Palin and the horse she rode in on.

Yet outside the little circle of partisans who cheer such things, the indictment fizzles. You can't make a four-count case against a pretty woman to anyone who spent formative years listening to the four-beat hook from "Oh, Pretty Woman." Three quick soundings of anything counts as a distress signal, but God and Roy Orbison have so ordered the cosmos that four beats should always be followed by the ascending notes of the guitar riff that transports Orbison into admiration for beauty.

If that sounds shallow (or, against all odds, Republican), it's no sillier than calling Sarah Palin an extreme right-winger. As "Ace" of the conservative Ace of Spades blog notes, people who complain about Palin being "extreme" are usually thinking of two things: the "death panel" phrase that she coined for medical review boards associated with health care proposals still in the news, and her willingness to criticize Barack Obama more forcefully than other politicians do.

Let's consider those objections in order. First, the "death panel" phrase was an effective piece of theater. Had it been a lie, or even a forgettable truth, it would not have had the power to inspire changes in the proposed legislation.

Second, Palin's "happy warrior" attitude discomfits detractors who should know better. Casablanca-style shock may be popular among the smart set, but with the possible exception of "Clueless Joe" Biden, modern American vice presidents are supposed to engage in political combat so that presidents can pretend to be above the fray. Sadly, Palin ruffled feathers in her own campaign because (per Ace), "she was so uncouth as to actually attempt to oppose Barack Obama in a way that might actually defeat him."

Other people say that Palin can only be called extreme if acting on principle or choosing not to abort a Down Syndrome baby are "extreme."

You can make an argument that Palin is not ready for prime time and possibly never will be, but that argument implies something about the caliber of people already in prime time that seems increasingly unwarranted.  Palin was wrong to cite funding for fruit fly research in France as an example of federal pork, for example, because the U.S. Department of Agriculture wisely maintains a few field offices overseas in the hope of learning from or stopping potential threats to American agriculture before they reach our shores. On the other side of the ledger and to her credit, Palin has been honest about the co-authorship of her memoir, and even her occasionally empty statements are not burdened with the ruffles and flourishes that doom pronouncements like "we are the change we have been waiting for."

Beyond that, if you're going to suggest (as my friend did) that appeals to a "culture of life" come mostly from hypocritical Christians who can't be bothered to help anyone past the fetal stage of development, then you'd be hard-pressed to explain a multitude of nonprofit hospitals, soup kitchens, and private charities, let alone Mother Teresa or the occasional beauty pageant contestant-turned-politician with a well-documented love for handicapped people of all creeds and colors.

Truth in labeling is increasingly hard to come by, as a paraphrase of something said recently by Jonah Goldberg helps to show. Goldberg was defending a radio host whose name I've scrubbed from the original syntax to make a point. What he said was, "If you think it's racist to oppose Obama's health care reform efforts, it goes without saying that you'll think [insert name here] is an extremist."

There is no question that high-profile conservatives like Sarah Palin have been libeled and slandered in precisely that way. Next thing you know, someone will go after old dead Roy for punctuating his appreciation of passing pulchritude with an artfully improvised exclamation like "Mercy!"

Along similar lines, a reader named "Flenser" capped the discussion of extremism at the Ace of Spades blog with the sage observation that "You have to keep in mind that the left's political topography is like that New Yorker map of the world as seen from Manhattan: You have the center (Barack Obama), the right (New York Times columnist David Brooks), and the far right (everybody to the right of David Brooks)."

There's a bell that has the ring of truth. In that one small way, it's similar to the joy that Roy Orbison sings about when he notices that the woman who he thought was going to pass him by has decided to walk back to him. "I'll treat you right," he sings. Chivalry is not dead.

As to the ongoing battle for truth, justice, and the American Way, and the unfortunate need to treat "Sarahcuda phobia" while demolishing stereotypes that grip some friends, well, only the lonely know the way I feel tonight. It's a good thing that the rhythmic thump of a snare drum struck four times to kickstart a great song will outlast the complaints that summoned a musical memory unwittingly.