Tonight I’m thinking about how much these two politicians are alike.
Of course, they are the figureheads of diametrically opposed tribes and worldviews. But the way they serve in their respective roles is uncannily alike. They are of the same generation, a generation weaned on symbols in an age in which the din of symbols (often clashing) drowns out substance. Humans may once have found symbols in the forest along with food, but modern humans live in a forest of symbols. They’re a large part of what we hunt, make, consume, and trade.
Obama and Palin are both magnetic screens for projection, both positive and negative. A broad range of people can see in Barack or in Sarah what they want to see. And that makes both of them extraordinarily polarizing: you either love them or hate them (and if you love one you hate the other). They’re held up as either redeemers or wreckers. Both are remarkably well suited to be seen as exemplars and embodiments of the values they stand for: cosmopolitanism in Obama’s case, frontier faith and fortitude in Palin’s. Underneath, both are more complicated than that. Both combine lofty ideals, apparently sincerely, even zealously held, with an ability to be pragmatic, and even ruthless, amoral and cronyistic. Even their names are weirdly symmetrical, contrasting little morality plays — notice where the stresses are, the tone color of the vowels — in almost the same number of letters.
There’s an apocalyptic sense that the armies of these two worldviews are in a fight to the death, captained by these charismatic young avatars. Yet the complete triumph of one, and destruction of the other, is impossible — and would be a disaster.
UPDATE: The Anchoress says much the same thing:
We live in a very polarized age wherein we too often and too-willingly segregate ourselves with an “us good, them bad” mentality. That is not new, of course. Humans have always drawn their lines of demarcation between themselves and others – mostly either because of ethnicity or language or creed. Lately, as ethnicities blend and languages fade, the lines seem increasingly to be drawn mostly over ideologies disguised as creeds. Or creeds disguised as ideologies.
It’s distressing to see. It is terribly distressing to watch what appears to be an inexorable move toward national self-destruction in the pursuit of “squashing the other side,” when in fact both sides are America’s, and an America without healthy discourse and respectable, honorable and loyal dissent will not need an outside enemy to render her impotent and eventually inconsequential.