Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sarah Palin, Oprah, and Cheers

I stayed up late watching a DVD, and when I turned off the television, Fox (Channel 2 here) was showing a Cheers episode. The title of the 1993 episode was "Woody Gets an Election." (Season 11, Episode 21) In this episode, Frasier convinces the hapless Woody Boyd--a genial but vacuous bartender--to run for City Council. Frasier's goal is to create an experiment proving voter ineptitude. Frasier first tells Sam Malone that a monkey could get 10% of the vote, but then tells Sam he'll go one better--he will bet that Woody Boyd can get 10% of the vote:

Look, all I'm saying is that when it comes to voting, people just shut off their brains. I submit we could put a chimpanzee on the ballot and garner ten percent of the vote.

Sam and Frasier make the bet, and we're off to the races. (Anti-Obama people will love Frasier's advice to Woody--just come up with something about "change," he says.) In the middle of the election, Frasier dreams that Woody will eventually move up in the political ranks, become president, and then blow up the entire world. Waking from his nightmare, Frasier convinces Woody to drop out of the race. Even though Woody tells the public he is quitting the race, he wins the election anyway when his wife announces she is pregnant. After Woody's successful election, a despondent, guilt-ridden Frasier believes he has brought about the extinction of the human race as we know it.

As I am watching this episode, I flip to another channel. It's a repeat of Sarah Palin's interview yesterday with Oprah. I keep watching the Cheers episode, and I start wondering whether I've swallowed the red pill ("You take the blue pill--the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill--you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes."). I soon realize art is imitating life.

Some of Woody's comments could match up identically with Sarah Palin's words--just switch "hockey mom" with "farmboy" to eliminate the gender issue, and then go watch the Cheers episode. For example, Woody says plenty of folksy stuff about cleaning up city hall--he says he just knows what's on the farm, and as a simple farmboy, he wants to clean up the rats, because with the rats, you won't have a barn. The reporter--who later plays Roz on Frasier's own show--walks away, saying she's never heard such corny stuff, but she's inclined to believe Woody can pull it off. I started thinking about Sarah Palin's anti-corruption campaign promises and her folksy sayings, and the similarities between Sarah Palin and Woody stunned me.

In case you're wondering, Sarah Palin did a decent job in the Oprah interview. She came across as a nice, active mom who loves her family--just like the Woody character comes across as a decent, nice guy who loves his wife. As I watched the interview, I realized Sarah Palin believes that being a decent person is enough to run for office. In other words, if you're not a liar, not evil, and you believe in God, why can't you do good things in public office? It's sort of like asking,"Why can't Woody Boyd represent Boston well?"

Anything's possible, right? Except that these days, being a politician requires more than just being a good person. It means being able to interpret and write good laws. It means being smart enough to understand the intricacies of various legal procedures. It means having more than basic knowledge of American history and economics. It means being able to juggle special interests--public sector unions, corporations, small businesses, etc.--with doing what's right for the people. (San Jose Councilmember Pete Constant needs to do a better job in this regard. As an ex-cop, he did the police union's bidding and voted against government transparency, and then seems to have given me a bogus reason for voting against it. For more, see here).

Now, Sarah Palin might believe she can hire staff members who can handle all the tough, tedious details for her. But the culture of any institution starts at the top. If the leader lacks understanding and direction when it comes to details, the entire organization will eventually get sloppy. We've already seen that phenomenon with George W. Bush: someone interprets a Rumsfeld memo to mean that torturing detainees is perfectly fine. The CIA starts torturing the wrong people and then instead of coming clean, it tries to cover up its mistakes. Instead of complying with reasonable information requests, the DOJ starts finding technical reasons to deny them. And so on. We've already seen what happens when a nice, decent person gets into office. It's a total disaster. After experiencing the George W. Bush years, why would anyone listen to Sarah Palin? She's got as much credibility as Woody Boyd.

Fittingly, the final scene of the Cheers episode shows a nuclear bomb exploding. (Matt "She's Going to Have the Nuclear Codes" Damon would be proud.)

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