When the pundits cannot explain a political development, they label it a phenomenon, often defined as an outward sign of the working of a law of nature and therefore beyond human control, or an extraordinary person or thing, and therefore deserving of our admiration and love.
Barack Obama knows about phenomenon. For a year he was regarded as a super person by supporters and detractors. The nation hung on his words, few in number, “change, hope, yes we can,” that transfixed his vast audience who attended his séances to admire his person, his voice, and his demeanor as though he was not of this world. And for a while he wasn’t, until he made the mistake of offering mundane specifics instead of directions to Bethlehem.
Now from the frozen tundra comes another unknown figure capturing our imagination, as did Obama, summarizing the American dream of mysterious origin, offering youth, beauty and hidden sexuality, implying solutions but not defining them, putting our desire to adore in a tight capsule.
America is in love again, this time with two different personalities each seeking adoration. The Democrats expect the widespread infatuation with Sarah Palin to fade before Election Day. Don’t be so sure! The Republicans think their luck is an act of God and so does Sarah Palin. The contest seems to be about political hegemony but it tells us more about the culture of 21st century America: our worship of personality and youth and good looks as well as our search for messianic leaders bearing solutions to problems that overwhelm.