I was watching C-SPAN, the only news channel that actually reports events as they happen without the over-numbing commentary of Network reporters who insult my intelligence by telling me how I should think about policies and issues. The channel had a full hour dedicated to former Governor Sarah Palin’s book signing at the Joseph Beth Bookstore in Cincinnati. The book store was packed with people from all walks of life: working and middle-class folks, as well as many well-informed, articulate men and women. They were all there to see the author of Going Rogue, Palin’s best-selling book that has thus far sold around three million copies.
For some time I have been pondering the “Sarah Palin phenomenon,” trying to get my value-system and opinions out of the way to really see why so many people in this country love and support her. I sat there, watching her emerge from the second floor of the bookstore like a hero. With a big smile Ms. Palin announced to the cheering crowd: “Oh, we’re gonna have a blast! I appreciate your courage, and carrying the book…and going rogue like me because you care about the truth…”
People were asked for their comments following the book signing which gave me a clearer sense of her popularity. One woman said “Sarah is a lot like us, a working Mom who’s raising her children. She represents us. I like her.” Another woman enthused, “She’s a rock star, great girl, great mom!” Joe Demato a conservative New Yorker who moved to Cincinnati, noted that “She dedicated her book to the people. She does not dodge the questions…” A young college student named Rachel expressed her deep love and respect for Palin. This whole energetic ambiance was moving to the music of Bruce Springsteen’s song “The Rising”, playing in the background. Although the press from Canada and Germany were present, as were journalists representing a few US entertainment shows, they were not allowed to ask Palin any questions.
What does Sarah Palin represent to millions in this country? Why are so many of us so quick to dismiss her? Is it possible that she is a symptom of something that has been brewing in this country for many years and just now is beginning to manifest on the surface? I believe that Palin represents a new brand of feminism. She is giving voice to the ‘soccer mom’ archetype, which has been dismissed as limited and insignificant by many egalitarian feminists. She is pretty, hits the gym everyday, takes care of her family the best way she knows how, and she shoots moose because that’s what you do if you live in Alaska. Many women and men who feel intimidated by the intellectual sophistication of politicians and their abstract jargon, blame those same politicians for the political and economic impasse the country faces. They feel there are simple solutions to our problems and find solace and comfort in Sarah’s simplistic approach.
Yes, this is another kind of feminism. One that is expressed in the form of an independent, hard-working woman who is respected by her husband and her supporters. Many of us, particularly in liberal camps, have to remember that although we stand on the shoulders of 1960′s brand of feminism, the phenomenon of Sarah Palin still represents the next stage of development for many women in this country, and an overwhelming majority of women in the developing world. How many women in Africa or Latin America aspire to be in her shoes—an autonomous professional woman, contributing to the household and being elected democratically to the highest seat in her state?
As a woman, the other issue of concern is that if Palin was a male politician, would we have vilified him this much? Or would we have simply dismissed him as another politician doing what politicians do. Apparently George W. Bush’s lack of intellectual depth was not a factor in his electability, as we elected him twice. Why aren’t we chuckling at her gaffs like we did with Bush? Does she represent traditional values that we have grown to despise because we have become career women and maybe did not ‘include’ the value system that our own mothers grew up in? Or is it just simply a case of subconscious masculine views of political leadership? Not too long ago, many liberals were quick to vilify Hillary Clinton, a woman with far more impressive credentials than many of her former male predecessors. So, are we witnessing the birth of a new feminism that’s creating friction at the highest levels of traditionally male-dominated politics, or is it the initial signs of a dying exclusive domain of masculine power? Providing further evidence to such masculine dominance of political world views, a few days ago, at a town hall meeting in Saudi Arabia, a young male student asked Secretary Clinton with a big smirk on his face “How scared would you be if Sarah Palin was elected president of the US? Would you move to Canada?” This young man’s question typifies the nature of psychological projection males have about a profession that has traditionally been the stomping ground of men. A Saudi asking that question, really? After all we’re talking about Saudi Arabia where women do not have the right to vote and cannot be elected democratically to any political position.
The two major polarizing figures in the United States today are President Obama and Sarah Palin. Obama comes from his head and heart on most issues, while Palin comes from her heart and gut on all issues. They are both learning on the job, and can learn a lot from each other. Obama can try to be less rehearsed and more connected to the needs of people in middle America, and Palin can benefit tremendously from shorter, comprehensive sentences, a study of history and the Republican philosophy.
Let me make a disclaimer here: I do not support most of Palin’s policy suggestions or philosophy. If I agree with some of her views it is because she learned them from Libertarians. Yet, at this point, I am not sure if she can really make them her own. My concern is how to understand the people who are supporting her, and how to meet them where they are. How can we address their fears and their feelings of alienation by the intellectual elites? My gut feeling is that a female (Ross Perot-like) Republican who’s a wizard in telling Palin’s followers in language they understand how they can get their country back, will emerge to harness the momentum that Palin’s followers have created.
A couple of these Republican women are running for California’s governor’s office—Meg Whitman—and for the Senate—Carly Fiorina—and might be able to address the needs of many people in the country.
I would welcome your pragmatic comments on this subject. Please keep in mind that my concern is what works best for our country not for the two parties only.
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