Ash: You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? A perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.
Lambert: You admire it.
Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor… unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.
Parker: Look, I am – I’ve heard enough of this, and I’m asking you to pull the plug.
Ash: [Ripley goes to disconnect Ash, who interrupts]
Ash: I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.
I’ve been reading Nixonland, and what’s perhaps most striking about the book’s main character is the extent to which shamelessness gives a skillful politician a major advantage over ordinary humans. In the mid-1960s Richard Nixon appeared to be an extremely improbable pick to ever become president of the United States: He had lost two major elections in the previous five years; he had no real ideological commitments and no apparent base of support among movement conservatives; he was physically unattractive, and the precise opposite of telegenic; he had no discernable charisma; he was widely considered a joke by the media . . . And yet somehow he won anyway. What he had going for him were intelligence, ruthlessness, bottomless ambition, and no capacity for shame. He was perfectly capable of saying A on Monday and Z on Friday, over and over again, on every issue imaginable, if it suited his political strategy to do so, and he took full advantage of this talent.
Most people have various internal breaks on their ability and willingness to lie. Even people who bend and twist the truth a lot as a matter of professional avocation, for example politicians, are generally not particularly good at it. Bill Clinton, who was supposedly so slick, fooled nobody with his infamous “I did not have sex with that woman” line.
But some politicians, like Nixon, are great liars in every sense. They possess the requisite shamelessness necessary to pull off a stunt like claiming they opposed a $250 million Bridge to Nowhere that they actually wholeheartedly supported, and then (this is the truly rare skill) when they’re called on it by the national media, nevertheless stand up and do it again on TV in front of 30 million viewers, all with a completely straight face.
I don’t want to exaggerate the importance or significance of Sarah Palin, but after last night she strikes me as a potentially dangerous character, beyond the frightening prospect that a laughably unqualified person might suddenly become the most powerful politician in the world.
The kind of shameless ruthlessness necessary to lie like she’s been lying during her first few days in the national political spotlight is a perverse and powerful skill for a politician to have. It raises some interesting questions about her including: just who decided to pluck her from complete obscurity and make her a rising star in the Alaskan and then national GOP heirarchy? These things don’t just happen by themselves after all. There’s a tendency to see all this as nothing more than an off the wall impulsive act by John Shoot From the Hip and Ask Questions Later McCain, but that strikes me as an oversimplification. Despite the American Idol feel this all has, high level politics in this country isn’t American Idol — or rather it’s precisely like a “reality” TV show in that the putative “reality” is in fact tightly scripted. Who wrote this particular script?
A prediction: A few weeks from now, after various hard questions get asked and aren’t answered satisfactorily, Palin will do an interview with Barbara Walters or Diane Sawyer, and will be asked how she feels about all the terrible things so many cruel people are saying about her. And her eyes will begin to well up with oh-so-authentic tears, and her voice will break a little as she tries to describe what it’s like to be the mother of five beautiful children, who has recently given birth to a precious little boy who is bravely struggling with burdens that no one, least of all her heartless critics, can begin to understand.
And then all Wingnuttia will collectively sally forth in high dudgeon to defend the honor of American Motherhood, and various liberal bloggers will issue shame-faced apologies for the horrible excesses of politics in these partisan times, and various chin-scratching opinion makers will Ask Big Questions about the State of the American Political Soul, and John McCain will get a seven-point bump in the polls.
And if you don’t think Sarah Palin would do something like that, you never knew Richard Nixon.