Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sarah Cassandra

End Notes


I'm still worrying about Sarah Palin. It's not that she'll ever be a melanoma away from the Oval Office. Republicans are pretty much done with sexuality of any variety in their candidates. It's caused them no end of trouble, and the next time they propose a female for vice president, she'll look like the homely love-child of Margaret Thatcher and Mitt Romney and she won't wink at anybody.

I worry about Sarah Palin because she's a good example of what we do to high-functioning intuitives, the people who know things without having to think about them. When such people enter national politics, they can't explain how they know what they know, and they get creamed by more thoughtful and educated politicians. Palin's incoherent resignation speech, financial and marital situation, and her death-panel rant recall the old joke that those whom the gods would destroy, they first run for vice president.

I spend lots of time getting my writing students to trust their intuition, so what is happening to Sarah Palin is making my job more difficult. My students see intuition as the strong point of dogs, marginalized women and outsider artists, and they don't want to go there. Cassandra, the beautiful Trojan princess who could see the future but was never believed, is the matron saint of intuitives. Look what happened to her.

The problem, I tell my students, is that Cassandra really could see the truth. It's better to be right and not believed than wrong and admired by everybody. It's not always a lesson that gets through until I explain that you can't depend on intuition alone. You have to connect the dots, usually after the fact, for those readers who can't make your intuitive leaps.

Sarah Palin's intuition served her well until she faced a country suddenly wanting leaders who could connect the dots. She can be forgiven for thinking that the rules changed on her in the middle of the game.

But she went with her gut, thinking that what worked for George W. Bush would work for her. If she had thought things through, she would have figured out that W's gut was window dressing for the evil-dots-of-world-domination already connected by Dick Cheney.

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When Sarah Palin insists that death panels will be part of American health care, she's seen as an unthinking fool. While she may be unthinking, she's not a fool. A death-worshipping logic will indeed dictate our health policy as long as we treat health care as a commodity.

The death panels are made up of accountants and actuaries. They go about their business logically and thoughtfully, following sophisticated algorithms, deciding who gets coverage. People die because of committee votes.

Sarah Palin's ability to arrive at truth without thinking led her to this horrific realization before anyone else. Death panels will be a part of our future as long as health care costs more than the country can pay. It's a matter of arithmetic, but you don't need a pocket calculator if you've got intuition.

Unfortunately, intuition all by itself doesn't give you the big picture. That's why Palin confused insurance companies with Medicare-supported end-of-life counseling. It's not an easy mistake to make unless you lack the equipment for hard thinking.

Whatever you think of Barack Obama's motives, he's got good thinking equipment. Give him a couple of dots, and he'll connect them. But thinking without intuition leads to the paralysis of analysis, and it looks like that's where his administration is stuck these days.

So I hope the next person our president invites over for a beer is Sarah Palin. I hope he'll ask her what the future holds. After she's described a long line of makeup artists, ghost writers and television producers, and the strange image of an aging boy on a snowmobile, I hope the president will say, "Enough about your life. What about health care?"

If it gets that far, Sarah Palin will go into a beer-trance, sigh and speak the truth: "If this country wants to be decent about it, we'll go with a National Health Service like Great Britain. We'll live longer and be less fearful. But it won't happen. We're a country that thinks the poor can do our dying for us. The death panels will win."

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