September 8, 2008
Doing the Palin polka
Hey, guys! John McCain really did a number on you when he selected
Sarah Palin as his running mate. And he’s been jerking your chains ever
since. Why did you let John McCain jerk your chain last week? There’s
been a whole lotta jerkin’ goin’ on. And y’all did a cute little dance
in response, jumping up and down, back and forth.
I assume that Palin, like many other VP candidates, was chosen to act
as party pit bull, leveling attacks at the opposition that might be
considered unseemly coming out of the mouth of someone headed directly
to the Oval Office. If so, she did a good job, and she did it with a
certain kind of folksy panache. That’s what candidates are supposed to
But others saw her performance differently.
New York Times columnist Judith Warner’s chain was jerked in one direction:
Palin sounded, at times, like she was speaking a foreign
language as she gave voice to the beautifully crafted words that had
been prepared for her on Wednesday night.
But that wasn’t held against her. Thanks to the level of general
esteem that greeted her ascent to the podium, it seems we’ve all got to
celebrate the fact that America’s Hottest Governor (Princess of the Fur
Rendezvous 1983, Miss Wasilla 1984) could speak at all.
Could there be a more thoroughgoing humiliation for America’s women?
Snap. Tammy Bruce was jerked in the other direction. Humiliation? Not at all, she wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle. Far from it.
For Democrats, she offers something even more compelling —
a chance to vote for a someone who is her own woman, and who represents
a party that, while we don’t agree on all the issues, at least respects
women enough to take them seriously.
Whether we have a D, R or an “i for independent” after our names,
women share a different life experience from men, and we bring that
difference to the choices we make and the decisions we come to. Having a
woman in the White House, and not as The Spouse, is a change whose time
has come, despite the fact that some Democratic Party leaders have
decided otherwise. But with the Palin nomination, maybe they’ll realize
it’s not up to them any longer.
Clinton voters, in particular, have received a political wake-up call they never expected.
Snap again. In Salon, Joe Conason was yanked over to Judith Warner’s side:
It is hard to think of a more cynical and contemptuous
political act this year than John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as
his vice-presidential running mate. Having served as governor of Alaska
for less than two years — and as mayor of a small town before that — her
qualifications for national office are minimal.
Palin is the epitome of tokenism, exactly what conservative
Republicans have always claimed to scorn, until today, as the politics
of quotas and political correctness. Even Rush Limbaugh is a feminazi
now (at least until Election Day).
But if Palin’s résumé is limited, to put it politely, she possesses
the only two qualities that McCain now seems to consider essential: She
is a right-wing religious ideologue with female gender characteristics.
Suddenly that is all anyone needs to qualify as a potential commander in
chief of the world’s most powerful military.
It’s stories that jerk chains. And storytelling was out in full force last week. Joan Walsh, writing in Salon, noticed it:
By the time Palin took the stage, she no longer seemed
like an Alaskan Annie Oakley, a gun-toting, hockey mom biker-gal; she’d
become pioneer victim girl, Pauline tied to the train tracks by mean
Democrats and the liberal media. But Palin shook off the victim mantle
by coming out swinging, first blasting “the pollsters and the pundits”
for writing off McCain last year, then tearing into Barack Obama with
glee, teeth bared like a Rudy Giuliani in heels.
A doctored photo in my email summed it up: Sarah Palin wearing an
American-flag bikini and a big smile, stands beside a swimming pool,
cradling a rifle.
In the past week, the world has turned the old Women’s Studies slogan
on its head. The political has become the personal. Issues have become
anecdotes. The war in Iraq was transformed into a woman’s oldest son,
about to head into battle. Teenaged pregnancies turned into a photogenic
17 year old. Birth defects emerged as a beautiful five-month-old boy.
Gun control was reduced to moose hunting. And so on. The technique
worked well for Ronald Reagan. And it’s equally effective today.
It’s time to flip it back and resume the political debate. The only
trouble is that the venerable slogan doesn’t want to stay upright.
Sometimes the easiest way to talk about policies is in metaphorical
terms. But people can always change the metaphors and thus reframe the
Take, for example, the most obvious feature of the GOP’s Palin
lovefest, the sanctification of motherhood. We can point to the reasoned
arguments of NARAL and Planned Parenthood. Or we can pull out a well-worn copy of The Handmaid’s Tale and begin reading:
A shape, red with white wings around the face, a shape
like mine, a nondescript woman in red carrying a basket, comes along the
brick sidewalk towards me. She reaches me and we peer at each other’s
faces, looking down the white tunnels of cloth that enclose us. She is
the right one.
“Blessed be the fruit,” she says to me, the accepted greeting among us.
“May the Lord open,” I answer, the accepted response.
But that’s just one woman’s opinion. Thanks for reading.
— Copyright Betsey Culp 2008