Yogi Berra famously observed that "you can see a lot by looking." I know exactly what the great New York Yankee meant. You can hear a lot by listening, too.
Over the homestretch of the presidential campaign, I've been spending a lot of time at a rehabilitation hospital with someone very close to me as she recovers from back surgery. Much of the conversation in this microcosm of the urban health-care system is about Barack Obama and John McCain. Most of the doctors are white men, the physical and occupational therapists and nurses are mostly white women, and the aides and technicians are usually immigrants from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. The patients come in all colors, and the bills will be paid by private insurance, Medicaid and Medicare. Something of a pollster's dream.
The conversations can get candid and surprising, and nothing strikes sparks like the mere mention of the governor of Alaska. I expected the black women to show a certain sympathy for the governor's pregnant daughter, but they're the most outraged that an unmarried pregnant teenager was presented to us, as one angry nurse put it, as "a role model deserving sympathy" when she should have been rebuked.
"I don't care if she is the daughter of a governor, white or black what she did was wrong, and it was the wrong time to nominate her mother for vice president. Teen-age pregnancy is a problem, and just because a governor's daughter is unmarried and pregnant doesn't make that an equal opportunity problem."
Another nurse's aide was offended by the pressure of public opinion to compel the two teenagers to marry. There's considerable speculation that if Granny goes back to Anchorage, there won't ever be a wedding.
These first-hand impressions of public sentiment are nothing to the fear and loathing in the mail from white liberal professional women, whose remarks are neither as reasoned nor as insightful as those of the women at the rehab center. An abundance of bile and rage makes up for style and substance. One woman, a distinguished professor of English literature at one of our elite universities, reaches over the top for a cliche to describe Sarah Palin as "someone beneath contempt, an ignorant vicious woman who would have been ideal for the Hitler rope lines in the Sudetenland."