By Carter Clews
It had to be a decade ago, maybe even longer, that I chanced upon a dog-eared copy of Audrey Meadows autobiography, Love Alice, in a dusty book store on the quaint Main Street of a little town called Westminster, Maryland.
Thumbing open the cover, I came upon a preface that made me fall in love with “Alice” all over again. She cautioned those “who bought this book seeking scandalous thrills or lurid confessions,“ to save their time and money,” adding, “If you think I’m too admiring of Jackie [Gleason] with not enough negative cracks, well, this is a love letter, not a report card. “
And so it was. I lapped up every page of it, drifting back in mind’s eye to sit with my parents in front of the tiny black and white TV that brought “The Honeymooners” into my boyhood home. And Ms. Meadows’ tattered little tome still occupies a place of honor on my library bookshelf.
So, why am I sharing these thoughts with you on Tuesday, November 4—Election Day—2008, when so much is at stake, and such trivial reminisces seem far removed from the weighty issues at hand? Because I want to give you the same word of warning that “Alice” gave me: This is a love letter (not a report card) for Sarah Louise Heath Palin. So, if you’re looking for a cross word or even the slightest criticism, you have my leave to move on now.
Like most Americans, I had barely heard of Sarah Palin until August 29, 2008, when John McCain selected her as his running mate. Oh, I knew she was Governor of Alaska. And that she was stunningly beautiful. I think I knew she had five children, but certainly not that the youngest had Down’s Syndrome. And I most assuredly did not know that she was one of the most dynamic and articulate conservative advocates in America today.
I guess what I’m saying is that I learned about Sarah Palin at just about the same time the mainstream media did. The difference was: I loved her for what I learned. And they hated her to the core for all that she is, has been, or now strives to become.
I’m not ashamed to admit that in the past three months, my esteem for this selfless, gracious, and courageous woman has grown with every passing day. She has withstood the slings and arrows of the outraged fortunate, and has never lost her poise. She has been flung into the jaws of the hellions and harpies, and has emerged with her core values still intact, her smile still as winning and winsome as the day she first took center stage.
And surely, it could not have been easy. If there is any fairness in the annals of time, then surely some just scribe on a distant day will record that Sarah Palin was the most ruthlessly abused vice presidential candidate in American history. She was attacked for the way she walked. She was attacked for the way she talked. She was attacked for what she said, and for what she didn’t say, as well. She was attacked for her choice of a wardrobe, and then attacked for letting someone else choose it for her. She was attacked for neglecting her children, and then attacked anew for taking them with her on the adventure of a lifetime.
She was bullied by the duplicitous Charlie Gibson, who falsified her statements and then called her a liar for standing true. She was entrapped by the saccharinely Katie Couric, who lured her in for a little friendly “girl talk,” then edited her comments to make her seem uninformed and ill-bred. She was cruelly mimicked by a second-rate Saturday Night Live comedian, and then spurned by the mimic when she was gracious enough to share a stage.
Yet, through it all, as those who found fault but never favor continued their brutal assault, something occurred on the American scene that is as rare as Carlyle’s “well-spent life,” yet as real as the rising sun. Sarah Palin captured the hearts of the American people, not by backing down, but by shining through. Time and again, as the critics pilloried her every move and predicted her imminent fall, Sarah Palin “filled the unforgiving moment with sixty seconds worth of distance run.”
Within 72 hours of her being named John McCain’s choice for vice president, she was thrust onto the proscenium to give her acceptance speech in front of a live audience numbering in the thousands and a viewing audience in the tens of millions. Her detractors salivated at the thought of her stumbling or mumbling, of falling flat or failing the test. But, Sarah Palin didn’t fall flat; she filled the moment as few before her had ever done. She “knocked it out of the park,” as the pundits were forced to admit. And the truth is, they hated her for it.
Then came her debate with a 30-year Washington fixture, who prides himself on his forensic skills and oozes unction like a snail trails slime. The mainstream media exuded all of the grizzly glee of Madame Lafarge at chopping block. Joey Plugs was going to show this bumpkin up once and for all – and she may even have to be dropped from the ticket.
But, Joey Plugs didn’t show her up. With a wink and nudge she parried Joe’s every thrust. And you knew she had carried the day when the media elite termed it a “draw.” Yes, it was a draw – as in the moosekiller from the frozen tundra drawing and quartering Joey Plugs.
Then came Saturday Night Live, when Sarah Palin’s now obsessive critics predicted she would be made a fool of by some second-tier TV cue card reader named Tina Fey. Fortunate enough to look somewhat remotely like Mrs. Palin, Ms. Fey tried to parlay that gift into a last-ditch effort to salvage a sinking career. And when Sarah Palin agreed to appear on the same stage with Tina, the critics licked their chops in anticipation of a defrenestration.
But, alas, her detractors should have studied up on their Edwin Markham: “They drew a circle that shut me out/Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout/But love and I had the wit to win/We drew a circle that took them in.” As Tina glowered, Sarah glowed.
So sterling was Sarah Palin’s performance that SNL producer Lorne Michael was moved to say, “I watched the way she connected with people, and she’s powerful. Her politics aren’t my politics. But you can see that she’s a very powerful, very disciplined, incredibly gracious woman. This was her first time out and she’s had a huge impact. People connect to her.”
“People connect to her.” And do you know why? Because Sarah Palin connects to people. Good, decent Americans of all races, creeds, and colors see in Sarah Palin something we all long to know is buried, perhaps deeply, within our souls. Lincoln called it “the better angels of our nature.” And through three, long, grueling – often unspeakably cruel – months Sarah Palin’s “better angels” made tens of millions of grateful Americans know in our hearts that we could all be better people.
At the end of the preface to her book, Audrey Meadows thanks Jackie Gleason for inspiring in those who shared his moment upon the stage all that any of us could ever ask: “He made us all run faster, reach higher, go further than we ever dreamed we could.”
For “one, brief, shining moment,” so did Sarah Palin. And that’s why this is a love letter that will last a lifetime. Thank you, Mrs. Palin, from the bottom of our hearts.
Carter Clews is the Executive Editor of ALG News Bureau.