Saturday, November 21, 2009

No-Win Situations

When I was in my late teens, I had a poet friend whose name was Arthur Gregor, who happened to be a well-connected dude in the art and literary circles of New York. He threw a big party once and invited me to come. I was very excited--until my mother rolled right over it and told me I couldn't go. The reason being that it was totally inappropriate for a young woman to go unaccompanied to a man's apartment. It didn't matter that there would be dozens of other people there. "What if he tries something?" my mother wanted to know.

The truth is that Arthur Gregor would never have "tried something" with me, because he was gay. But I didn't dare tell that to my mother, as it would only have made things much, much worse. My mother was the first person who taught me about no-win situations. And I was definitely afraid of her.

This week I've been thinking a lot about people who make you feel afraid, and people who don't--Sarah Palin falling into the first category, and Barack Obama into the second. Then I happened on a couple of random sentences while reading something: "He's ridiculous, and yet you have to take him very seriously." (Change the "he" in this case to "she.") And, "To be a leader, you have to make them fear you and love you at the same time." That really got me thinking. One thing I can tell you for sure about Sarah Palin is that, like my mother did, she scares me. She's got chutzpah, is punitive, and is on the attack. But she's also got a lot of fans who love her, and her neurotic lust for destruction is gaining the upper hand. In the Huffington Post, Ian Gurwitz confessed that Sarah Palin scares him, too. "She's the anti-Susan Boyle," he wrote. "She's physically appealing. But she can't fucking sing."

Here is a recent statement Palin made to Bill O'Reilly on her qualifications for the presidency (hat tip to The Daily Dish): "I believe that I am [qualified to be president] because I have common sense, and I have, I believe, the values that are reflective of so many other American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fact resume that's based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles." The last line gets four stars. Three cheers for no education!

Well, to borrow this train of thought, Obama definitely knows how to "sing," and he is also physically appealing, but I am beginning to wonder about his ability to strike fear--and whether or not this matters in public life when you have to make deals and squeeze advantage out of tough negotiations. The verdict on his China trip is that he was too deferential. So far neither the Israelis nor the Mullahs in Iran have paid him much heed. And Republicans act like they are standing on his balls, waving the American flag. This week Obama's approval ratings slipped to just under 50%. It's not the end of the world by any stretch, but I can't help wondering if ultimately, this has anything to do with an absence of the fear factor fulfilling the laws of its being within the presidency.

Mercifully. we don't have suicide bombers over here; however, instead of loaded vests, we use lies as explosives to blow everything up, and believe me, it's working. (Has anyone seen the latest Republican ads against health-care reform?) Fact-checking organizations are working overtime to refute them, and believe me, it's not working. So far, I've never seen our President pound his fist on the table or the podium, demanding to know "Who said that?" or "Who did that?"--and glare at everyone. And I am beginning to wonder if being grown up and socially responsible and self-contained is going to be enough to keep the world from ending in communal failure. I desperately hope the President won't miss his cue, and that one day soon we'll hear the loud crack, as his fist finally meets the table.

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