Sara Palin is a popular media creation, but the public doesn’t think much of her as presidential timber. Let’s keep that in mind.
OK, picture this: unexpectedly Hillary Clinton runs in the next Democratic presidential primary and wins. Sarah Palin wins in the GOP primaries too, holding off a bevy of Republican men. In 2012, there is a presidential race between these two women. Do we have any doubt who would win that race? Hillary Clinton, and it wouldn’t be close. Tell that to Rebecca Traister, Anna Holmes and the New York Times.
Traister and Holmes wrote an oped for the New York Times on Sunday that got a lot of attention and provoked some major consternation. In the piece, they seem to be claiming that Sarah Palin is a new kind of superwoman, transcending anything Democrat women have to offer; that Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton have failed in the face of this powerful “mama grizzly,” and that this failure (which the authors, in my opinion, have totally concocted) is to be blamed on “the left” (whoever they/we are).
About Sarah Palin’s super success, the authors write: “The left should be outraged and exasperated by all this — but at their own failings as much as Ms. Palin’s ascension. Since the 2008 election, progressive leaders have done little to address the obvious national appetite for female leadership. And despite (or because of) their continuing obsession with Ms. Palin, they have done nothing to stop an anti-choice, pro-abstinence, socialist-bashing Tea Party enthusiast from becoming the 21st century symbol of American women in politics.”
Wow, it turns out it is possible to live in the same country and see things entirely differently. These authors are so enamored of Sarah Palin, it seems they have been reading and watching too much of the media of which they are a part: “But as women of a different generation — of, gulp, Sarah Palin’s generation — we wonder if Democrats shouldn’t look to her for twisted inspiration, and recognize that the future of women in politics will be about coming to terms with (and inventing) new models.”
So, Sarah Palin is popular as what exactly? A Fox commentator? A provocative Twitterer? An endorser in small Republican primaries in conservative states where maybe 15 or 20 percent of voters participate? Maybe. But she is certainly not popular as a powerful, trusted woman who is going to lead this country. Being a sometimes confused Fox commentator is not the same as being Secretary of State.
Let’s start with a recent article, headlined, “Clear Majority Says Palin Not Qualified to be President“:
Two days after Sarah Palin fired up a large crowd at Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally in Washington, a newly released survey suggests a clear majority of Americans don’t think the former vice presidential nominee has the right credentials to be president. According to the new survey from Vanity Fair and CBS News’ 60 Minutes, only 1 in 4 of all adults thinks Palin is qualified to be commander-in-chief while 60 percent say she is not. And she is not even popular among conservatives: By a narrow 47-40 percent margin however, Republicans do feel Palin has the right stuff to be president. But self identified conservatives – constituting the segment of the GOP largely thought to most favor the former Alaska governor – are essentially split 41-40 percent on her abilities to govern the country.
Now, Hillary Clinton was almost nominated to be the first female presidential candidate in history. It was extremely close. She came on very strong at the end, winning a slew of states. Barack Obama was able to hang on, but just barely, and mostly due to some early very smart tactics in caucus states. Very few Americans would dispute Hillary Clinton’s ability to lead the country. And at this point, as tough as things are, and as disappointed as many are with Barack Obama’s leadership — a kind of political buyer’s remorse — my guess is she would be very popular if she ever decided she wanted to run.
If you go back only two years ago, you have “Hillary Clinton Bests Sarah Palin” (in poll):
It doesn’t really matter, since neither is running for president, but a poll of 600 women nationwide found that female voters think Hillary Clinton is a “better mom, role model and leader” than vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Some stats: 61% prefer Clinton to Palin (27%) if the two women ran against each other in 2012 and 35% think Clinton is a better mother than Palin (24%). Pollster Mickey Blum explains to the Daily News, “Palin appeals to a much smaller group.”
This is a reality that Traister and Holmes ignore:
An older generation of female Democrats, including Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Pelosi, are about as eager to mount a Palin-style girl-powered campaign as they are to wear a miniskirt on the House floor. For them, proudly or aggressively touting one’s feminist credentials (if you’re actually a feminist, that is) is taboo. It’s considered too, well, female.
Hmmm. Nancy Pelosi is the most powerful and successful woman in American political history. She is a master at her job. She doesn’t have to crow about being a feminist, everyone already knows that and she proves it every day. Sarah Palin talks about feminism because she wants to distort the whole idea of what a feminist is, scramble the discourse, and try to confuse as many people as she can. But that’s her right, and she should be treated fairly as she tries to do that. But there is no requirement to inflate her popularity and role to make a generational point.
Nation editor Betsy Reed jumped right in to take issue with Traister and Holmes’ piece. Reed acknowledges, as we all must, that sexism is still an ugly part of American politics, and Hillary Clinton, like virtually every female candidate in America, has to endure unspeakable harassment that belongs in the Dark Ages. It’s no wonder that the U.S. ranks 86th in the world in the number of women in elected office. Who wants to endure the persecution? It’s ugly out there. (See “Name It, Change It,” a new project from the Women’s Media Center and the Women’s Campaign Fund, which highlights just how often and how viciously, women candidates are subjected to blatant sexism.) But to blame the Democrats and leave the Republicans alone, and basically celebrate Sarah Palin? Very strange.
Reed points out:
… notwithstanding their shortcomings, the Democrats can legitimately claim to have a much better record than Republicans in promoting and electing women. In today’s Congress, women hold 90 seats, and of these just 21 are Republicans, versus 69 Democrats — including, not insignificantly, the first female Speaker. In a sobering L.A. Times piece published the same day as Holmes and Traister’s op-ed, Lisa Mascaro reported that the number of women in Washington may decline after this year’s midterms, with as many as 10 seats held by women in danger of being washed away by a Republican wave, which would amount to “the first backslide in the uninterrupted march of women to Washington since 1978.” In other words, Mama Grizzlies can roar all they want, but years that are good for Republicans tend to be bad for women, and this year is likely to be no different.
I’ve often enjoyed reading Rebecca Traister’s political writing on Salon. And Anna Holmes’ blog, Jezebel, is always a burst of fresh air, even if you might get offended by one piece or another. But in their moment in the New York Times sun, these writers seem to have swerved off-road, searching for a theory, a provocative pose, or a book to publicize. (Traister’s book, Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women, comes out this September.) Their saucy tale just doesn’t ring true. In creating their provocation, they demean two of the most powerful, successful, skilled and committed women in American political history. In their place the authors put a woman who is also a radical right-winger, a darling of the Tea Party, whose positions are far from the mainstream of America. Palin, who is in some ways an accident of history, became a media darling; a fresh-faced tabloid personality the media can use to stir things up. In turn, perhaps to her credit, Palin has worked the media spotlight nicely, to the tune of $12 million in income last year, a very nice take for a populist from Alaska.
For a topper, the authors blame the “Left” — which they never define and at times conflate with the Democratic party — for the crime of not abandoning its female leaders and the failure to create its very own Sarah Palin. I’m guessing Traister and Holmes don’t have a clue what the Left is, because no one else does either. Political commentors love to talk about the Left as if it existed as a specific political formation with clear goals, and an ability to act in some kind of concert. But there isn’t and it doesn’t. “Left” is a pretty useless political term, when compared with something much more specific such as the Tea Party.
But it’s so easy to blame the Left. Everyone does it — just ask Obama’s press secretary.
Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.