Rogue? Rouge? Or is Leadership the Issue?

December 2, 2009 @ 02:01 pm by Jacqui Lewis

Hello everyone. Pardon my silence. I literally lost my voice these last two weeks and upon finding it, I was, well, a little tongue tied about how to speak about the Sarah Palin moment. I am calling it a moment because with the launch of her new book, Going Rogue: An American Life, and the parody, Going Rouge: An American Nightmare, written by Richard Kim and Betsy Reed, two editors of The Nation, Ms. Palin is enjoying a media surge, with interviews by both Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters; commentary in various blogs and print media; and polling by Gallup about her popularity.

I was slow to speak (actually, I edited myself) wanting to refrain from my gut reaction (why are we talking about this so much?!?) to an analysis (why are we talking about this so much?!?)

Among other pieces, I read an article in The New York Times Magazine by a blogger named Lisa Belkins (November 29, 2009). Her comments feel really true to me. Alaska’s former governor struck a chord in the hearts of women when she was Senator McCain’s running mate last year. She was a great hope for many — relatable, attractive, seemingly balancing home and work, caring for both a baby boy with Down Syndrome and a teenaged-pregnant daughter. Her homespun droppin’ of the g made her seem to many as one who could save the Republican Party from within the populace. She polled at 54% at the beginning of her candidacy.

Even as Tina Fey helped us to laugh at Ms. Palin’s mistakes, even as she polarized her own party and offended feminists with her winking and flirty presence, even as she showed herself to be a poorly researched and not well rehearsed public speaker, she still polled at 42% at the end of the campaign. Now, even now, 69% of Republicans give her a favorable rating with 29% unfavorable and 6% offering no opinion. (This compares to 14% favorable in Democrats, with 72% unfavorable and 13% no opinion and 41% favorable for Independents, 48% unfavorable, and 11% with no opinion. See the Gallup Poll October 2009.)

Why all the buzz? Why does hope remain in the hearts of many that Sarah Palin can… lead us… anywhere?

Does Sarah Palin understand national or foreign policy? Does she understand the dynamics of power and privilege that under-gird the racism and classism in our nation? Does she know how to exert ethical leadership in the public square?

No, she does not. But Sarah is spreading seeds that are taking root because the ground is fertile in America for this sort of leader — unethical, unedited, unaccountable, and perhaps even unintelligent. There are people in our culture who are sad, afraid, and anxious that the America they love is slipping away. They are angry, suspicious, clinging to some dream that belongs to only a few, and they need a hero/ine who can articulate their feelings in a covert way. They are thinking that Blacks, immigrants, lefties, progressives, Latinos, and the poor are taking what rightfully belongs only to them, but they can’t really say that and be politically correct. Sarah says these things in code — to and for a certain group of people who are looking for someone/something to lead them. There is no one else quite ready to say those things, no one quite ready to stand in that place against the marginalized in our country and for some values that are archaic at best.

We know from the history of our world that when there seems to be a vacuum of ethical and moral leadership; when people are divided by class, fear, and poverty; when racial and ethnic tensions rise, they will let themselves be led by… anyone! I think the parts of this country that reject President Obama as their leader are looking for the anti-Obama to articulate the racism, classism, fear, and fascism just under the surface of the American psyche.

And for those people, Sarah Palin is not even really a person or a subject; she is an object onto which they can project their hopes (just like Obama is an object on which to project their fears and hatred).

I wish I could get Ms. Palin in our Middle Project leadership lab for a week. We could teach her how to think ethically, to move morally, and to have a vision for a just society in which the common good is a gift for all. We could teach her how to organize a community, how to manage conflict and change, how to have the back of the “other” and build coalitions.

She won’t come; she knows all there is needed to know to go rogue and hold the projections and fears and rearticulate them for the masses.

But if she did, maybe, just maybe we could give her the opportunity to learn to be a leader. Then, maybe if she did run for office in 2012, there would be a real subject there, a real person there, not an object shaped by the projections and fantasies of an America in trouble. Maybe there would be someone on the Republican ticket who would want to pull the country together, not pull us apart.

Jacqui is also featured as a guest blogger for Advent for the Beatitude Society. Join the site and be part of the lively discussion.

About This Blog

Preparing ethical leaders for a just society. Posts by Jacqui Lewis, Senior Minister.

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