Sarah Palin round-up: git along, little mommies

Melissa from Shakesville saw the ABC interview, and hated it.  Her one word verdict?  Terrifying.  (Shakesville has posted more of the video here.)  She writes, “[t]his is not a person who’s remotely prepared to lead this country.”  Me, I’m not so sure Palin was worse than other first-term governors like Tim Kaine (D-VA) or Bobby Jindal (R-LA) would have been–but they’re not VP nominees, and she is.  Moreover–George W. Bush?  Hello!  Dems, please note:  the more the campaign is about Palin, the better it is for John McCain.  (Yes, Historiann is writing about Palin again, but please note:  this is a women’s history blog, and like it or not, Sarah Palin is American women’s history.  Strangely, neither political campaign has yet contacted Historiann for advice, so I think it’s safe to say that the conversation here will have little if any bearing on the fate of the republic.)

Here’s a case in point where attention to Palin works right into the McCain campaign’s strategy:  Bob Herbert writes, “While watching the Sarah Palin interview with Charlie Gibson Thursday night, and the coverage of the Palin phenomenon in general, I’ve gotten the scary feeling, for the first time in my life, that dimwittedness is not just on the march in the U.S., but that it might actually prevail.”  Oh, really?  Have you been napping for the past eight years, Rip Van Herbert?  What did they slip into your Knickerbocker Punch?  It’s this kind of hyperbole–suggesting that Palin is uniquely stupid and/or unqualified–that suggests that Palin Derangement Syndrome is a real phenomenon.  Herbert goes on to write, “How is it that this woman could have been selected to be the vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket?”  Well, at least this time she’s the VP nominee, and not at the top of the ticket like in 2000 and 2004.  Shouldn’t we celebrate the Republicans’ new seriousness because she’s not at the top of the ticket?

Shaker CE notes the unfortunate way in which Barack Obama talked about Palin recently in a post called “You’re As Good As Your Womb:  Not Hopeful, Not Change:”  “Look, she’s new, she hasn’t been on the scene, she’s got five kids. And my hat goes off to anybody who’s looking after five. I’ve got two and they tire Michelle and me out.”  CE writes,

This has been a prominent, and troubling, feature of the discourse ever since McCain announced Palin as his VP pick: When people speak about Palin’s political biography, they talk mostly – or at least first – about her kids. Some argue that such is the case because Palin herself has made them an important part of her political biography. That is, I think, only half-correct, because it’s ignorant of the bigger picture: Sarah Palin defines herself to the public as a mother because she has to.

It isn’t really about ingratiating herself with the right-wing base, though that’s part of it; Palin wouldn’t be able to escape defining herself in large part as a mother even if she were the most progressive politician in the country.

That’s because we still define women by their childbearing status, and we look at children as a reflection on their mothers.

And speaking of mothers, Judith Warner attended a (totally mobbed) Palin campaign rally last week in Virginia, and says that Palin’s appeal to conservative women is “No Laughing Matter.”  (The article gets better than it starts out–read through to the end, although even the passage here makes Warner sound like an anthropologist documenting her field work among a tribe of suburban Americans she’s never encountered or seriously considered before.)  Warner notes all of the women who brought their children to the rally–and not just because many of them are probably their children’s full-time caregivers.  She writes of a woman at the rally, who recounted a recent conversation with her daughter:

“My daughter asked me, ‘Mom, would you do that if you had the opportunity?,’” she recalled, as the six-year-old in question looked on. “I said ‘I don’t know. Maybe she was born to do that. Maybe that’s the sacrifice she has to make to serve her country.’”

The daughter lifted high her hand-painted, flower-adorned Palin sign.

“She’ll really be a big step forward for women,” the mother said.

No, it wasn’t funny, my morning with the hockey and the soccer moms, the homeschooling moms and the book club moms, the joyful moms who brought their children to see history in the making and spun them on the lawn, dancing, when music played. It was sobering. It was serious. It was an education.

“Palin Power” isn’t just about making hockey moms feel important. It’s not just about giving abortion rights opponents their due. It’s also, in obscure ways, about making yearnings come true — deep, inchoate desires about respect and service, hierarchy and family that have somehow been successfully projected onto the figure of this unlikely woman and have stuck.

Conservative women are jazzed about seeing one of their own in presidential politics, and it’s totally without precedent.  They are just as excited about the possibilies for their daughters as many of Clinton’s supporters were about the possibility of a Hillary Clinton presidency for their daughters.  You don’t have to like Sarah Palin, libs, but understand why others might reasonably support her.  Insulting her as a strategy to win their votes will fail, because it will feel like you’re insulting them.  (Kinda like most of the comments that this article by Warner attracted!)

Every day of this wretched campaign, I’ve come to a greater appreciation of Elizabeth I‘s political strategy:  eschew marriage and motherhood, but hold them out as bargaining chips in diplomatic engagements.  You won’t believe how long Gloriana was able to parlay the possibility of dynastic marriage and motherhood–well past menopause, by my calculation, and into her late 50s.  (Maybe some of you early modern British historians can set me right on this, as it’s been a while since I’ve read on this subject.)  But, the promise of a strategic marriage and the production of a new heir isn’t a card that women politicians in democratic republics can play–instead, marriage and motherhood are used against them in ways that men’s marriages and children are never used against male politicians.  (Just ask Geraldine Ferraro, whose husband’s finances were a large part of her undoing during her Vice Presidential run in 1984.)  It looks like our consensus on the Age of Revolutions–that while some men achieved greater representation, women lost what little claim to political power they had–still holds true.  Modernity is all about the erasure of women from the public sphere, and we still haven’t found a way to beat that back or reverse it in any meaningful way.

30 thoughts on “Sarah Palin round-up: git along, little mommies

  1. Huh, interesting, and even more interesting at the very last drop. I’m just pulling out of the Elizabethan era in both my U.S. Survey and Colonial courses (I hate it when the two of them are still entangled chronologically early on and you don’t know which class you’re teaching that hour!) and I missed that inflection between past and present. I see by my syllabus that I’m scheduled to swing through the era of Queen Anne and her very differently-complicated (but equally politicized) reproductive experience, in about two weeks. I hope I can stop by here just before then for a booster shot of insight–or maybe just figure it out myself. Good post, Historiann! Hmm…. So both the Tudor and the Stuart reigns ended in a blizzard of no heirs, but by very different routes. I wish I’d taken a little English history, now that you mention it.


  2. Historiann, Sarah Palin isn’t just a woman. She’s a white woman. I disagree with you that attacks form the left have had any effect…some of her success is gender identification, and some of it is racial identification. The Republican convention did not pretend to be anything other than an all-white gathering. Melville could add a chapter to Moby-Dick on the Republican convention.

    Obama is a candidate of global flows. Mom from Kansas, dad from from Kenya. Grew up in Hawaii, attended a liberal arts college near downtown LA, then Columbia and went to work in Chicago. He talks about a bilingual nation! A lot of younger people are comfortable with him because they have known people like him – someone who is the antithesis of the small town. And now we can read small town as “white town.” That’s what the Republicans have been aiming for. And it connects marvellously well with people who are uncomfortable with global flows and feel threatened by transnational connections. So yes, some of the Palin appeal is gendered, although gendered in a way that places “mom” before all. But I wonder if Palin has ever spent any time with racial minorities or people from other countries.

    The good news from all of this is that even if the Republicans win, and I’m not sure they will, but if they do, they have already lost. The future belongs to New York, LA, Chicago, Miami, and the many international centers of economic and cultural interaction. I’m not an apologist for globalization, but I do think we will be living in late capitalism for some time to come. The small town go under, both in Alaska and Pakistan, and those of us in the real world will be dancing salsa in Beijing with a double latte in hand.


  3. I am currently teaching the first half of the British survey, and we were just discussing a period which saw four succession crises in a mere century: 1042, 1066, 1100, and 1135 (ongoing). Unlike in France or Scotland where lack of clear heirs was exceptional, this seems to be a feature, rather than a bug in England.


  4. I think the interesting thing about Elizabeth was that while her sex was a liability during the early part of her reign (with the assumption that of course she would marry) it eventually became a diplomatic tool. Long after she reached an age when no one honestly expected her to marry (since reproduction was no longer possible) she could use the lure of marriage to further England’s interests. She could vet men from countries that England needed to improve relations with without ever seriously considering a marriage (France comes to mind here). And no one around her ever thought she was serious.

    Of course, men could do this as well, but scholars seem to think she did it much more effectively.

    But I am no Elizabethan scholar, so I could be corrected on that.


  5. like it or not, Sarah Palin is American women’s history

    I’m fine with that. Just as long as she doesn’t become American women’s FUTURE…

    There’s no way to win if you’re a mother. You’re a lazy quitter if you stay at home, you’re a neglectful parent if you go out to work. Whether you’re a SAHM or not, though, it’s inspiring to see a mother of five who is also a candidate for vice president. If THAT’S possible, maybe that big heap of Cheerios just poured on the floor by the baby isn’t so tragic as it seemed. From that standpoint, I’m happy to see Governor Palin getting some time in the spotlight.

    That’s the limit of my support, though. I think she’s got a dangerous, shortsighted perspective on the world, I disagree with most of her policies, and won’t vote for her. As soon as you look past the feel-good glow of Girl Gettin’ It Done, it’s a scary picture.


  6. Yet another thought. While I do not think that one can challenge her credentials because she is a mom, I do think that Palin was chosen in part because she is a mom, and in an immediate way (unlike most female politicians, whose children are grown before they “get serious”). Palin has resonated with people because they “identify” with her. She’s a mom, so are they. Its different than the Hillary vibe. And she’s a tabula rasa, so she can be anything a voter wants. Also unlike Hillary. Its just like 2004, when more people voted for Bush because he was the guy they were more likely to have a beer with. I have yet to read an article about an enthusiastic supporter who loves her because of her policy credentials. Also unlike Hillary, who drew supporters because of what she hoped to accomplish, not because of what she symbolized. All that glass ceiling stuff was icing on the cake.

    I would argue that all of this has absolutely nothing to do with the candidates themselves, and is all about Americans projecting, but unfortunately for me, who wants leaders who are much smarter, more dedicated, more experienced and more qualified than I am, it seems to work.


  7. Forewarning–this is a lengthy post, but the Palin (“episode,” “phenomenon,” etc,–it is not merely a “nomination” as we know) seems to warrant it.

    First, motherhood is, of course, a chief double-bind for women. Recall some critiques of Hillary early-on because she chose to have only ONE child thereby evidencing her career ambition and selfishness (And my mother-in-law who likes to fancy herself a feminist still doesn’t like Hillary because she is “ambitious.” Yikes.) Having a passle of children, having none, or having only the non-normative “one” all damn women. None of the hard-core Dems seem to care their iconic RFK (political animal?) had enough children to people the Supreme Court with enough for substitutes, and that not all turned out perfectly. I recall a comment made about Hillary when someone was praising her for what a wonderful person Chelsea was. And this person said, “Mothers are supposed to raise good children. Why should she get any credit for that?” So, even as motherhood defines women in various ways, mothering become VISIBLE only when a child is less than perfection as is so evident in the attention heaped on Bristol’s pregnancy. Palin has FIVE children but bloggers and pundits have focused on only her two so-called “imperfect ones”–the pregnant Bristol and the Down syndrome infant Trig. As example, attention paid to her son deploying to Iraq on 9/11 has paled beside these other children stories, and perhaps I have missed them, but I have yet to read a story about Tracks’ choice as evidence of her mothering; he could be a creep or so-called failure, I don’t know, which is the point. I have only read analysis of Sarah Palins’s comments on his deployment attempting to discern her foreign policy positions. As a person who opposes the war, my point here is simply the relative absence of talk about her son doing risky, self-sacrificing service during the same time that Obama has suddenly announced that he once cosidered volunteering for the military (a surprise admission not in either of his memoirs or his 19 months of campaigning.). And merits of motherhood also are clear in Obama’s decision to name his memoir “Dreams of My Father” afer a person he met once instead of over his mother or grandparents who actually raised him. So, the schizophrenia. Does mothering matter or does it not? And Dems aren’t clear.

    Second, to Radr on the whiteness comment. I would suggest looking at Obama’s convention video that was so white it could have been shot at the GOP convention. Besides an occasional black face in the crowd of some group shots (so rare they were hard to find), only three images outside of Michelle, his children, and his absent father are of black people (and few other faces of racial or ethnic diversity appear either). One is a photo of two elderly black women. One is a an image of him shaking hands with a black man (a milisecond shot). Notably the one in which several black faces appear is when the narrator talks about Obama fighting for welfare reform. Hmmmmm. And all of the testimonials from political types are from white people. Despite the fact he gave his speech on the anniversary of the March on Washington, he does not even use 11th or 12th-term Rep. John Lewis from Georgia, a former chairman of SNCC and the sole surviving speaker from that historic day. As a rhetorician who teaches and sometimes resarches the 1960s, Lewis is a personal hero of mine, but he has also earned stature as the “conscience of the Congress.” (I was thrilled to discover in buying my DC house he was my next-door neighbor.) While Obama ignored him, Lewis was featured later that evening on the Tavis Smiley show because Lewis had been pressured to soften his speech to appease the administration. Obama’s video was also quite rural in orientation, which immediately became ironic in the Dem backlash against rural roots–“hicks,” “hillbillys”, “white trash,” etc.–with the Palin pick. Indeed, I was so struck by the whiteness of the Obama video that I watched it again to make sure I had seen it correctly. I later saw an interview Tavis Smiley did with a couple of African-American scholars, including Cornell West, who were extremely upset that Obama did not even mention MLK’s name in the speech despite the historic coincidence (rhetoricians call that timeliness “kairos”). I confess that Obama’s use of his blackness really bothers me as he displays it when necessary and avoids it when he thinks expedient. The video coupled with the speech are the most recent examples. Does that make him a political animal? Yes. Does McCain choosing Palin for political reasons make him a political animal? Yes.

    Lastly, because this is an historical blog, I feel compelled to say that my anger at the political orientation (Democrats) that I have embraced for the past 35 years reminds me of the moment when feminists in the late 1960s told the New Left they had had enough of the sexism within their own ranks. To dismiss me as a PUMA misses the point. I feel as if I am reliving (or acutley reminded of) Robin Morgan’s original “Goodbye to All That” when she says that “in the dark,” they (Nixon, Hefner, Rudd, Carmichael, etc.) are “all the same.” BTW. I loved her Goodbye to All That II. My male Democratic” colleagues who supported Obama’s “transc endent” qualities and dismissed experience criteria and are now aghast at Palin’s in experience still engage in everyday demeaning practices (e.g. only new faculty hires who are female are “expected” to sit on one on male faculty member’s classes to get them “up to speed.”) In 7 years, I have to see a male PH.D. expected to take the courses from a male faculty to ensure they know what they are doing, And this is not so-called “hillbilly” country, but a research I on the urban East coast.

    This is probably enough for one post. My point is what I take to be Historiann’s central thrust–be consistent and be OBSERVANT and be critical. Sexism is not partisan.


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  9. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone.

    I think you’re right, Rad Readr, that the appeal to “small-town America” is racially coded, and is part of Palin’s divisive rhetoric of “us” versus “them” that has been a part of Republican presidential politics at least since Nixon. Contra hungryscholar, I think it’s smart for Obama to play up his small town roots–to make his political biography look more like his (all white) predecessors as the Dem nominee–in other words, the “Man from Hope” strategy. I don’t like the fact that that’s what he thinks he must do, but I recognize why he thinks he must.

    And yes, Palin is white and that’s also part of her appeal to the Republican base. But, so is every other man and woman who has run for VP in this country, so again–this is not something that distinguishes her from any other major party VP candidate. Her sex is something new. Male VP candidates have mobilized whiteness before–Al Gore and Dan Quayle are two prominent examples, but that appeal remained unnamed and invisible to most people.

    My point in this post is the ongoing failure of the media and even some feminist bloggers to evaluate Palin in her proper context. Except for her sex (and her motherhood), she is a standard-issue Republican. (I think Erica’s and ej’s comments suggest that they agree.) Her interview with Gibson this week should be compared to tapes of George W. Bush when he was running from the Texas governor’s office in 2000. (I think she might come off looking better with that comparison, frankly.) But because of her sex and/or her motherhood, people are pretending like she’s *uniquely* unqualified or *uniquely* ideologically objectionable. That’s bunk.

    This is what happened with Hillary Clinton in the primaries. There were plenty of good reasons to oppose her and to support Obama–but those weren’t the reasons most people cited. Her sex fried people’s brains and caused many of them to hold her to a different standard than any other presidential candidate. They were hung up on the AUMF vote (despite the fact that every male presidential candidate in 2004 and 2008 who was in the senate in 2002 but Bob Graham voted for the AUMF too); or on her previous efforts to reform health care (never mind that her actual policies were more progressive than Obama’s); or they blamed her for whatever they didn’t like about her husband’s administration (DOMA/don’t ask, don’t tell; welfare reform; etc.); or they hated her hair, wrinkles, lack of wrinkles, pantsuits, voice, whatever.

    And when Melissa McEwan and Bob Herbert both react with such horror and disbelief that Palin is a contender to become a Republican party leader and major office holder, I ask again: George W. Bush? Remember him? He’s the reason that we’re in the fix we’re in now, and McCain is running on his super-successful policies! Let’s keep the outrage proportional, kids.


  10. p.s. I just saw the Fey & Pohler opening sketch from SNL last night (click here if you went to bed early like me.) It’s funny, and true.

    And, Rad: I forgot to respond to something you wrote: “But I wonder if Palin has ever spent any time with racial minorities or people from other countries.”

    As I understand it, Todd Palin is of Native descent, as are a large number of Alaskans. People in the U.S. tend to forget that there is a northeastern and northwestern borderlands, in addition to the southwestern borderlands. My guess is that she knows and works with more Indian people than the vast majority of American politicians. And, although it’s fashionable to laugh at Palin’s lack of foreign policy experience, she lives in a state that borders Canada and is contiguous to zero states the U.S. I’ve never heard of anyone mocking Texas, Michigan, or New York governors for touting their experience as border-state governors.


  11. I agree with hungryscholar that the Obama video downplayed his black background. His mom got a lot more play than is dad, etc. But I would differ between political playbooks (all politicos are shameless) and the response of voters, some of whom I would argue, seem to “know” and feel comfortable with Pale-in, whereas after months of the primaries people and pundits were still saying they didn’t really know Obama. Plus the video is selective evidence — although it works well rhetorically to portray Obama as using whiteness in the same way as the Republicans. (He doesn’t, and hungry has to acknowledge that he plays race in some very complicated ways — which can be frustrating for those who prefer the more predictable Civil Rights leaders.) The Dem convention featured a lot of black delegates and black, Latino, and Asian American speakers. Not all political animals are the same, nor do they all support sameness.

    And historiann, yes, that is the point, Palin is another potential Shrub. This is 2000 again. As someone says, she is a typical republican candidate of the Bush era — unqualified and likely to be a puppet for the Cheneys and Rumfelds of the party. If some people are outraged it’s because this is one more manifestation of the people who brought you Iraq and torture central and sacked the treasury. Who is running the McCain campaign?

    Re: borderlands, I figure AK is much different than the southwest, don’t you think? “Borderlands” just doesn’t travel well as a theory or concept. (See all the lazy uses of Anzaldua.) It’s a long way from El Paso to Wasilla.

    Thanks for keeping this conversation going. Almost as much fun as a Cohiba in Havana (sin el huracan).


  12. Re: borderlands. Rad–all of you Southwestern people write off los Nortenos! As scholar of the northeastern borderlands, I resent it ;0!!! People could say the same thing about the governor of New Mexico (that is, a small state population-wise on the border with a substantial population of Indian people.) I’ve had it with your anti-Yukonism!


  13. As we evaluate the images presented of Obama at the DNC, we should bear in mind the point of that production – to win over independent voters. This voter pool is largely white and I think those verbal and literal images were aimed at demonstrating that Obama is someone who a lot of white people like and will vote for. Presenting images that demonstrated how well liked he is among African Americans or how he connects to CRM wouldn’t (to my mind) persuade white voters. (Interestingly, my sweetie pointed out that Obama used King-esque inflections – reminiscent of “I Have a Dream” – in his acceptance speech. So perhaps his debts were acknowledged to certain close watchers.) Anyway, the earlier criticisms are accurate though we should bear in mind that the DNC was meant to play on basic prejudices. And both campaigns will continue to do so.

    As for Palin’s street credit with minorities, I will hazard to guess that Native Alaskans don’t hold her in high regard. Conservatives may be big on state’s rights but not so with Indian sovereignty. And I’m not convinced that her husband’s pedigree imparts to her any credibility with minorities. Many, many Americans claim part American Indian heritage though very few of these identified over time as Native Americans individually, in their families, or in their communities. They don’t know or share the traditions of the nation to which they claim descent. There is a wide gulf of difference between being, for example, Sioux or Navajo and have a Sioux or Navajo ancestor (somewhere back in that tree…). The issue of blood and identity continues to haunt American Indians, their nations, and rights. So, I would be interested to find out what Gov. Palin’s position is on land and resource rights. And, if she is going to trot her husband out as a “Native Alaskan,” what his positions are too.


  14. Most important point before I ramble: I am massively intrigued by this – “Modernity is all about the erasure of women from the public sphere” – and would love to hear more about it some time (although yes, I know there are reams of books and articles on this, have even read some which is why I am so intrigued, but still, I’d love to hear).


    It amazes me how uninformed Palin is but Dan Quayle was worse, or so I think so far.

    Palin is part of women’s history insofar as she is the first female Republican vice presidential candidate, but she is not feminist (any more than Clarence Thomas is antiracist except when it serves his personal purposes to posture in that manner).


    NO on Palin. Vote against McCain / Palin. Although some discussions of her may be framed in misogynist terms, it remains a fact that she is a disaster for women’s rights.

    I am afraid that because Americans like to vote irrationally, McCain / Palin may win.

    There is this weird ideology of “safety” even as we careen toward greater disaster in its name.


    HRC never said vote for me because I’m a mom, or implied she was modeling a correct form of womanhood; she never said other women should do as she did or be who she was. Palin on the other hand is very big on intruding on the lives of other women and girls. She is largely clueless about sexism and what it is – she says, for instance, that because all children in her family of origin learned to shoot guns, gender “was not an issue.”

    Palin has made her private life and patriarchal womanhood part of the campaign. This is very different from HRC showing interest in women’s rights and looking at various matters from a point of view which at least partially took women’s rights and the variety of women’s experience seriously.

    In other words: you can’t make family central and then say it’s off limits … and certainly not when you want to make other peoples’ families your business. IMHO.


    Sorry about ranting. I am under the influence of a Chinese novel in which there are forced abortions. They remind me a lot of forced births and I really, really think people should refrain from forcing either, it is entirely too intrusive and too violent.


  15. Historiann:

    Wonderful article, as usual! I thought the Palin interview was unimpressive but not catastrophic…she held par under intensively hostile questioning, and the interview was edited to give the worst possible impression. You can find the transcript here:

    I should warn you that this is a right-wing site, but facts are facts nonetheless. Perhaps it might change your evaluation.

    Comparing Palin to Elizabeth is a complicated task, but I will foolishly attempt it.

    Women have traditional had two routes to power. They could present themselves as essentially asexual, to achieve almost-male status in a world of men, or they could use sexuality as a weapon, like a Cleopatra. Queen Elizabeth undoubtedly used some combination of the two to maintain power. But neither of these routes can be considered traditional womanhood, they are both denials of the experience the vast majority of women worldwide have: marriage and motherhood.

    I think Palin is a step forward from Elizabeth – undoubtedly, Elizabeth navigated her country with far greater skill through far tougher times than Palin could reasonably hope to achieve. Is it not a good thing that a woman no longer has to live either as an asexual being or a seductress to gain power? Is it not a good thing that a woman, living an every-woman life, can aspire to power, just as men do? That a woman can aspire to power without compromise in other spheres of life?

    You rightly observe the enthusiasm of conservative women. Palin shows a path for workplace success while fulfilling the other aspects of life that conservative women want for themselves.

    Rad Readr:

    With respect, I think you underestimate the strength of ethnicity. The bonds that are the most primitive are the most enduring. Even today, as the nation-state weakens, ancient blood allegiances are reawakening. Montenegro, Catalina, Flanders, East Timor, Kosovo, and even Scotland and Wales.

    I know this well as a citizen of the world. I speak five languages, three fluently. English is not my native tongue. I have lived just about half my life outside the US, and my immediate family is on three continents. True, the cities of the world are cosmopolitan, polis of the cosmos, but their influence is extremely limited. Walk east 20 blocks from Alexanderplatz, and you will find ethnic Germany. Take the Hudson line north from Grand Central, and you will find WASP America. Take the Tokyu line from Shinjuku station to Isogo, and you will see the real Japan. It is the same everywhere.

    Cultures do die, ethnicities do disappear. But they have never been replaced by salsa dancers in Beijing. For a culture to survive, people must be willing to die to preserve it. People are willing to kill and be killed for king and country. It remains to be seen if people will die for sushi and lattes.


  16. Wow, I have absolutely no sympathy for Palin. The only things I find historical about this nomination is 1) its absolute disrespect for women, and 2) the mind-blowing proportion of cynicism about and disdain for the people of this country on the part of Republicans. Given the context, McCain has raised the old cynicism of Bush/Rove exponentially. McCain is using Palin as a pawn and Palin is using, or rather brazenly exploiting, her motherhood and family members as pawns to shield her from any and all criticism (btw, Bill Maher contends that the baby is not hers but her daughters since she never showed and her daughter was absent from school for 5 months with “mono”). This is the most manipulative political move I have experienced in my lifetime. The woman is nothing like what she represents herself to be. It is not real. Rahter, NaziBarbie is alive. If we should be worrying about anything regarding this doodoo, it is not the representation of mothers in the public sphere but the ideological use of the “teutonic mother” as part of the Republican Party’s growing totalitarian tactics (and I mean that, not glibly, but following Hannah Arendt).


  17. YIKES! Palin Derangement Syndrome strikes a Historiann comment thread. More here:

    “As for sex, the hypocrisy of her outing her pregnant daughter in front of millions of people, hard on the heels of her concealing her own pregnancy (her faith in abstinence applying, apparently, only to non-Palins), is nicely balanced by her hypocrisy in gushing with loving support of her teenage daughter after using a line-item veto to cut funding for a transitional home for teenage mothers in Alaska.

    Her greatest hypocrisy is in her pretense that she is a woman.”


  18. SF, Bill Maher is a sexist pig who is recycling rumors that were debunked weeks ago! Just because he’s saying things you find politically useful now doesn’t mean he is the friend of feminists. In fact, quite the contrary–see his comments on Hillary Clinton throughout the primary season. Talk about fears of a Vagina Dentata–the man is a transparent ID when it comes to powerful women. (Furthermore, I seriously doubt that such unhinged ranting is really politically useful–I think it draws supporters to Palin, who see that she’s being treated very unfairly.)

    Prof Zero, I agree with you that Dan Quayle was a worse VP candidate than Palin. At the very least, Palin appears to have been an effective choice for McCain in winning him support and enthusiasm, and I think she is demonstrably more compentent than he was. (Was Bush I in danger of losing Indiana in 1988? I don’t think so.) You’re right about the differences between her and Clinton. But, I don’t think that Palin could avoid motherhood being central to her identity, so I think she’s decided to put it to work for her rather than fight it. There’s no way that a woman politician with 5 children would NOT be perceived primarily as a mother–see the linked article by Shaker CE. I think she nails it.

    And DV–I think you’re probably right that Palin is not super-concerned with Native issues, but I was responding to Rad’s assertion that Palin had zero contact in Alaska with non-whites. I don’t know that she “trot[s] out” her husband to perform on cue–I’ve just heard it mentioned that he’s part Alaska Native, which I think is different from white people playing Indian who claim to have a “Cherokee great-grandma” (and it’s always a Cherokee grandma or great-grandma, isn’t it?)

    And Shinhao–we’ll see how far Palin goes. So far, I’m not too encouraged that her model of “normal” women’s lives is gaining acceptance, but we’ll see. People are irrationally obsessed with her family life, when they should focus on her policies and her record. I think the first woman President–if it’s not Palin–will be someone who like Hillary Clinton is familiar to people because she is the wife-of, or the daughter-of. I don’t like the continued influence of heredity on political power in the U.S., but somehow it’s never held against a man that he had a politically successful grandfather, father, uncle, whatever.

    Some of you need to read the recent boom in histories on conservative women! It’s not just feminist or liberal women who are in women’s history, no matter what your personal preferences…


  19. And, hi Profane: ugh to the article you linked to. I hate it when academic feminists live up to stereotype. It’s a “pretense” that Palin is a woman? Gimme a break. This is the same ugly, quasi-eliminationist rhetoric that the right wing uses against liberal woman and prochoice women. It makes me very, very sad to hear it coming from a so-called “progressive.”

    There are other ways to make the case against Palin. Suggesting somehow that she could have concealed her daughter’s pregnancy past 20 weeks is just stupid. (And how would so-called “progressives” have reacted if she had tried that? With howls and hoots of indignation about her “hypocrisy,” just like they’re doing now!)

    PDS indeed.


  20. Pingback: Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » Essays By Feminists About Sarah Palin

  21. Bill Maher has consistently defended Hillary Clinton, even though he has consistently supported Obama. On many occasions, he insisted that there was nothing to hate about Hillary and that he was mystified by this popular sentiment. He also emphatically stated on Larry King a few weeks ago that Barack Obama seriously needed Hillary to inject more energy into his campaign (Bill Clinton, too). This past Friday, he had Jeanine Garofalo and Salman Rushdie on his show, both of whom were brilliant. I’m not sure where sexism comes in at this point in his career. It’s so easy to stand from the sidelines and criticize mainstream media attempts to responsibly play a role in our national inquiry. I’m not sure where this approach is going……


  22. Shinhao-
    I don’t underestimate ethnicity. If anything, my ponit is that ethnicity — or some type of strange racial relationship to unnamed white ethnicities in the US — is driving the at least part of the positive response to Palin. I’m saying the future is with people like you and Obama, not in the ethnic enclave. And I may not kill, but I will kick your ass for a latte. 🙂


  23. OK, now I have a little more time, so I will try to avoid typos and jokes about violence and return to the letter of Shinhao’s post.

    Shinhao writes, “I know this well as a citizen of the world. I speak five languages, three fluently. English is not my native tongue. I have lived just about half my life outside the US, and my immediate family is on three continents. True, the cities of the world are cosmopolitan, polis of the cosmos, but their influence is extremely limited.”

    Well, I bet cities had some influence on your embrace of cosmopolitanism — or did you learn all of those languages in an isolated ethnic enclave? But more generally, I don’t see how you can say that the influence of cities is extremely limited — you wouldn’t have “Project Runway” without New York.

    “Walk east 20 blocks from Alexanderplatz, and you will find ethnic Germany.” Walk across the river in Cincinnati and you will also find ethnic Germany — in Kentucky!!

    “Take the Hudson line north from Grand Central, and you will find WASP America.” And a pretty good Chinese-Cuban place on the way.

    “Take the Tokyu line from Shinjuku station to Isogo, and you will see the real Japan.” OK, now here I must wonder if it’s your cosmopolitanism that privileges the less urban as more real. Believe me, the cornfields of the Midwest are no more or less real than Chicago — just less fun.

    “Cultures do die, ethnicities do disappear. But they have never been replaced by salsa dancers in Beijing.” I just love that image of salsa dancers in Beijing. Maybe the music will be played by Orquesta de la Luz, a salsa band made up of Japanese musicians. But not to go pan-Asian, maybe Fernando Knopf and the Israel Salsa Band can play. They are, after all, the best salsa band in Israel.

    “For a culture to survive, people must be willing to die to preserve it.” Or cook some good food.

    “People are willing to kill and be killed for king and country. It remains to be seen if people will die for sushi and lattes.” Aha, people think they are killing for country (Country First!) but really they are killing for bananas and silver deposits. Or maybe they are killing for oil so we can drive to the Starbucks and sushi place. But more recently, I would say people are willing to kill and be killed so Halliburton can get some contracts.


  24. Rad Readr:

    Well, we’re really driving off-topic here, but I do think it’s important to understand why the Palin phenomena might be real, and not just a brilliant Rovian plot.

    I am definitely a cosmopolitan – but because I am, and so consummately so, I feel that I understand the limits of cosmopolitanism fairly well. Obama is a cosmopolitan as well, and his weaknesses are mine. I think there are, at most, about one million people who are like me, fully conversant in multiple cultures, while not fully identifying with any of them. We (cosmopolitans) are all amateur anthropologists. Obama speaks in the same way, with a detached, analytical assessment of America. Humans are very perceptive animals, and American voters instinctively detect this detachment. Obama cannot compare his devotion to country with McCain, or his “American authenticity” with Palin. This is a problem all cosmopolitans have.

    With regards to Cuban-Chinese food and Israeli salsa bands, again, I think that is missing the point. These are the outward appearances of culture, not culture. The French (the original culture-exporters) understand this, which is why they rigorously enforce what may be called French. Living in a flat on the UES, eating sushi, drinking chardonnay, and taking Brazilian jujitsu and yoga is not multicultural. It is American-urban-culture. It is a distinct sub-culture found in some American cities, some ex-pat communities elsewhere, and nowhere else. The Japanese band Orquesta de la Luz (Japanese musicians love foreign names – l’ arc en ciel is one of my favorites) does not belong to American-urban-culture. At the end of the day, they go home to Tokyo-entertainment-culture (very different from Kansai-entertainment-culture, which is insane).

    US soldiers might be fighting for Halliburtion (I don’t think so, but I won’t debate it), but they believe they are fighting for country. As a cosmopolitan with no such dedication, I find this extremely admirable. Cosmopolitanism, or even American-urban-culturalism, might be fun, sophisticated, and glamorous, but ethnic cultures command a deep resonance and allegiance.

    Again, no one will fight for multiculturalism. The sophisticates in New York did not rise in arms when Mao executed Western-trained intellectuals in Beijing and Shanghai. They did not aid Islamic moderates in 1979 Iran. Nor did they fight to defend Beirut, perhaps the most cosmopolitan city in the world at the time. These are the limits of cosmopolitanism.


  25. The thing that galls me about the Republican strategies is their appeal to a weak form of identity politics as a way to deflect attention from policy.

    My husband is of native descent so I can enact anti native policies with impunity.

    I am a successful woman with kids and so it isn’t anti woman of me to cut funding for a transition house for unwed mothers.

    What public policy initiatives and so on do candidates support is my question – not who “are” they … am I nuts?


  26. But Shinhao Li, do I have to be a Republican to qualify as ethnically Californian? I mean California is where I identify and I would fight for the Bear Flag. I’d fight for Louisiana too because I’ve been here so long. I wouldn’t fight for the U.S. in most circumstances though, because I can’t support our motives for invading countries.

    Do you really see Obama’s international orientation as making him less American – or mine? To qualify as Americans do we have to be jingoists?

    I hereby claim my to be American, and believe in natural selection, and be able to look at this place with some sort of objectivity some of the time! I’m American too, descended from all kinds of immigrants and Montana pioneers and slaveholders and slaves and all kinds of people! I’m from California and that means I am not fully at home unless I am hearing people speak English, Spanish, and Cantonese all in the same room! And that is not some passing multicultural fashion, it’s who live there and they are American – like Barack Obama!

    I mean, how do people like Bush who trash the Constitution and Palin who follows manage to claim with straight faces *any* sort of loyalty to this place or *any* kind of patriotism? It is utterly laughable!!!

    I speak different languages and have always spent a lot of time abroad, and I am American, and I am descended from Wobblies and they were Americans, and I bleed for the Bear State and the separation of church and state and that is *quintessentially* American, and as an American I am responsible for the destruction of the first peoples and that means it’s my job to stop that kind of behavior, and the only passport I have ever had is American, and some of my ancestors came on the Mayflower and I am American, and my most recent immigrant ancestors were five generations ago and they were naturalized American, and I will be G**
    d***** if only the likes of Sarah Palin can be defined as American.

    Sorry for going off but I am really tired of the renaming of jingoism and agression as American values while the better parts of the Constitution blow away in the wind.


  27. P.S. of course: I’ve been thinking about this. Perhaps my idea of what is American is wrong. I read today a reference to the U.S. as a settler society and thought HMMM, maybe all the things I believe to be its ideals are just window dressing … ? So maybe I really am not fully American?


  28. Z (although I doubt anyone is reading this):

    Strawman arguments galore. Where did I say only people like Palin are Americans? Where do I say that you have to be Republican to be Californian? Where did I say that to qualify as Americans you have to be jingoist? (“jingoist” – classic scare word!)

    The definition of American is found in the oath of citizenship, and it includes the defense of the nation by violence – “…I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law…”

    All nations have oaths to this effect. The urban sophisticates will laugh at such “jingoism”, and speak platitudes about multiculturalism and such, but I believe they are mistaken. They underestimate the importance and strength of national and cultural ideas, and they do so because they believe themselves to be “multi-cultural”, when they are not. They are American-urban-cultural, and, like any cultural group, they defend themselves vehemently from perceived threats. Just look at their reactions to Sarah Palin.


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