September 6, 2008
Sure, I spent much of the last week in a state of apoplexy at the hypocrisy and cynicism of the political process in general and the Republican Party in particular. But I can't say those were the very first thoughts that came to mind when Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was introduced to the world Aug. 29.
Instead, I thought about one of my closest friends.
Kimberly Speranza is not only emblematic of the kind of religious conservative voter Palin was tapped to "energize," she's uncannily similar to "Sarah Barracuda." Raised in rural, working-class Nebraska, Kim's a veteran snowmobiler, has hunted pheasant, slopped hogs and butchered and cleaned chickens, and worked as a corporate executive. She's also an devout evangelical Christian who, like Palin, does not believe in Darwinian evolution. Although she'll be the first to tell you she's not an intellectual, she's bright, energetic and as curious about the world as anyone I know. She also happens to wear her hair piled on top of her head exactly the way Palin does.
Kim, who's 42, lives in Palos Verdes with her husband, Scott, 41, and their 3-year-old twins. They've been longtime Bush supporters, though when I saw Kim a few months ago, she told me she was finally fed up with the current administration. She also said that neither she nor Scott were fans of John McCain, and that they felt there was no Republican candidate who represented their interests and values. She did, however, express respect and admiration for Sen. Barack Obama. And although she didn't come out and say she would vote for him, she didn't say she wouldn't.
Considering that over the years we've both nearly choked on our Chinese chicken salads arguing with each other over lunch, this was extraordinary to hear. But that was before Palin came along.
On Wednesday, I called Kim and invited myself over to watch Palin's acceptance speech. Their living room, after all, seemed like the closest I could get to the conservative base.
"We're energized," Scott said as we sat down to dinner before the speech. "Honestly, I might not have voted before this. But now I feel like it's 'game on.' The Democrats had an advantage in that Obama is a gifted speaker and incredibly appealing to his base. That was missing from our side. Now I at least feel like there's an equal playing field."
"Exactly," Kim said. "She reminds me of my grandmother, who worked on the farm and could hunt and grow food and raise kids and have two of them die and still go on. You don't see that in politics a lot, and you don't get it from going to Harvard, but that doesn't mean it's not valid."
The Speranzas work in the health insurance industry, get their news from National Public Radio as well as Fox and CNN, and describe their religious affiliation as "evangelical and as far right in the Christian right as you can go." And although Kim says she supports abstinence being taught in schools alongside traditional sex education (ditto for creationism and evolution), she and Scott both say Palin makes them feel as if they have a voice in the political arena.
As for Palin's special-needs infant, pregnant teenage daughter and the sudden emergence of the future son-in-law with an expletive-laced MySpace page that declared his lack of interest in fatherhood, the Speranzas say Palin's willingness to cope with her flaws makes voters like them love her more. "Look, I'd certainly think twice about the family consequences of running for office," said Kim. "She has an entirely different sense of her own boundaries than most people. She's almost like a superhero. Though she does have my hair."
As for Palin's speech, we all agreed it was "incredible," though they meant it as a compliment, whereas I was reminded of Nicole Kidman's role in the movie "To Die For," in which she plays an aspiring TV personality who murders her way to the top.
"What if she ends up becoming president?" I asked.
"It would concern me," said Scott. "But less than if Obama were president."
We also agreed that the take-away scene was one of the more surreal in recent political history: The Palin family, baby bump and all, waving from the convention stage to a crowd so adoring you'd think it was a Peter Frampton concert.
"That family is so American," Scott said. "The pregnant daughter, the baby with Down syndrome, the husband who doesn't have as big a career as his wife."
"The boyfriend with the embarrassing MySpace page," Kim added. "That's real life! Go Sarah Barracuda!"
Game on, folks.
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