Thursday, September 11, 2008

Thumbs Down

The kindest thing I can say about Roger Ebert's recent foray into political writing is that it is disturbingly incoherent. A man who can spot a weak plot point or inconsistent character development at twenty paces (or the twenty-minute mark) should be able to write a political statement with at least some semblance of order; there should be some kind of point to it, even if the point is ultimately a rather bad or silly one.

But Ebert's "review" of Sarah Palin wanders all over the place: from a gratuitous American Idol reference to college to European travel to "saving the Republic," which phrase is as melodramatic and out of place as a faded B-movie actress at an A-list party, occurring as it does amidst such a tangled mess of light-as-fluff partisanship masquerading as something worth the bother of writing down.

Take, for instance, this section:

And how can a politician her age have never have gone to Europe? My dad had died, my mom was working as a book-keeper and I had a job at the local newspaper when, at 19, I scraped together $240 for a charter flight to Europe. I had Arthur Frommer's $5 a Day under my arm, started in London, even rented a Vespa and drove in the traffic of Rome. A few years later, I was able to send my mom, along with the $15 a Day book.

You don't need to be a pointy-headed elitist to travel abroad. You need curiosity and a hunger to see the world. What kind of a person (who has the money) arrives at the age of 44 and has only been out of the country once, on an official tour to Iraq? Sarah Palin's travel record is that of a provincial, not someone who is equipped to deal with global issues.

But some people like that. She's never traveled to Europe, Asia, Africa, South America or Down Under? That makes her like them. She didn't go to Harvard? Good for her! There a lot of hockey moms who haven't seen London, but most of them would probably love to, if they had the dough. And they'd be proud if one of their kids won a scholarship to Harvard.

Setting aside the fact that the price of travel in 1961 (when Ebert was 19) is pretty irrelevant to the question of the affordability of foreign travel in the recent past, overlooking the fact that today's middle-class college grads are drowning in a mountain of debt that makes all but the most necessary travel a frivolous luxury out of the reach of many, we must still consider that Sarah Palin married right out of college and had her first child a year later, which kind of makes backpacking around London, Paris and Rome out of the question. Some people need European travel to find maturity and sophistication, but others find that maturity in the more old-fashioned way, by getting married, starting a family, taking on parental responsibility and working for the sake of their future. And once you've made that a priority, other things recede in importance; driving a Vespa around Rome may be fun when you're nineteen and single, but few parents would willingly chose to tour Europe with several small children in tow, even if the cost weren't completely prohibitive.

But apparently in Ebert's mind a lack of foreign travel is an absolute barrier to the vice presidency. Of course, Palin's trip to Kuwait to visit the Alaska National Guard troops stationed there is waved aside in his essay as more proof of her provincialism.

The thinly-veiled contempt on the left for ordinary people radiates through pieces like Ebert's; while he claims to want a vice-president who is better than he is, it's clear from the essay that what he really wants is a vice-president exactly like him: a traveler, a global-warming enthusiast, an Iraq war opposer, and someone who appreciates the Ivy League as it should be appreciated (whether one had the privilege of going to an Ivy League school or not). Which is fine, except that it makes the corresponding howls that the rest of the country only likes Sarah because we can relate to her ring as hollow as any of the plots of the last several M. Night Shyamalan movies.

I admire Roger Ebert in many ways. Few people have ever reached his level in terms of the creation of thoughtful and interesting movie reviews. But when it comes to his political opinions, I'd suggest he consider a rewrite; at the very least, much of that wandering disdain could have been left on the cutting room floor.


Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

Great post! Glad I followed a link over here.

I had lunch today with a group of friends of different religious and political persuasions (I think I'm the token Evangelical Christian but they love me, anyway).

Normally we all get along very well but there was a new woman in the group who had to keep coming back to how stupid Bush and the Sarah P. are.

I was dumbfounded at some of the things she said. This time instead of the joy of friendship and trying out a new Thai place... I went away very agitated because that one particular person was so intent on her belief that anyone on the Right is not very smart.

I hope they don't invite her next time. Debate is fine in its' place but this was suppose to be a friendly lunch.

Daddio said...

Man, I thought Obama was a snob. This guy's even worse.

matthew archbold said...

I've never been out of the country (except once in my college years I got kicked out of Canada -long and weird story which involved Niagara Falls)
And I'm pretty sure I'm better equipped to be President than Obama.

Red Cardigan said...

Matthew, I'd love to hear the story of how you got kicked out of Canada! :)