Pumas 4 Palin

Sarah Palin speech in India – Just the right note, just the right crowd, just the right topics.

Posted on: March 20, 2011

Official links from India Today Conclave:
Full text of the introduction and speech.
Videos of the introduction and speech

One thing must be made clear at the outset if this blog post. The venue and context of Sarah Palin’s speech in India were significant. Let that not be diminished. This was no mere campaign rally, or stump speech. The ideas might have sounded familiar to some, but the phrasing and presentation were quite creative and well-crafted.

Short of an address to a joint session of the Indian Parliament, with both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha present, the India Conclave was the most distinguished panel of political, civic and business leaders, honorable men and women of India, world guests (and yes, a few agitators) that could be assembled in one place for a dinner-lecture. Specially so, considering that the whole point of the exercise was to open a window that’s seldom seen through: an out of office Republican in India.

A lot was asked of the speech, in terms of the goals to be achieved: her own self-introduction; her sense of self in the America of today; the obligatory praise of hosts and host nation; the essential acknowledgement of bilateral values; distinguish herself from others of her (political) class and intent; the framing of her theme; exposition and justification of her ideas. That was a tall order for the tail end of any conclave. It was made even more challenging for Sarah Palin by her status as an individual citizen. All things considered, she did remarkably well. (A part of me can’t help compare this speech to the phony, manufactured, ceremonial gilt-edging of a candidate in 2008 going to Berlin to get stamped for a ‘foreign policy speech’ specially after deigning to speak at the Brandenburg gate no less! Sarah Palin’s objective here was much more humble and result proportionately better-rewarded)

At this point, I am really going to go far deep into the background here, so bear with me.

What Sarah Palin represents today:

It is important to put Sarah Palin of today in the proper, larger American context first. In her experiences we see an inkling of the passions that raged about in this country. In her sufferance and successes, we find evidence of what America has been like, these past few years. Her life bears witness to the beauties and blisters of the American soul, circa 2008. In the decades to come, it will be said that Sarah Palin, even more than Barack Obama, is verily the palimpsest of the American psyche in the new millennium. That is no exaggeration!  She has been at once both the outlet to, and the target of, the American angst. In short, she has been marked by America. This point is critical and needs to be undestood in depth.

The visible personae and public interactions of Sarah Palin reflect to a certain extent the play of subterranean social and political impulses of American electorate of a particular time. In her life we see: how Americans look at their leaders (or chose not to); how Americans respect their women candidates (or wantonly disregard all norms of civil public behavior); the blunt expression of a tempestuous electorate (or, its incisive effect of slash and bleed); finally, the power of our changeable culture to move people aloft (or tear them down without mercy) – all with no regard to the essential value, virtue or worth of candidate of issue in question. The raw brutality of democracy in action left its indelible imprint on Sarah Palin, like on none another in living memory.

But how did this happen at all?

Sisyphean challenge Sarah Palin had been up against:

The new millennium brought considerable psychosis to America’s collective consciousness. First there was the tumult of Bush Vs Gore and its rancid aftertaste. Then came the trauma of WTC attacks, followed by two frustrating wars. Finally, and along the way, blossomed violent and vitriolic Bush-hatred which burned with the fuel of ‘truthers’ (at one time 10% Americans thought it was an inside job). The final blow was the pied piper psychosis of the children of Hamelin led away from reality by a charismatic leader, aided and abetted by the media, further fueled by sexism, misogyny and hatred of a (Hillary) Clinton. It all served to create a culture of incubation for the ‘nattering nabobs of negativism’ the ‘blame America first crowd’ and the uneasy commingling of the sacred and the profane in American electoral ethos. Sarah found herself in this context, now she had to catch a break with an audience willing to giver her a break. Did she help herself?

Some amazing points from Sarah Palin’s speech:

— She highlighted Energy security right away. Drill baby drill became a nuanced phrase of ‘bridge fuels that will lead someday to renewable sources of energy’. An extraordinary subtlety that nearly flies past noticing.

– -She found an elegant way of equating the quest for freedom of the two countries, going beyond the usual platitudes, by making this wonderful comparison between the Boston Tea Party and Gandhi’s Dandi Salt March. Both were pivotal events in rousing the conscience and consciousness of the involved adversaries. It’s true, nothing warms the hearts of Indians than be reminded of the Mahatma’s brilliant activism.

— She pointed out that Alaska is half the size of India. When you stop to think about it, an absolutely astounding factoid. Yet without getting lost in the inevitable easy digressions, she uses that sheer size idea to illuminate her personality, lifestyle, value system etc. A product of my land is who I am, she seems to say.

— You could never go wrong with an Indian audience by casting a wary eye on China. Indians can never forget the brutal Chinese invasion of Tibet (driving out the Dalai Lama to India), or the malicious invasion of India in the early Sixties, just months after signing a peace and friendship treaty. Indians are actually terrified of China, specially because of the underhanded nuclear and missile technology transfer from China to Pakistan, and Chinese influence in Nepal, Bhutan, Burma and Indian Northeast. Palin was perfect in wondering out loud about Chinese growing military might. She phrased it just perfectly.

— She handled the idea of her being pro-life (read anti-abortion) very subtly. By using Indians’ own respect for Mother Theresa, via a reference to her own home and large family, Sarah Palin deftly equated her own pro-life stance with the Indian (Hindu) reverence for ‘the sanctity of life’.

— On foreign policy, Sarah Palin proved quite astute in talking about the de-hyphenation in the US-India-Pakistan relationship. Indians are eternally sore, the public more than the politicians, that US sees India and Pakistan as two sides of a coin. This equivalency, and the attendant moral outrage, is a sore point with Indians. Indians wish to be dealt with on their own terms. Sarah did right to use the right verbiage here.

— Most Indians I am sure died (pleasantly) when Sarah Palin said  This is as true in Alaska, as in Andhra Pradesh. The choice went beyond verbal book-ends, AP in India is the hotbed of entrepreneurship, much courted by foreign investors, and very forward looking. And, Sarah pronounces Andhra Pradesh perfectly. Even better than Mrs… Sonia Gandhi.

— Who amongst us is not chauvinistic, and who amongst us does not love to bask in the reflected glory of all those we can connect with. Sarah is hip to that, and nicely mentions Nikki Haley, a descendent of India. And what a nifty way of doing so, by paying tribute to Indian acceptance of female leaders. (Sorry, Bobby Jindal)

Finally, its important to frame this speech against similar others, and those that happen at cattle calls (CPAC) and pilgrimage sites (IA, NH), in advance of tossing the ring. True to her style and agenda, Sarah Palin’s actions have generally been ends in themselves, while being a means to an end eventually. So too this speech. It stands by itself, but it could be part of a larger play. The game has many many more such plays. And, Sarah is playing them out in public. That’s her genius.

More than any other ‘opposition leader’ the world over (and politicians travel abroad all the time), Sarah Palin conducted herself with dignity, grace, wit and forbearance as the keynote speaker. She gave a darn good account of herself, and even a better accounting of her vision of America without diminishing America of today, (this last item seems to be lost on the current occupant of WH).

SarahIndiaIt was a great speech, typical of Sarah Palin, and only she could have delivered it in that down home, friendly cadence that is charmingly and uniquely hers.

[A word of advise to Sarah Palin – do more such speeches.

In Israel, Australia, West Africa, South America. And yes, do go to a country that predominantly or substantially Islamic. Not the gulf area, though.]

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