Shirley Temple Goes to Washington

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WASHINGTON– If we accept that the lines between the political process and entertainment have been blurred and that politicians attract and convince voters at least as much with their stage presence and delivery as with ideas and programs, then Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska is a naturally gifted actress/politician. She reminds me of an adult version of the little Shirley Temple: effervescent, determined and giggling; irreverent but always endearing.

Barack Obama, in his best moments, is inspiring and messianic. He really conjures up moving, beautiful new visions and he creates them both with words and tone of voice and pauses and facial expressions. But Obama has become flat recently. The charisma that he exuded as outsider has been lost after he became the official candidate. The stirring speeches are gone, replaced by a rather conventional nuts and bolts to do list. 

Well, for those who want inspiration, albeit of a different kind, here comes Governor Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin almost exploded on the national stage. She is a modern day, energizing, adult, Shirley Temple. Just like the little girl of the old movies, she is feisty and fresh, but always with an endearing grin. She is pretty, not beautiful. She has presence; but not of the Greta Garbo, dramatic kind. She appears believable, because of her high pitched, yet somehow sweet, honest voice. She is childlike, yet clearly mature. Just like the little Shirley, she is fearless and assertive; but her grin makes her endearing. So she is a rare combination of femininity and strength; while avoiding the trap of appearing unpleasantly arrogant or masculine.

If politics is theatre, a gifted actress has come on stage, thanks to imaginative impresario John McCain. Sarah Palin: comedienne and leading lady, young and articulate, funny and serious. Whatever the outcome of the elections, one thing appears certain: the Republicans needed some kind of elixir to make them enthusiastic about an election  they were almost resigned to concede. The young lady from Alaska, with contagious enthusiasm laced with humour, at least for now, has changed the mood of the party and maybe the dynamic of the whole campaign.

So, the comatose Republicans, once again, have become interesting; if not for “new ideas”, at least for new personalities. If this were enough, if these personal gifts for theatre and direct communication alone would be evidence of good leadership skills and vision for the future, Sarah Palin could be not just Vice President, but certainly President and who knows what else. The country will decide in the end if this perception is also reality.

As to whether politics should be theatre, well, this is an entirely different matter that I leave for another moment.

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