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Sarah Palin: Gabby Hayes or Lady MacBeth?

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by Tom Hall --


Do you remember Gabby Hayes? He was a fine actor who built a film career playing sidekicks to younger, better looking leads. As sidekick, he provided comic relief, and dramatic motivation for the hero. Sidekicks are a useful, when entirely fictional, device in movies and TV shows. But not so much in real life.

The sidekick can enter a scene before the hero and get into trouble. Then the hero rides in, looking so much more attractive and dynamic, and saves the sidekick’s bacon. But now, it is John McCain who got into trouble, and Sarah Palin who rode in to save the day. When he appeared too mannered, too
rigid, too much the Bush acolyte, Sarah rode in, winking and waiving, and wielding platitudes about change and maverick-ism-ization of a campaign which had been, up to then, devoted to the “success” of the Bush regime.

The hero is supposed to rescue the sidekick. The sidekick often cowers while the hero steps up and meets the dangerous challenges. When McCain decided to withdraw from Michigan, Sarah stepped up to say the campaign could fight and win in Michigan. And she lamented McCain’s “wimping out” of that contest. The sidekick can’t disparage the hero, but the heroine did disparage McCain’s cowering before a few thousand union voters.

In this campaign, the traditional roles are completely reversed. Today, it is the vice-presidential candidate, Sarah, rescuing the aging war hero. A president is supposed to lead us through troubles, not turn to a beauty queen to extricate him from troubles he can’t handle.

Sidekicks make goofy comments which a wise hero can correct. But in this campaign, the second fiddle makes ludicrous comments which McCain doesn’t seem to know need correcting. When Sarah states out-and-out lies, McCain, the sidekick, stands by loyally – loyal to the liar, not to the nation’s purpose and not to the truth. In the old Roy Rogers TV serials, Roy’s sidekick drove around in a dilapidated Jeep. In nostalgic hindsight, that Jeep broke down a lot less than McCain’s “straight talk express.”

People don’t buy tickets to see the sidekick. We pay to see John Wayne, or Roy Rogers or Gene Autry. We’ll pay to see Ahnoolllddd, but not Tom Arnold in True Lies. The sidekick is always “down the bill”, never the headliner. But in the presidential race, even the most devout Republicans wouldn’t pay for John McCain.

Republican philosopher James Dobson said that he would never vote for McCain. But he changed his mind when heroine Sarah rode in to save her sidekick. Dozens of other Republican leaders have taken the same stance – “McCain blows chunks, but we’ll suffer him if we can also vote for Sarah.” They see McCain as transient – too old to matter – soon to yield the stage to the heroine waiting in the wings. What do they know that the public doesn’t?

Perhaps the most startling video on the web right now is one of McCain at a recent rally, addressing the crowd as “my fellow prisoners” rather than “my friends”. The video was posted to mock McCain’s grasp of present reality. Was his mind slipping back to his prisoner days? No. He made a mistake. We all do that, even without the pressure and grind of a presidential campaign. The video would be worthless except for the background.

Over John McCain’s right shoulder is Sarah Palin, in perhaps the most candid portrait yet provided. She is not smiling or supportive. She is clearly bored and impatient as she watches this old man blather on. Written in her visage are her truest fundamentalist values: ambition, impatience, avarice, and intolerance. She is the understudy, studying how to move to the central role.

To a psychological scientist her appearance might be intriguing. To a voter it should be terrifying. She is plainly loath to wait – Lady MacBeth peering over McCain’s shoulder. And the voices of the entire Republican hierarchy confirm that they too want HER rather than HIM at the top of the ticket.

I can’t help thinking of Pope John Paul I, elected in August 1978, only to die in his sleep before the end of September, thereby returning the job to the papal establishment and a more suitably compliant, and conservative, successor. And I note that every single one of Palin’s senior “advisor” handlers was previously employed in the Bush White House. Is it from them that she gets her zeal for “reform” – and her contempt for McCain?

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We laughed when Gabby Hayes came out with his patented corn-pone speech patterns and nonsensical sentences. We laughed, knowing that John Wayne would rescue reality from Gabby’s redneck philology. But in this campaign, when the sidekick misspeaks, Sarah rides in to push reality even further from the scene.

Gabby Hayes built his film career because of the 1929 stock market crash. George (Gabby) Hayes was a vaudevillian in the early 20th century, playing on stages around the nation, but not working in film. By 1928, he had made a lot of money. He invested it and retired, to live comfortably without working. He retired in 1928 when there was no regulation of the stock market and no Social Security System.

He retired in 1928, to live on the fruits of his labor, and was wiped out in the stock market crash of 1929. His first film role was after he came out of retirement. He built an entire new career while Franklin Roosevelt was building new systems of bank and stock market regulation, and creating Social Security to give everyone a chance at retirement.

Then, for decades, Republicans fought to roll back what Roosevelt accomplished. They worked to unregulate banks and brokerages. McCain’s chief financial advisor, Phil Gramm designed the bill which made possible the manipulation which resulted in today’s financial crisis. And in recent years, they’ve pushed to “privatize” Social Security, which would have given all that retirement money to the bankers who have just gone bust.

John McCain will tell us that he didn’t lead the charge for deregulation. John Wayne died from lung cancer, at a time when Republicans were continuing the fight against regulating tobacco ads. And John McCain can assure us that he didn’t lead the fight against tobacco regulation either. In fact, looking over his career in congress, McCain hasn’t been a leader on any reform meant to help people, or the environment, or government efficiency.

McCain has always been a reliable, loyal soldier in the army of Republican warriors against regulation. But never a leader. He has always been the sidekick, supporting someone else’s bills, but not introducing his own and not leading the fight for anyone else’s.

So it makes a sad kind of sense that he found himself cast as sidekick to Sarah Palin in the Presidential campaign. He wanted Joe Leiberman as his running mate, but deferred to the Party’s preference for someone younger, prettier, more ambitious and more compliant. To gain the Presidential title, even if for only a few months or a year, he gave up his “straight talk express,” his military honor, even his personal dignity.

A sidekick knows he must yield the stage to the hero or heroine. As I watched that awful Youtube video, I wondered if McCain could feel the hot, eager breath of his Lady MacBeth hovering behind him. I wondered if he could feel the contempt in which his own party’s leaders hold him. I wondered how much their certainty of his transient role weighs him down.

Having abandoned all that he was, simply for ambition, I wonder what McCain feels when he hears his own “loyal” supporters booing him when he says Obama should be treated with respect and dignity. I wonder how he thinks he’ll lead anyone, anywhere, having never led before and having not even the respect of his “supporters.”

Tom Hall

Tom Hall is a family law attorney. He is originally from Boston, where he grew up in the Cambridge Friends Meeting (Quakers), thinking that religion was a progressive force. During the Vietnam War, he organized draft counseling centers and worked with groups training people to participate in highly disciplined nonviolent demonstrations (real disciplined nonviolence is just plain maddening to police forces who count on demonstrators giving them reason to get 'messy' during public demonstrations). After the war, he became just another yuppie working to make himself a comfortable life. The Bush administration has shocked him back into social concerns. Tom can be reached at

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