While busy working on an extended piece about Russia’s disgraceful prime-time TV broadcast of a program that endorses 9/11 conspiracy theories, I have been mulling of the question of what to say about Sarah Palin.
My friend Kathleen Parker says it all:
Some of the passionately feminist critics of Ms. Palin who attacked her personally deserved some of the backlash they received. But circumstances have changed since Ms. Palin was introduced as just a hockey mom with lipstick – what a difference a financial crisis makes – and a more complicated picture has emerged.As we’ve seen and heard more from John McCain’s running mate, it is increasingly clear that she is a problem. Quick study or not, she doesn’t know enough about economics and foreign policy to make Americans comfortable with a President Palin should conditions warrant her promotion.
Right on. More interesting thoughts from Parker here.
I have defended Palin because a lot of the attacks on her have been so vicious and unfair, and I don’t just mean the “Trig is Bristol’s baby” rumors. She is not a “Stepford wife” or an anti-woman tool of The Patriarchy; she is not a woman who sends the message that women can get ahead by being demure and pleasing the boys; she is not a female misogynist who devalues her own daughters and charges victims for rape kits; she does not advocate abstinence-only education in public schools (a canard repeated by Sam Harris in Newsweek). And yes, I still think she’s a good feminist role model in combining career and parenthood with the help of a strong family network, not the state.
Unfortunately, it seems that Palin has also come to exemplify a far less attractive feature of pseudo-feminism: affirmative action in the worst sense of the word. And the Palin defenders are just as exasperating as the Palin-bashers. Here is, for instance, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson in Newsweek:
Many are attracted to [Palin] because she embodies the values of the American West, which they find superior to the values of coastal elites. This was part of the appeal of Goldwater and Reagan—a log-splitting, range-riding conservatism that emphasizes freedom. (Palin adds moose hunting to the list.) It’s not irrational or simplistic for voters to prefer candidates who reflect their deepest values.… And Palin appeals to many voters as a pro-life symbol, with a family—including a son with Down syndrome—that exemplifies a culture of life. Elites may dismiss this as trivial or backward. But there’s no deeper question of political philosophy than this: whom do we count as a member of the human family and protect as our own? Palin welcomed a disabled child—the kind of child often targeted for elimination through eugenic abortion. It’s not irrational for Americans to support a candidate who is willing to protect the weak.
First of all: why was it vile for Andrew Sullivan, Cintra Wilson, and South Carolina Democratic Chairwoman Carol Fowler to suggest that one of Palin’s main qualifications for the job seemed to be the fact that she didn’t have an abortion, yet okay for Palin supporter Gerson to suggest the same, with a positive spin? And since when do conservatives espouse the principle that “the personal is political”?
“Sarah Palin,” he said, “has nothing in common with my father, a two-term governor of the largest state in the union, a man who had been in public life for decades, someone who had written, thought and spoke for decades about foreign policy issues, domestic policy issues, and on and on and on.”
Check out, too, this post on the Half Sigma blog. Ronald Reagan was not an intellectual, but he had a long history of engagement with and interest in ideas on the preeminent issues of his day. So far, I see absolutely no evidence of such from Sarah Palin. Besides, they didn’t call Reagan the Great Communicator for nothing.
Sarah Palin is not Harry Truman, either. Yes, like Truman, she comes from small-town America. However, by the time Truman was picked to be FDR’s running mate, he had served in the U.S. Senate for ten years and had gained fame (including a spot on the cover of Time) as the founder and chairman of the Truman Committee which investigated fraud, waste, and mismanagement in the military.
Palin may yet surprise us all in her debate with Biden. But I doubt it.
There was a moment when it seemed that Palin’s candidacy could be a big moment for conservative/libertarian feminism in America — a feminism that, I strongly believe, deserves a place at the table. Instead, with every passing day so far, she becomes more and more of an embarrassment. Particularly when Camp McCain’s efforts to shield her from contacts with the media and to ensure that she gets to do the veep debate under easier rules (against Joe “Foot in the Mouth” Biden, no less!) look so much like a cringeworthy display of sexist paternalism. From Xena, Warrior Princess to damsel in distress in two weeks: how pathetic is that?