Rothman: In VP debate and lapel pin, a glimmer

On Thursday night, lured by doughnuts and board games, I watched the vice-presidential debate in my freshman counselor’s room. Expecting that my friends would silently watch the television and follow with a dry, political discussion afterwards, I naturally brought my laptop with me. I thought I might be able to get some work in as I half-watched the debate and half-listened to what I thought would be dull, heard-it-before conversation.

My expectations are the product of a residual stereotype I held about Yale students — that they take their politics seriously and that there is little room for humor when discussing the future of the economy or the military. At a previous debate-watching party, it was alcohol that changed the tone. I was sure that a sober event would hardly match up. The numerous political party e-mails I receive, which are the driest in my inbox, gave me no reason to think otherwise.

I could not have been more wrong.

Even without the presence of alcohol, the gathering was noisy and boisterous; my laptop was open for three minutes before I knocked it shut with my hand reaching for soda and chips. I wasn’t sure if the particularly high-level of volume and excitement is typical of a sober debate-watching party, but if it is, who needs to drink? In no time, I realized that the stuffy, overplayed discussion I expected was nowhere to be found. Instead, we did something familiar to young adults and teenagers everywhere: We made fun of people.

The victim of our jeers: Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska and Republican vice-presidential nominee.

Was it too easy for us to pick on her? Of course it was. But we had a tremendous amount of fun doing it.

We started soft — the obvious highlights in her hair and her wink at the camera. Soon, we moved on to more serious problems, like her fundamental inability to construct a sentence. Someone observed that when Palin speaks, it seems as if she learned all the rules of English grammar without understanding communication in general: Her words go together well enough, but when you consider them as a whole, you realize that they don’t make any sort of sense. What’s more, Palin does not speak with punctuation marks: Her sentences do not end or begin, but ramble into one another in a waterfall of conjunctions and adjectives.

We moved on.

Soon, these observations devolved into lengthy analysis of Palin’s lapel pin — its extraordinary size and general fanciness was, we concluded, part of her scheme to compensate for John McCain’s conspicuous lack of such a pin during the previous presidential debate. Either that, or the message was subliminal: “My name is Sarah Palin. Vote for me because I have sparklier pin.”

I stayed to watch and listen to the entire debate, from Palin’s use of the word “Talibani” to Joe Biden choking up to the chanting of “Drill, baby, drill.” When it was over, we gorged ourselves on cinnamon buns and considered voting for Palin. Two reasons stuck out: First, we found admirable her dislike of the idea of a second Holocaust and second, we really liked that she lived on Main Street.

Later, as I walked up the staircase on my way to bed, I considered my shattered expectations of silently watching and dryly debating. I’m glad, I thought, that we students can watch a political event and absorb factual information while simultaneously spit out catty comments about someone’s fixed smile or wrinkle-free forehead. It helps to make something so serious and so important a little lighter and a little more fun — levity is necessary when considering our finances or reputation overseas.

I went to sleep shortly after. The fun I had, contrary to expectation, stayed with me throughout the weekend. What a party; what a night; what a lapel pin that was. I’m already ready for Tuesday.

Erica Rothman is a freshman in Branford College. Contact her at erica.rothman@yale.edu.

Comments