Charlie Mitchell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Columnist notes that many of country’s leaders are from nowhere

Bless her heart, Sarah Palin is getting better, but just hasn’t mastered the talent of being as glib as veteran politicians in fielding questions posed by the nation’s media elites. She still gets that “deer (or moose) in the headlights” look.

But if you want to have some fun, try this:

Using your TV remote and on-screen channel menu, find a movie and an interview with Palin airing at the same time and flick back and forth, noting the similarities.

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Now it can’t be just any movie.

It has to be a movie along the lines of “Caddyshack” or “Grease.” There are dozens and dozens of them in which the plot features an outsider who is rejected, mostly for being an outsider. And in every movie of this genre, the outsider usually (albeit by different methods) wins over the elitists who have shown themselves to be shallow and short-sighted. And yes, I do note that Palin has more in common with Olivia Newton-John than with Rodney Dangerfield.

I’m serious. Try switching the TV between “The View” when Palin is the topic and “Mean Girls.” The parallels will be amazing.

The governor of Alaska, who was Sen. John McCain’s choice for his vice presidential nominee, has been depicted as not-ready-for-prime-time, a pretender to the circles of power where sounding deep while being shallow is seen as a plus. She’s been characterized both as manipulative and as a dingbat (which somehow seem mutually exclusive) and slavishly devoted to a fundamentalist faith that says women need to be baby factories, nothing more.

But let’s look around.

Take Bennie Thompson. Here’s a black man who grew up in Mississippi during this state’s version of apartheid. Before joining the Congress of the United States, he was a beat system supervisor in Hinds County, managing a minuscule budget. A busy day might have centered on dealing with the cost of repairing flat tires on gravel trucks. Just a few years later, he’s chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. Out of 300 million Americans, maybe three or four people have greater direct responsibility for assuring our safety against terrorism and natural disasters.

Take Bill Clinton. After he refused to yield the microphone to Michael Dukakis and was cat-called off the stage at the Democratic National Convention in 1988, his party was through with him. Yet four years later, he was the party’s nominee to take on the first President Bush, mainly because no other Democrat wanted to face Bush, then riding high on the success of the first Gulf War. Clinton, was “merely” governor of a small state — one that had rejected him when he sought a second term.

Take our current president. Ask yourself this question. If his father hadn’t been president, would he have even been considered?

Take Ronald Reagan. He said his favorite job was lifeguarding at a lake in Dixon, Ill. He went to a no-name college. His contemporaries in the field of acting were better than he was, leaving him with roles such as foil to a chimpanzee in “Bedtime for Bonzo.” (Few know there was a sequel, “Bonzo Goes To College,” for which the chimp was retained, but Reagan was not.)

Take anyone from any era of history. Few, if any, grow up and instantly possess all the knowledge, skills and character needed to be among those who hold great responsibility.

It’s one of the great ironies of life — don’t you think — that when speakers are called on to give awards to Thompson or Clinton or Reagan or anyone Bush in the family tree that great significance is always attached to their “humble beginnings.”

Yet for Palin, it appears, earning education money in a beauty contest, being captain of her high school basketball team, fixing school lunches for her children and going to church every Sunday are offered as proof that she’s gone about as far in life as she deserves to go.

Her judges — those in and out of the media — frown at the very presumption that she would consider herself eligible for selection to be vice president of the United States. Who made them the country club screening committee?

Well, sometimes life imitates the movies and sometimes the movies imitate life.

Do try the experiment, though.

Whether Sarah goes to Washington or, far more likely, she returns to the Capitol in Alaska, we’ll all be better off if we recognize there’s a script being followed. Not everyone can be accepted — but there’s never any excuse for being a snob.

(Charlie Mitchell is executive editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail