Like Megan, I think that Naomi Wolf’s post on Al Jazeera is dumb, dumb, dumb. Wolf gets it completely wrong because the whole popularity of Palin and Bachmann (particularly the former) is a function not of feminism, but of the ‘new chauvinism.’
What do I mean by that? The feminist movement has of course radically transformed American society. Women have broken into some of the last bastions of male dominance — the sports locker room and the newsroom. But we aren’t going to let them in if they aren’t hot…..
Stay with me. Don’t get offended. When I say we, I really mean conservative males, which isn’t really me. Palin and Bachmann’s appeal to conservative women is not very surprising. It seems that thankfully all women these days believe that they have a right to a successful career AND a family, conservative women included. This is the victory of feminism and what Palin might represent. But women still might believe in traditional values as long as they don’t have to stay in the kitchen. They just carved that part out of social conservatism and kept the rest.That kind of ideological transformation takes place all the time. It is not like Democrats have always been big on gay marriage.
So the puzzle of Palin’s appeal is in her appeal to conservative males, who are, more likely to be more chauvinistic than weeny, fancy-glasses-glasses-wearing academics (not nerds!) like me. Survey data I collected show that conservative men like her just as much as ideologically like-minded women. Here we have seen a shift. Men are OK with women even in the inner sanctums of their maleness, like sports. The feminists won that battle. But they better be good looking.
Look at the picture of the three female sideline sports reporters for major networks above. What links them? They’re all physically attractive. I have not seen an unattractive female sports anchor, but there are plenty of fat, balding men. Unless we want to argue that among women there is a correlation between sports IQ and physical attractiveness, this is unjust. But this is the price that men insist on to be in the club. I am sure that all of these women know sports up and down, but that is only a necessary not a sufficient condition to get a job on TV doing work in sports.
We see this at Fox News too, of course. Many have remarked on how Fox newswomen are disproportionately blond and attractive (see picture). Well of course. The average conservative male viewer of Fox might put up with a woman delivering the news, but she better be purty.
An insistence that women in high places reserved historically for men be attractive is of course chauvinistic, just chauvinism of a different kind. Sarah Palin is popular among conservative men because she is the most physically attractive female politician I can think of. I can imagine that this could be offensive to feminists, that I am reducing Sarah Palin’s popularity to her physical characteristics rather than her abilities and intelligence. But then you’d be arguing that Sarah Palin had abilities and intelligence, and I don’t think that is an argument that you’d want to be making. Unlike Hillary Clinton, there is nothing else going on there. Men do not like Palin for her brains. You can google “Sarah Palin porn look-a-like” and you will get doctored pictures of her. That isn’t true of Diane Feinstein. (Please, please do not click on these images, though. You will get a virus for certain. Computer virus, not STD, of course.)
I am not sure if I were a woman that I would exchange the old chauvinism for the new chauvinism. The old chauvinism was patriarchal, traditional and oppressive. But this new chauvinism objectifies and sexualizes women more. Is that progress? Not much of a choice either way.
As for Bachmann, I would put more weight on saying crazy shit. Insane people used to be somewhat filtered out of the mainstream media by the heavies who deemed them unnewsworthy. But now they are especially newsworthy. Why? Because they’re crazy of course!
To be fair, this chauvinism might be true of liberal men viewing CNN too; they just like more ethnically diverse women like Soledad O’Brien. In which case, all men are dogs. But I suppose women already knew that. I do, however, take great comfort from Candy Crowley.
Naomi Wolf recently posted a blog on Al Jazeera entitled “America’s Reactionary Feminists: what do Palin and Bachmann have that make them so appealing to the American public?” I don’t doubt that this is an interesting question. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the confusing and simplistic answer Wolf provided- particularly the discussion around right wing feminism.
It may be worth taking a step back to ask why female politicians who do not identify as feminists continually get categorized as one. Surely we must be beyond the ‘woman=feminist’ discussion? Sadly, apparently no.
First, the scoop on where Palin and Bachmann stand on feminism: Palin wasn’t a feminist, then she was. She changed her stance on the term and now identifies with it- largely equating the term with her ‘rogue’ approach to politics not her anti-abortion, anti-social safety net, and her support for cuts to the Family and Medical Leave Act. Bachmann has made it more clear that she is NOT a feminist; instead, calling herself pro-woman and pro-man (hmm).
Back to Wolf. Let’s just ignore her references to the two women as tigresses, soccer and hockey moms for now and get to her central argument, which is that there are two reasons Palin and Bachmann are attractive to American voters.
First, Wolf argues that these two candidates are able to project the same emotional populist demagoguery (her words, not mine) that other popular figures like Malcom X and Joe McCarthy did. Truthfully, I’m not sure where Wolf is going with this point- can we put Palin, Bachmann and Malcom X in the same category??- so I’m not going to dwell on it. Instead, I’ll focus on her second point, which is that their popularity is due to “a serious historical misreading of feminism.” She explains “Because feminism in the 1960s and 1970s was articulated via the institutions of the left…there is an assumption that feminism itself must be leftist. In fact, feminism is philosophically as much in harmony with conservative, and especially libertarian, values – and in some ways even more so.” She goes on to claim that “the core of feminism is individual choice and freedom, and it is these strains that are being sounded now more by the Tea Party movement than by the left” and that “even if they themselves would reject the feminist label. In the case of Palin – and especially that of Bachmann – we ignore the wide appeal of right-wing feminism at our peril.”
It is hard to know which feminism Wolf is talking about. Maybe liberal feminism- which does emphasize institutions, equality, quotas, and choice- but certainly the various black, radical, and Marxist feminist voices that were equally relevant- and more focused on labor exploitation, racial discrimination, marginalization, and recognizing difference- during this time weren’t necessarily focused on established institutions of the left or right. To say that the core of feminism is about individual choice and freedom also doesn’t reflect the diversity in feminist approaches and is as intangible and vapid as most other political generalizations about choice and freedom.
So how can Palin and Bachmann prove a wide appeal to right-wing feminism given that they don’t identify as feminists (at least not all the time) and the types of policies they support? Wolf seems to be making the leap to argue that the conservative politics that Palin and Bachmann share represents a new type of right wing feminism; however, feminism has been about eliminating gender inequalities, acknowledging difference, and radical change- the antithesis to the call for a return to ‘traditional values.’ There seems to be some ‘degrees of separation’ logic happening here: most feminism is political, most feminists are women, therefore political women must be feminists. Logic 101 would help identify the problem with this train of thought and point Wolf (and hopefully those who want to write about Palin and Bachmann together in the future) to the following conclusions: the only thing remotely feminist about these two is that they both have breasts.
Anybody else notice the problem with Schweizer and Nolte’s defense? Of course you do. But in case either of them read this, I’ll spell it out: Palin woefully misunderstands the President’s argument, as is evident by the fact that in the terms of the analogy, she mistakes the United States for the Soviet Union. The President said that the United States now should be like the United States in 1959, not that it should be like the Soviet Union in 1959. To claim that the President wants the United States now to be like the Soviet Union in 1959 is to make an error worthy of the mockery it has received. Instead of recognizing Palin’s inability to comprehend a simple analogy, Nolte and Schweizer claim that the mockery is unfounded because bureaucratic excess eventually brought down the Soviet Union.
That’s all well and good, but Palin’s claim that its space program destroyed the USSR remains deeply, profoundly ignorant of twentieth-century history.
That being said, at least her defenders are willing to embrace a structural argument for the USSR’s collapse. One usually finds posters at Big Hollywood claiming that Reagan’s insistence on boondoggle defense programs and his willingness to call the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire” brought Moscow to its knees.
By now you’ve probably seen the news of Sarah Palin resigning as governor of Alaska. My first reaction was Whaaa?????? Since I too am aware of all internet traditions, my second reaction was to cruise over to LGM and see what DaveNoon had to say about things. My third reaction was to scan the blogosphere for newsy-political gossip. TPM, employing the patented Duck methodology of analysis, had as good a take as anyone:
It looks like a duck and quacks like a duck. Either Palin is resigning ahead of some titanic scandal (which should emerge in short order if it exists) or her resignation was triggered by an even more extreme mental instability than we’d previously suspected.
Why would she stick around as Alaska governor? Maybe to govern> Perhaps come up with some sort of signature program or philosophy on which to run? I know this all sounds crazy in the context of Palin, but those obsessed with the R nominee in 2012 need to relax. At this point 4 years ago, no one considered Obama a serious candidate. George Allen was still a contender. Palin is out for reasons that will certainly emerge over the coming weeks. I’m now officially done with 2012 until November 10, 2010.
(updated after reading the morning paper) Kurtz goes there–the press won’t have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore.
…really, I just couldn’t resist Marshall’s Duck line. How could any self respecting Duck blogger let that one slide??
Russians can make the funny on YouTube too!
David Brooks always styled himself as a member of the conservative intellectual vanguard. He would much rather be an observer of “real people” than to actually dirty his hands at playing milkmaid in his own Hameau de la reine.
But David Brooks has recently come to a stunning realization: To borrow a line from Jeff Foxworthy, “you might be a member of the East Coast elite if… you have a column in The New York Times, are a regular commentator on the NEWSHOUR, and like to drop names like Edmund Burke and Russel Kirk.”
Now, fearing that he might be among the first against the wall when the revolution comes, Brooks fearlessly condemns the tenor of a McCain-Palin campaign likely to go down in flames.
Over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from a thousand politicians and a hundred television and talk-radio jocks. The nation is divided between the wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts.
What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect.
Republicans developed their own leadership style. If Democratic leaders prized deliberation and self-examination, then Republicans would govern from the gut.
Brooks assumed that the rabble was both virtuous and stupid. After all, he wagered, how could anyone smart actually believe the steady stream of transparent propaganda his team puts out on Fox News and Talk Radio? But Brooks was wrong. The Christian soldiers aren’t stupid. They may not know the difference between Russel Kirk and John Rawls–which Brooks should have recognized might be a problem for his ilk–but they have more than enough sense to recognize that anyone who teaches a course at Yale and “pals around” with Ivory Tower socialists is definitely not one of them (unless covered by the “Supreme Court Exception”).
Now Brooks can sense it all slipping away. He has to choose between two nightmares: the triumph of Obama, himself a liberal intellectual, or of McCain, who might not be able (or live long enough) to hold back the anti-intellectual tide.
But, despite the facts staring him in the face, Brooks still imagines this is all some sort of mistake, and that it will all be sorted out soon. “We just got a little too caught up in our attacks on Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry,” he thinks to himself. “When the adults take back control of the Republican party, I can return to business as usual and attack liberal intellectuals and East Coast elites with impunity.”
That’s why he can’t admit the whole truth: Sarah Palin is “smart [and] politically skilled,” but her debate performance was not “impressive” and, more to the point, she doesn’t write those speeches that “relentlessly [divide] the world between the ‘normal Joe Sixpack American’ and the coastal elite.”
Coastal elites, whether native or naturalized, do.
Brooks has met the enemy, and the enemy is David Brooks.
Yesterday I wrote in an email to a conservative blogger that I thought that McCain still had a fighting chance. I don’t think so any more.
I suppose enough slime might make this thing close. An al Qaeda intervention, or some other exogenous shock, might even salvage McCain’s position.
But I’ll be very surprised if Obama doesn’t win this thing, and win it convincingly.
As I always tell my World Politics 101 students, the word is “nuclear,” folks. Noo-clee-ahr. No such word as “nuk-ya-lar”!
Yet here we go, Sarah Palin on the stage pontificating about nukes (HT to Moira Whelan at Democracy Arsenal):
Seems like a silly thing to bitch about, eh? But goddammit, the thought of listening to my President or Vice-President further embarrass our country and belittle the incredible threat posed by these weapons by mangling that word for the next four to eight years, well, let’s just say my botherment is probably at least as disproportionate as the utility of nukes to any conceivable military objective.
Why is that, I’m asking myself? Why do I work so hard to make sure my students don’t reiterate this simple error in job interviews, an error for which they might, after all, be forgiven after listening to Washington for the last four years? Why do I fixate on word pronunciation when the substance of Palin’s remarks was about nine zillion times as scary? (In case you didn’t notice, her answer to the question about nuclear use was an answer about non-proliferation – she clearly has no basic literacy in the nuances of nuclear policy discourse.)
So why sweat the details? Because it reflects on me when my students or my President sound uneducated in foreign affairs. Because of what it says about me as an American when I allow myself to be represented on the world stage by someone who, whether smart or not, simply doesn’t care enough about basic diplomatic protocols to do simple things like learn the vernacular. I’ve been embarrassed for four years by my President’s inability to form a sentence. Whether this is simply a strategy to make Palin look “folksy” doesn’t matter. Whether it actually reflects on her intelligence, irrelevant.
It is the image this communicates about Americans abroad that matters. The perception that we care so little about the rest of the world that we are willing to put the power to affect the entire globe into the hands of someone who seems not to care would be as damaging to our soft power abroad and our national security as any US policy. It is part of what makes [some] people abroad despise us, not just our leaders. I would be just as hesitant to vote for a Democrat who was so brazenly and callously indifferent to the basic rules and syntax of foreign affairs.
OK. Rant over for now.
Update: OK, OK, Mike Innes has definitively proven that my statement that “people abroad despise us” for electing idiots, not just the idiots we elect, was an exaggeration… only some people abroad do.
In an interview from a few months ago, Palin discusses the Supreme Court’s decision to limit the damages payed by Exxon for the Exxon Valdez oil spill. While she’s not saying anything that requires an advanced degree, she’s articulate, poised and confident.
But in the CBS News footage last night, she’s incapable of naming a Supreme Court decision, other than Roe v. Wade, that she disagrees with.
The contrast is simply remarkable. Is the McCain campaign playing some high-level head fake to make what will likely be a decent performance by Palin in the debate seem like the work of a superhero? This I doubt. But the contrast does lends credence to other possible explanations for why Palin’s performance has gotten worse over time.
In particular: that she’s being overly coached by the McCain team and that she’s “lost her voice” by being put in the position of making and defending claims she knows aren’t entirely true, such as those involving her role in the “Bridge to Nowhere” fiasco.
I also suspect that she’s still trying to master the plethora of McCain’s platform; she is, after all, expected to agree with and defend a range of policies that she had little knowledge about only a matter of weeks ago. She’s got to be under enormous pressure not to say anything (else) that contradicts McCain’s positions, his lines of attack on Obama, or that might offend Republican interest groups. Indeed, she probably knows full well that bashing the Supreme Court for limiting punitive damages isn’t something that will play well with many Republican voters in the “lower forty eight.” No wonder she played dumb on the Supreme Court question.
I’m sorry, but I simply couldn’t help but post this.*
*My willingness to make fun of Sarah Palin should in no way be construed as an endorsement of some members of my party’s more appalling rhetoric toward her and her daughter, which I frankly have found an embarrassment over the past eleven days. There are many good reasons to not want her at the country’s helm; her commitment to her family and her daughter’s exercise of her choice as a woman (a responsible one, you might even say) are certainly not among them.
I am now officially over Sarah Palin. Hard to believe, yes, given the odd fascination with her odd-for-a-Republican-VP nominee background, but its over.
More importantly, the Republicans need to start getting over her, or they are in trouble.
Palin has now done what the McCain camp needed her to do. She effectively seized the campaign narrative form Obama and brought it to the Republicans. She did so without involving President Bush. She energized the party base. She gave what everyone is going to say was a good speech last night (though I’ll admit I didn’t really watch it because I was finishing the powerpoint for a talk I’m giving tomorrow in Cleveland).
But her day is done because the real important speech of the RNC is tonight: John McCain, who if you may have forgotten, is the name at the top of the ticket. From here on out, its McCain v Obama, or McCain / Palin v Obama / Biden. Lets not forget: She’s not at the top of the ticket. And, the record shows, people don’t vote for VP, people vote for President.
Even the VP debates aren’t that important. The most memorable VP debate moment was when Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle “you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Quayle was done after that. And yet, Bush / Quayle still won.
With the convention over, McCain will get his post-convention bounce, and we’ll all be reading Nate Silver to see just how big it is. Then the real campaign will start in earnest, Obama v. McCain, and that’s why tonight’s speech is in fact the more important one.
Oh, and if you really want to swing the election, root for Overtime in tonight’s game. That’s right, its the kick-off for the NFL, in prime time on NBC. The key battleground of Northern Virginia, which Obama will be counting on to help him flip the state from red to blue, will all be tuned into the game.
McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said yesterday the prospect of an extra-long game has caused some concern: “I had talked on background with a Republican convention planner a couple of weeks ago who said, ‘Don’t mention overtime. Overtime is our rain-in-Denver scenario.’ ”
I love the NFL.
Further thoughts on the Palin pick…
There seem to be two different logics to picking a running mate.*
Logic 1: Would this person make a good VP once elected? Could the person step into the role of President should the worst case scenario arise? Will the person be a partner in governing, capable of taking on a significant portfolio?
Logic 2: Will this person help the ticket win the election? Does the person bring some sort of constituency into the fold? Does the person shore up a perceived weakness in the top of the ticket?
You can kinda see where this is going… Obama seems to have followed the first, while McCain seems to have followed the second. Biden brings a lot to the table substantively–foreign policy expertise, deep knowledge of judicial affairs, mastery of the legislative process. He also has a few known campaign weaknesses, notably a tendency to go on and on and on and on and on and on and on… Palin brings the sizzle of picking a woman from way, way outside Washington. But its really hard to see her in the “Cheney” role at this point.
When Bush picked Cheney, you got the sense that the Cheney’s main role would be in governing, not campaigning. Recall when Clinton picked Gore–at the time, an out of the box selection, a southern guy rather than a ticket balancer. Gore, too, took on a substantial role in governing. Contrast with Quayle–supposedly to help Bush look younger and fresh, but not really known for any contributions to the Administration.
*These are ideal types, obviously in practice candidates consider all this and more when picking a running mate, but my claim is that one logic seems to dominate the process.