Commentary Magazine


Looks Who’s a Hit Across the Pond

Today, Hasan Suroor writes of Great Britain:

Strangely enough, a country which is not known to warm easily to outsiders with raving right-wing views seems to have fallen in love with Ms Palin after her gritty performance at the Republican Party convention last month as the running-mate of John McCain, the party’s presidential nominee.

Making an allowance for the “raving” bit, this is interesting. Had we not been told that the whole world was in love with Barack Obama? What about Sarah Palin–so vastly different than the Democratic nominee for president–managed to steal their hearts?

While Hillary Clinton who is closer to the British idea of a cosmopolitan, liberal and politically sophisticated politician is intensely disliked in Britain, especially by members of her own gender, the gun-toting, anti-abortionist Ms Palin is a hit across the gender and political divide. Men find her glamorous, women admire her for putting “misogynists” on notice–as one woman commentator put it–and politicians of different hues like her for her brazen political incorrectness.

Which is a critical point. Contrary to what Barack Obama and his supporters may say, the “international community” is very politically incorrect. Political correctness is an American phenomenon. In the U.S., we have it so good we can spare time and money to determine what to call someone in a term paper instead of worrying about how to feed ourselves, clothe our children, and keep the bad guys off our land. Outside of a few hotel bars in Europe, PC talk of the Obama variety inspires disdain.

Despite the dominant myth that posits Barack Obama as the simultaneous embodiment of international sensibility and the “the America [Europe] loves,” Sarah Palin is cut in the mold of the great American heroes America finds corny, but the rest of the world still adores. Barack Obama is an undeniable global superstar, but what makes him particularly American to the rest of the world, aside from his superior dentition and the fact of his citizenship? Europe is teeming with lean, dashing internationalists who think America needs to be more humble. But you’ll not find a clan of Palins anywhere on the Continent. And that’s her appeal.

But, above all, it is her refreshing “otherness”–her slightly flirtatious style, muscular language (calling herself a “pitbull with lipstick”) and the sheer pluckiness of a small-town woman daring to take on the Washington establishment–that makes her look so interesting to many Britons. The more she appears to be unlike them, the more they like her.

In a country where most mothers hate to be seen near a sportsground they are excited by a woman who proudly introduces herself as the “hockey mom.” And being a “hockey mom” is tough business, apparently. It is not for the faint-hearted, as The Times writer Janice Turner discovered. To be a successful “hockey mom” you need to be not only maniacally disciplined but also aggressively competitive in a way that most British moms are not. “Hockey-moms” are “pitbulls with lipstick.”

Barack Obama may have gotten a certain domestic contingent excited about America again, but Sarah Palin has gotten the UK excited about us again. They find her so thrillingly American it’s hard for us to even grasp. The way the Beatles worshipped Elvis, or the way Martin Amis and IanMcEwan adore Saul Bellow. And this is a testament to the ineradicable history of the Anglo-American powers. America is in some ways the great stage on which fundamentally British notions of democracy and capitalism are played out. The U.S. and England don’t agree on everything, but our ties are strong enough that they don’t have to:

Ms Palin’s politics, especially her views on social issues (she is against abortion even for victims of rape and incest), are extreme even by the standards of the hang ‘em, flog ‘em variety of the British Right and have few takers in Britain. But, there is a sneaking admiration for her sheer chutzpah. And her “gritty flamboyance”, to quote one Palin-watcher, reminds many Britons of Margaret Thatcher who was hated for her politics but secretly admired by her worst critics for her steely, in-your-face style.

It’s hard to top “gritty flamboyance” as a descriptor of what the rest of the free world (continues to) love about America. They have suave indifference coming out of their ears. Palin reminds people that America is unique. And while Gloria Steinem isn’t impressed, feminists seem to think Palin is a sort of living manifesto.

Another woman writer–The Sunday Telegraph‘s Anne Applebaum–hailed Ms Palin as someone who “almost uniquely . . . appears not to be bothered at all by this conflict [between family life and an active life in politics]–hence the interest she holds for women.”

“Here is a woman who has managed to raise five children, however chaotically, while becoming one of the most popular governors in the U.S. Along the way, she shot some caribou, drove her children to hockey matches, won a few beauty contests . . . and learned to talk tough,” Ms Applebaum wrote arguing that the emergence of Ms Palin marked the end of the “Hillary Era” of women politicians.

Can the rest of Europe be far behind?

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