Friday, September 26, 2008

The Palin problem

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"?

Secondly: I remember Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan was my president. And Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan (pace Michael Reagan). Here, I have to agree with Ron Reagan, lefty though he may be:

"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?


Eric Dondero said...

There you go again, mouthing the typical liberal media line that Sarah Palin was chosen VP cause she was a woman.

Sarah Palin was chosen because SHE'S A LIBERTARIAN!!!

I guess if you want to define affirmative action as elevating libertarians in the GOP to top spots on the ticket, than yes she's a product of affirmative action.

But then you'd have to say the same thing about the Party's other two factions, conservatives and moderates.

Again, Bob Barr was polling 6% in mid-summer in some polls. Seeing that, he McCain camp made a tconcious decision to co-opt libertarian voters.

I understand they were also looking at other libertarian Republicans like SC Gov. Mark Sanford, and South Dakota's John Thune.

But they chose libertarian Republican Sarah Palin of the very libertarian State of Alaska. Just because she also happens to be a woman, does not mean that was the reason she was chosen.

Anonymous said...

"Sarah Palin was chosen because SHE'S A LIBERTARIAN!!!"

I've seen no evidence that Palin is a libertarian. Unlike Ronald Reagan, she has never said or written anything about libertarianism (despite majoring in journalism in college).

Cathy Young said...

(1) Barking "typical liberal media!" at any criticism of Palin shows how pathetic and desperate her supporters are. (For your information, Eric Dondero, if you're still reading, I had an article in the Wall Street Journal defending Palin against attacks by liberal feminists. Check out my older blogpost linked in this one.)

(2) Sarah Palin was chosen because she's a libertarian? Give me a break. Sarah Palin was the stone that was supposed to kill two birds: energize the "base" (not libertarians but social conservatives -- she's the darling of the Phyllis Schlaflys and the James Dobsons), and win over some of the disgruntled female Hillary voters.

The l-word may have been a very minor factor because of Alaska's libertarian image, but I have news for you: there are a lot more social conservatives, and a lot more women, than there are libertarians.

Richard Bennett said...

People are complaining about Sarah Palin because of stuff like this:

COURIC: Why isn’t it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries? Allow them to spend more and put more money into the economy? Instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

PALIN: That’s why I say, I like ever American I’m speaking with were ill about this position that we have been put in where it is the tax payers looking to bailout.

But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up the economy– Helping the — Oh, it’s got to be about job creation too. Shoring up our economy and putting it back on the right track. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions and tax relief for Americas.

And trade we’ve got to see trade as opportunity, not as a competitive scary thing. But 1 in 5 jobs being created in the trade sector today. We’ve got to look at that as more opportunity. All those things under the umbrella of job creation.

This bailout is a part of that.


Nothing more needs to be said.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, my initial take on the Palin selection was that it was supposed to both appeal to disgruntled Clinton voters, and to bolster McCain’s maverick/reform/change credentials. The Democratic Convention leaned heavily on the McSame meme, identifying McCain with a very unpopular administration and proposing the Democrats and Obama as the obvious antidote. McCain needed to distance himself from Bush, and Palin’s record of challenging the Republican Party in Alaska helped to amplify his personal “maverick” narrative of party independence and bipartisanship. And he got a pretty nice bounce out of that convention, so I still think it was a good strategy.

I don’t quite agree that this is a case of “affirmative action at its worst” because I don’t think anyone who has seen tapes of Palin’s performances in interviews and debates in Alaska would have expected her to perform this poorly. It could be about overbearing, relentless prep combined with no practice (the ill-advised sequestration from the press), or it could just be about wilting under pressure. (Not a great recommendation for national political office, but also not necessarily forseeable by the McCain campaign).

Some of Palin’s defenders are defending her in sexist terms for the same reason some of her detractors are attacking her in sexist terms: Because they ARE sexists, and it’s easy. Palin herself has not whipped out the “damsel in distress” defense or complained about her treatment by the media at all, even when given an opportunity to do so in the Couric interview. So I don’t think she should be held responsible for the idiotic things people on either side of the aisle have been saying about her.

Anonymous said...

She's not a libertarian. A libertarian wouldn't make it a mission to get earmarked federal dollars (in large quantities) channeled to her town when she was Mayor and state when she became governor. Her greedy persuit of pork has put legends like Robert Bird to shame.


Revenant said...

I don't buy the line that Palin doesn't understand economics, at least if that is meant as a claim that she understands them less than McCain, Obama, or Biden. All of the candidates are making claims that are completely at odds with an intelligent understanding of how the economy actually works. Palin's responses don't seem to me to reflect a lesser understanding -- just a lesser degree of familiarity with the platitudes she's supposed to be repeating.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I read someone's blog response somewhere that nailed the hammer on the head and finally put to words what annoys me most as a woman fighting to be thought of as intelligent despite whether I look good or not. I can't speak as well as she did but when Gov. Palin uses "folksy" improper English ie not completing a full sentence, using slang and "ing" words without pronouncing the "g" she sounds like she's talking among friends at home, not to educated people in a professional setting. The implecation that this appeals to "real" american's or "middle america" is an insult to half educated people everywhere who can use proper english when appropriate. It is not a sign of intellectual elitism, it's a sign of respect.

Anonymous said...

The basic feminist hypocrisy in relation to their treatment of Palin is simple. If you are going to demand that women should be equally represented with men in all positions of public power, then it is incumbent on you to support women candidates (unless there is a really compelling reason to reject one).

To put it another way, if feminist groups reject female candidates without good cause then they lose their right to complain about women not being equally represented with men in positions of political power.

None of this is to say that promoting women simply for being women is a good thing in itself. But that's not the point. The point is that if the feminists demand this kind of group spoils system, that is the price they pay. They have to compromise their right to judge individuals, and support a member of the tribe. Cause hey, that's the rough justice you demanded!

To look at it another way: Suppose if liberals demanded an affirmative action program to boost the number of minorities in certain positions. Then suppose if this policy was used by others to promote black and latino conservatives. They couldn't say "hang on. We didn't mean those minorities! Only the ones that agree with us!". Tough luck, buddies.

The point is that if one believes that different groups should be equally represented in decision-making bodies and the like according to their share of the population, then they have to accept that not every member of those groups will agree with them on their favored views. Feminists can't demand equal representation for women, but then only women who agree with everything they support!

ada47 said...

Uh, nick, the discussion has moved on. Catch up, OK?

Thanks, Cathy, for this post.

It's really unfathomable to me that the party of Olympia Snow, Susan Collins, Christie Whitman, Elizabeth Dole and Kay Baily Hutchison has chosen Palin as the first women to elevate to the ticket.

Anonymous said...

"Uh, nick, the discussion has moved on. Catch up, OK?"

Really, so feminists are no longer arguing for equal outcomes between men and women in major political offices? What has changed in the debate that makes my points irrelevant?

"It's really unfathomable to me that the party of Olympia Snow, Susan Collins, Christie Whitman, Elizabeth Dole and Kay Baily Hutchison has chosen Palin as the first women to elevate to the ticket."

Yeah, right. And of course if any of those women had actually been picked for the ticket then of course feminists would find some reason why they were unacceptable also.

After they help secure the defeat of the McCain-Palin ticket, the feminists will no doubt throw a pity party over the fact that there still has never been a woman president or VP. I wonder if I can get the contract for the catering on that one, lol.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if I can get the contract for the catering on that one

I want the contract for the Republican pity party/circular firing squad. Megabucks, baby!


Iguana said...

I hope you have re-thought your positions in this post. Palin did indeed perform well in the debate. Even if you don't think she was great, you have to admit she beat all expectations and held her own.

But, more important, now that we are in the last week before the election, look back on the past several weeks of everything being thrown at Palin, including the kitchen sink. She has not complained, she has stood up and gone to work campaigning, and she has never complained. Most importantly, she has NEVER CLAIMED TO BE A VICTIM.

Now, you might still think she was not qualified to be selected by McCain as his running-mate, but I do think you have to admit that there is a lot to admire about the woman. Most of all, it's great to see a woman jump into the kitchen, take the heat, and not claim to be a victim. That is a great role model for all women.

Hopefully, elevating women to elected office who are positive and not gender feminist professional victims will be the future of the Republican Party.

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