Life imitates art when it comes to the Palin candidacy

Many years ago, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies (my favorite TV station), I watched The Farmer’s Daughter, a 1947 film starring Loretta Young and Joseph Cotten. Over the years, I’ve carried a strong memory of liking the movie a great deal, and no memory at all of the plot. So, when I saw that The Farmer’s Daughter was coming around again, I asked TiVo to catch it for me — and am I glad I did.

First of all, the movie is every bit as charming as I remember, and I’d probably think that even if I wasn’t a Joseph Cotten fan. It’s a wonderful bit of movie-making from the heyday of the Hollywood studio system, with the stars luminous and the character actors pitch perfect.

Second, the movie seems prescient about Palin’s presence in the presidential race. For those who don’t know (spoiler alert here), Loretta Young, sporting a strong American/Swedish accent, plays the eponymous “farmer’s daughter,” a young woman named Katrin Holstrom. Katrin is beautiful, incredibly competent, strong, cheerful and has solid middle American values.

When we first meet Katrin, she is leaving the family farm for the big city, where she plans to attend nursing school. Unfortunately, hoping to save some money, she hops a ride with City Slicker (yes, capital letters for that old fashioned concept) who tries to hit on her (she rebuffs him), and leaves her broke and stranded. Undaunted by this setback, she makes her way to the City and, to re-earn money for nursing school, takes a job as a maid for the fabulously wealthy Congressman Glenn Morley (that would be Joseph Cotten).

Because this is a Hollywood movie from the 1940s, Katrin and Glenn, of course, fall in love. But politics intrudes. Glenn’s fellow congressman dies suddenly, leaving his seat open. The “party” (unnamed but, in this Truman era movie out of already-then-progressive Hollywood, clearly the Republican party) nominates someone it thinks is electable — and Katrin objects, quite publicly, to his myriad political defects. The “opposition” (Democratic, of course) sees a winner in Katrin’s beautiful looks, wholesome aspect and clear talk, and convinces her to run for Congress.

Katrin’s run is going very well indeed until, suddenly, scandal erupts. The painter who took her money and abandoned her, appears to announce that she spent an illicit night with him. She is publicly humiliated and her candidacy looks as if it will collapse.

So far, I’m sure you’re with me on the parallels to Palin’s story: beautiful, incredibly competent, clear-speaking, honorable woman is plucked out of obscurity to great political acclaim. However, as her candidacy picks up speed, nefarious forces emerge to try to tarnish her image (Tasergate, alleged faked pregnancies, alleged affairs, alleged censorship, and a whole lot of other alleged et ceteras).

And this, of course, is where the movie and the Palin reality part ways. In the movie, as you can guess, the forces of good band together to save Katrin’s reputation and prove that she’s being unfairly besmirched, she and Morley profess their love for each other, and everyone lives happily ever after, in both life and politics.

How different from what is happening to Palin. In Palin’s case, there is not one besmirching, but many. And unlike the situation in the movie, where the removal of a single smear reveals Katrin as her true moral self, here the removal of one smear leads the opposition to redouble its efforts and come up with more and more slanders.

Worse, in the public narrative — the newspapers — there is no knight in shining armor to come and rescue Palin’s reputation. Instead, it is shredded into ever smaller pieces, with each bit of exculpatory information buried deep within the papers’ unread pages.

The 1947 movie is a powerful indictment of the way in which political corruption and moral turpitude can come together to destroy the strongest person. It’s only the Hollywood happy ending machine that keeps the movie going as a fairly light romance and prevents it from veering into tragedy.

We can only hope as we watch the machine rage against Palin that she is able to pull off a happy ending in real life, so that we can all watch the movie next year with a smile, rather than regret.

Cross-posted at Bookworm Room

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