Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican National Convention -- along with an attendant speech by "America's Mayor" Rudy Giuliani -- had me up late thinking about cynicism, sarcasm, and cowardice.
In our media-saturated age, we tend to put idealism and earnestness in the same bag as naiveté and gullibility. It's risky to seem to believe too fervently, feel too deeply, to be genuine or unguarded, to show one's hand before the game is called. But it is no virtue to harden oneself against ideals and lofty goals.
The cynic has it easy, as he discounts sincerity and goodness in humans, and thereby saves himself from ever being let down. The cynic does not risk being wrong or embarrassed or fooled. A cynic does not play because she feels the game is rigged, and so she does not win or lose, and she also does not expose the rigging to which she is still exposed. (Everyone knows, watching the magician, that he is dependant on tricks and gimmics, but we still want to know how it all works -- we are still left with wonder.)
The vocubulary of the cynic is sarcasm and sneers. Sarcasm says to you, "Nice socks!" while meaning the opposite, except that there's no actual qualitative information about what isn't nice about your socks and there's a whole lot of room to back off from the original assertion. Just kidding. No, really, they are nice socks. Not for everyone, maybe, but they look good on you.
Rudy Giuliani can allege that Barack Obama's done nothing aside from write memoirs, and then -- having walked off the stage -- is insulated from having to deal with evidence to the contrary. Another example: on Wednesday night, Newt Gingrich asked an MSNBC reporter if he could name one thing that Barack Obama had done aside from talking and writing (as if government required action beyond argument -- say, shooting a moose.)
Like characters on 90's era-sitcoms, asking "Could you be any more (whatever)," the cynic appoints himself smarter, superior to the rest of us, privileging themselves with a smug sofa seat above the teeming and idiodic masses. (Sarcasm is often employed by people who mistake it for irony, which is ironic because actual irony requires wit and sophistication. Like rain on your wedding day.)
H.L. Menken famously said that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people, but this is clearly not the case. Marchel Duchamp (as "R. Mutt") installed a urinal in the Armory show, but I'd bet few people think of that urinal when they ponder art and beauty. P.T. Barnum was probably underestimating when he said there's a sucker born every minute, but this does not absolve the huckster, the manipulator, or the marketing major.
Everything about Sarah Palin smacks of cynicism -- her selection as veepal candidate not least of all -- but her speech on Wednesday night was so full of sarcasm that I kept having to check if it was being delivered by a late 90's Matthew Perry. The idea that a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago hasn't done anything of value is an out-of-hand discounting of the kind of help and assistance needed by real people with real problems. It is a suggestion -- by the party of supposed small government -- that only government counts. I find her suggestion that any interest in Barrack Obama is due only to pretty words and staging incredibly short-sighted and offensive, and I think it won't play well to people who honestly see in him the hope he champions.
I'm heartened, somewhat, by the comments relating to Palin attached to the New York Times article about her speech. While the Times is no GOP newsletter, it is the paper of record, and I'm having fun surfing the backlash. Or is that cynical?