How far can you go on chutzpah?
You have heard the story of the boy who murdered his mother and father and pleaded for mercy from the sentencing judge because he was an orphan. That story is often told to illustrate the outer limit of "chutzpah." Chutzpah (pronounced hutz-pah) is a yiddish term meaning brazenness, gall, insolence, impertinence, nerve, guts, crust or brashness. In short, chutzpah is audacity, for good or bad. The word can be an insult or an expression of grudging admiration.
I have told you before in this column that audacity is a talent all by itself. Sometimes it takes a certain nerve to do something and the person who is too modest, too uncertain or too hesitant does not make the effort and take the chance. After all, he may fail or embarrass himself. And whatever it is he would like to do will never happen. On the other hand, the person with a certain level of audacity will take the chance -- and may fail or be embarrassed, but may also succeed. And if he does succeed, the only difference may just be that he had the nerve to try.
We have all seen show business personalities who have or had more audacity than other talent. Let me name a couple (I have the chutzpah to name names because I know I'm going to offend a few of you). The late Johnny Cash, though I loved the guy, had more audacity than singing talent. He had a nice deep voice, but could hardly carry a tune and could not harmonize. He had about as little singing talent as a singer can have and make a living at it. Yet he had the nerve to go out there and perform. Hurray for the late Johnny Cash.
Madonna, if you ask me (and I know you didn't) has average singing talent and maybe above average, but not sensational looks. But she has built her own image and is recognized as a superstar. How many performers can be identified by only one name? She has done that by wearing outrageous, eye catching costumes, posing for outrageous photos and by outrageous conduct.
Boiled down to the essentials, Madonna has more chutzpah than singing talent. But it works. She is the hyper-ambitious Material Girl who never stops re-inventing herself.
Want one more name? Sarah Palin has chutzpah. Sarah is a gorgeous woman with a big personality and a million dollar smile. She is the darling of the Tea Party movement and a spirited spokesperson for that group. She has the charisma to draw huge crowds wherever she goes and has a very basic message that appeals to millions of followers. In addition to all that, she has earned over $12 million since the last election. No more worries about bills for straight teeth or college education for the kids.
As a political leader and spokesperson, she is dynamite. But Palin keeps teasing us with the possibility she may step forward as a candidate for president. That's where the chutzpah starts. Palin quit under pressure before she finished her term as Governor of Alaska. She shows no evidence that she has done her homework about American history. When she was asked recently by Glen Beck who her favorite Founding Father was, her answer was "all of them." Thirty-nine delegates signed the original constitution, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Jr. and Alexander Hamilton among them. John Adams, John Jay and Thomas Jefferson were absent on other duties but were also considered the founding fathers.
Palin did not come up with a single name. "All of them" is no answer.
Now when she gives speeches, the rule is that all questions from the audience must first be screened. You can't write all the answers on your hand. God bless Sarah Palin -- she inspires her followers and she is to be admired for many reasons.
The Republicans have any number of prospects who have the qualifications to be president. Sarah Palin is not one of them.
The moral of the story is that chutzpah can be a wonderful, powerful force, a talent, but it can't make you sing in tune and it can't make you presidential.