September 17, 2008
Shooting Sarah Palin
I was visiting with a friend and Israeli war hero the other day, a guy with great stories named Elan Frank, and all we could talk about was Sarah Palin. |
Let me explain. Frank was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1982 after he rescued 25 Israeli soldiers caught in a nighttime terrorist ambush deep inside Lebanon. The conditions were so risky that Frank's co-pilot suggested they abort the mission. Frank ignored the advice, and under intense enemy fire, he made a daredevil 360 degree move to speed up the helicopter's landing and rescue the troops.
That was 26 years ago. Now Frank is a busy filmmaker.
Earlier this year, he called the office of the governor of Alaska to ask permission to shoot Sarah Palin for his new film, a documentary about powerful women of the world. Because he had spent a lot of time in Alaska, he'd heard about the feisty Palin and thought she'd be a natural.
Well, guess what? She said yes.
So there he was in Alaska a few weeks later, with his camera practically glued for several days to the eight-months-pregnant governor as she went about her daily business.
As fate would have it, soon thereafter Palin became the most talked-about woman on the planet, and Frank became the proprietor of film footage everyone wanted to see.
While I sat in his office last week, he took several calls from the press, including one from a producer at Fox television, who's flying him to New York this week to appear on Fox News' "On The Record With Greta Van Susteren."
Frank hasn't yet decided what to do with all the footage. Eventually, he hopes to make it part of his "Great Women" series and air it on a major television network.
I couldn't wait that long, so he gave me a sneak preview of several hours of raw footage, including lots of private, off-the-cuff moments.
Here's my conclusion after observing Palin in action: If you're rooting for Obama-Biden this November, there's reason to be nervous.
I don't say this because I discovered something new and extraordinary about Palin. Rather, it's that everything I saw reinforced the attributes that make her a winner.
For starters, she's a likeable adrenalin junkie who doesn't shy from public exposure. Palin gave Frank unusual access, so we got to see, on a typical day: Palin discussing legislative strategy with her chief of staff; reviewing the bidding process for the $40 billion Alaskan gas pipeline; making jokes about having to dust her office; schmoozing with lawmakers; asking pointed questions of her aides; inviting Oprah, on camera, to visit Alaska; speaking emotionally about fighting for oppressed women around the world; rushing under a snowfall to greet her 7-year-old daughter at a school bus stop; flirting with her husband and calling him "the boss"; playing the flute by a window; and, while talking to an aide on the phone in her kitchen and making dinner for her daughter, reminding the daughter not to stuff herself on potato chips.
Through it all, Palin was upbeat and cheerful -- but you can sense an underlying edge. Frank's camera captured some of that edge by showing the forceful movement of her hands when she felt strongly about something, or the occasional subtle glare when something didn't please her.
There's little doubt about Palin's competitive streak; she couldn't have succeeded in the rough world of Alaskan politics without one. Yet, unlike other driven politicians like Hillary Clinton, whose steely demeanor and exaggerated enthusiasm can turn off or intimidate people, Palin uses her folksy charm to disarm people. It's the proverbial fist in the velvet glove.
Beyond that, there's one sobering thought for sophisticated liberals who are aghast at the possibility that this caribou-hunting evangelical supermom will snatch defeat from their jaws of victory.
She's a quick study.
Unlike a well-known current resident of the White House, she's not intellectually lazy or impatient with details. What I saw was a probing, engaged woman who's always on -- and is anything but a naïve, small-town hick.
I wouldn't be surprised if she looks more and more savvy as the campaign heads to the finish line. Unlike her critics who see her as a shooting star who will flame out, I see an ambitious newcomer to the big time who's got enough street smarts to quickly improve herself. (The question, of course, will be how quickly she can catch up and make up for her lack of national experience.)
Frank saw all of those things and more when he hung out with Palin in Alaska. Frank himself is an independent who's staunchly pro-Israel, and whose primary concern as a voter is the global threat of nuclear-based terrorism.
He's not overly worried about Palin's lack of experience on the world stage. He's seen too many "experienced" and worldly politicians fall flat on their faces, and he sees in Palin a "natural-born leader" with good intuition who knows how to ask the right questions.
He thinks Palin is the opposite of what they call in Israel a "freyer" (a sucker or a fool), meaning that she'll see right through the deceptive tactics of sneaky lizards like Ahmadinejad of Iran or Assad of Syria, who he believes would outmatch a well-intentioned and articulate diplomat like Barack Obama.
So yes, Frank seems to have fallen under her spell. But Frank is no freyer himself. This is a war hero who spent seven years in the Israeli army fighting a wily foe. He knows all about deception. He doesn't trust easily. He can tell real from fake and tough from soft.
If Sarah Palin is anything, he says, she's real and tough.
And in a dangerous world, Frank sees the appeal of a lioness who's real and tough. Especially a lioness who learns quickly, loves her country and hates to lose.