The Magazine

The Palin Effect

Her enemies are bellowing like a wounded moose.

Sep 29, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 03 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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2. Angry White Women. Palin's pick was a hand grenade tossed into the old-fashioned feminist movement's aged and tottering hulk. "Can someone please tell me what the hell happened?" pled Michelle Cottle of the New Republic, as Sarah made landfall. Well, here is one answer, as George Jonas put it in Canada's National Post: "The office for which Hillary Clinton strove with merciless determination for a lifetime, only to see it snatched away from her in the 11th hour, could fall into the lap of Sarah Palin, a populist outsider, who hadn't prepared, or even looked, for the job." The horror. "A slap in the face to all women," Cottle called it, especially to "any woman who seriously supported Hillary in this race." Much more was coming, in much the same tone. "I find it insulting to women, to the Republican Party, and to the country," said Sally Quinn in a Newsweek/Washington Post blog. In the Baltimore Sun, Susan Reimer found Palin's selection "insulting on so many levels" that she barely could name them. Ruth Marcus, reading from the same cue cards, sputtered in the Washington Post: "I found Palin's selection .  .  . insulting." Google the phrase "Palin's pick is insulting to women," and you come up with 943,000 entries. Is this a plot or a stunning coincidence? Or possibly both?

At the same time the Quinns and Marcuses were declaring themselves affronted beyond all endurance, and declaring that women were far too independent, too diverse, and too clever to move as a herd in any direction; they were also asserting, on behalf of all women, that all women would surely reject this cynical, ham-fisted ploy. How stunned they must have been several days later when polls showed a move to McCain by white women and by independents. How could this have happened? Well, they might have found a few clues in the polls, which would have told them the abortion rights extremism they back is a minority viewpoint, polling only a few points higher than the pro-life extremism they dismiss as a fanatical fringe aberration. They would have shown that women are not more pro-choice than men are, in fact they are less so, and that in the 2004 presidential election, George W. Bush carried white women by an 11-point margin. These were hints that not all of the sisters were lined up behind them, but what are facts when one is in the grip of delusion and arrogance? As Jonas noted, "There are two kinds of feminists: those who want to see the presidency available to women, and those who want the presidency available to card-carrying, licensed, and agenda-certified female feminists. .  .  . McCain's choice made the second kind livid .  .  . so close to power, with a woman so far removed from every reason for which to exercise it." So they lied all along when they said they wanted to help and empower all women. Who knew?

So the old-fashioned feminists have fallen back on the old theme of false consciousness; that women who don't agree with them aren't really women at all. This has been used before--even against Hillary, as when abortion doyenne Kate Michelman endorsed of all people John Edwards as being the best woman, or the best man for women, in the Democratic primary race. We know how that worked out. (On the other hand, he surely was the prettiest, and, as he seems to be supporting Rielle Hunter in style, Michelman may have been right.) Hillary's backers, though, appear to be split, with some in really high dudgeon at Palin, while others show muted pleasure in Obama's discomfort. One Hillary fundraiser even started a website to track sexist slurs. All in all, gender politics is a delicate subject. As one blogger on the right observed, "the thought of watching progressives tie themselves in knots over the next two months trying to square the inevitable attacks on the 'bimbo' beauty queen with poor, poor Hillary's sexist treatment by the media is worth it even if we lose."