Still Standing

Some of you will remember my review of the movie The Undefeated.  As most of you will have known from past articles, one of my favorite approaches in evaluating things is to watch Mrs. America’s reaction to them.  I learn a good deal from studying her as she watches things, and what has been astonishing during the entirety of our marriage is how thoroughly accurate her intuitive, almost instinctive reactions to media have been, or how closely she has been able to guess the outcomes of political elections based on things I don’t quite perceive, or don’t understand.  As usual, I’m left to ponder what it means when she says “it’s a woman thing, and no, you’ll never understand.”

Twenty-three years of marriage can teach a man a great deal if he pays close attention.  What the length of my marriage has taught me is that I can never pay close enough attention to “get it.”  Still, I try, and while she contends I’ve shown little improvement in understanding, I nevertheless find myself more adept at recognizing them.  It was my assumption that while she might watch the film, she wouldn’t be moved by it, if only because she’s really not a politically-engaged person, or so I have always thought.  This past Tuesday, since it’s now available on Pay-Per-View on Dish Network, I sat down with Evelyn to watch The Undefeated, and learned again how more than two decades of marriage still hasn’t taught me enough.

Evelyn likes to be comfortable to view a film, and so as I dimmed the lights, she settled in for the two hour film.  As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, after the length of our marriage and all we’ve been through, her tendency to skepticism is a big lens through which she views the world.  She was thoroughly prepared to be underwhelmed, leading me to my expectation of a “ho hum” appraisal.  I pressed “Play” and leaned back, not to watch the movie so much as to watch Evelyn’s reaction.  The light in the room, reduced to that provided only by the screen itself, provided me the cover from which to make my observations.

The film opens with a barrage of filth flung at Sarah Palin by left-wing media types.  I watched Evelyn’s reaction to this, and it was initially a jaw-dropping, eye-widening moment.  As this part of the film continued, she began involuntarily to withdraw into a sort of defensive posture.  Evelyn is many things, but what she has mostly been is tough-minded, and tough in spirit.  A child of post-war Germany, to watch her recoil at the sheer infamy of the attacks on Palin was a telling moment.  She’d seen some of it before, as we all have, but the sheer weight of the disgusting diatribes proved more than she wanted to bear.  Almost as a form of relief, the segment subsided, but Evelyn’s anger had not.

Gently, as a counterpoint to the vile hatred heaped upon Sarah Palin, you then see a wonderful collage of home movies and imagery from her youth.  There came a point at which young and bespectacled Sarah is shown dancing about in childish revelry and my wife began to smile.  You might wonder why, but I know too well.  Evelyn’s date of birth is separated by Sarah’s by one digit on the calendar.  Despite being born on a different continent, they were born in the same era, and of the same sort of values, and Evelyn also had a father who made home movies of their trips, their vacations, and any other excuse to record the growth of the children and the memories of the family.  She was born with some vision problems, and also became accustomed to wearing glasses at a young age.  Somewhere, there is a similar home movie of Evelyn enjoying similar playful moments in the whimsical innocence of youth.  These short flashes of childhood imagery establish a connection to average Americans, or frankly, average people everywhere, and lay a foundation of common values and the extraordinary aspirations to which they give birth in the moments of our youth.  What I perceived in her reactions to the images of young Sarah Palin was a recognition of this common ground, and perhaps even a common understanding of the world, as seen through lenses separated by thousands of miles and oceans, yet born of the same enduring spirit.

From there, the viewer is taken on a walk through the political rise of Sarah Palin.  It wasn’t an easy road, and she faced formidable challenges along her course, but she confronted them with integrity and courage.   In short, she set out to do what is right, rather than that which is easy.  While uncommon among politicians, it’s not something nearly so rare among average Americans.  Most of the time, in most issues that matter, average people choose to do what is right because it is right, and only because it is so.  Watching Evelyn’s body language and expressions, what I observed were the nods of approval that accompanied the more dramatic instances of Palin’s willingness to ignore the conventional wisdom and simply do that which ought to be done.  At one point, she looked over at me and asked if I thought it is still possible for politicians to do what’s right.  I shrugged and left the question lying for the answer given by the remainder of the film.

Almost before you realize it’s happening, you see the beginning of the 2008 campaign, and the season of Sarah’s national introduction by the McCain campaign.  Evelyn is familiar with much of this, because like so many Americans, she begins to closely watch political events in earnest at the approach of elections.  What came after the McCain loss, however, was much more interesting to her.  This is what has not been seen widely in the media, and it offers the tale of a woman who returns home to resume her duties but who finds that she has come under attack there as well.   For her troubles, Palin was rewarded with frivolous ethics complaints that all fell by the wayside, and an incessant campaign to destroy her and erase her from the national memory.  She’d been far too energizing and successful on the campaign trail to ever permit her to rise again.  It came in a moment when Palin was finally faced with the fact that her team had been immobilized and made largely impotent on the legislative front by all of the attacks, when Evelyn solemnly issued a single, defiant, hissing judgment:  “Bastards…”

Rather than tell you about how the film ends, I’d prefer to tell you about Evelyn’s appraisal, because I suspect it will be shared by many people who watch this film.  She has always liked Sarah Palin, but in truth, she’s simply not the sort to get excited about politicians, celebrities, or much else in the media.  Her own prevailing sense of disgust with politics informs her general view that most politicians are not far-removed from her appraisal of Palin’s attackers.   She views politics as the sort of ugly gladiatorial spectacle that tends to obscure the difference between that which is plainly right, and that which is inexcusably wrong.  She likes Mark Levin because she hears in his voice and in his positions the clear marker of disdain for illogical notions, and as she’s become more familiar with Tammy Bruce of late, she particularly enjoys Tammy’s passion, but also her willingness to openly mock the hypocrisy of those who seem more interested in the combative facets of the political gamesmanship than the practical aspects of what all this fighting is intended to resolve.

She wasn’t very familiar with Andrew Breitbart, but she enjoyed his use of the term “eunuchs.”  Evelyn is a warrior by nature, and while she’s fearless in the face of almost anything, she also wants to know that her husband will leap to her defend her against a mob.  It’s not so much that she needs a defender – I assure you, she doesn’t – but that she wants to know if she arrived in that situation, the man in her life would be there in full force and fervor.   What Breitbart describes is the unwillingness of some men in the establishment to do precisely that when the hate-filled, venomous attacks have erupted against Sarah Palin.  Frequently, when Evelyn watches certain Republican leaders on television, she wonders much the same thing as implied by Breitbart’s use of that term: “Where are the men?”  She wants to see some toughness, and one of her contemporaneous comments about the 2008 election season was that Sarah Palin had been “the better man.”

That’s a stunning indictment of the nature of much of Republican politics, particularly among the establishment types who pervade the halls of Washington power.   People like Evelyn want to see fighters – not cheats, frauds, liars, or mud-slingers – who will advance an honest argument in earnest and unreservedly so.  What I gathered from her after the film’s conclusion was simply this:  She perceives in Sarah Palin a woman who is willing to take up the fight, and a politician who will not turn away from a necessary engagement.  I was curious to know what she thought about the left’s chief point of attack on Palin, because you still hear it from time to time among the uninformed: “What do you say to the liberals(and others) who will say she quit?”  Evelyn actually got her back up at the notion, and gave me that look that silently transmits the word “idiot”, and said:  “She didn’t quit. She actually kept her word.  She stood on the principle that her state and its people came before her own interests.”

After a moment more:  “Besides, what was 2010?  Quit?  Ha!”

Indeed.  Evelyn may not be a political person in the sense of following the perpetual machinations as you and I do, but she knows what she believes.  On the rare instances in which a politician actually receives her approval, I pay close attention.  When she actually defends one, I’m not quite sure what to make of it.  She’s really never done that before.  Maybe the lesson is that the movie The Undefeated delivers a powerful message, or perhaps it’s simpler still:  Palin herself is a powerful messenger in answer to Evelyn’s earlier question:  Yes, politicians still can do things simply because they’re right.  Sarah Palin is the living proof.

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