Of the four candidates running for President and Vice President of the two major parties, Sarah Palin has been glorified by her supporters and vilified by her detractors more than any candidate for high office in recent memory. While her defenders are many, the pundit aristocracy and the so-called mainstream media have subjected her to a drumbeat of shockingly offensive, insulting and angry criticism.
Having lived in Washington for three decades up until the middle eighties and known many of the political players of the day, I have seen a sea change in the way politics is conducted. It has become a brutal and angry game of “gotcha,” a sinister and cynical conspiratorial process that makes a mockery of civilized political debate.
Perhaps we are going through an angry phase in our national life. I see it everywhere. On the Internet hate and anger of extreme virulence seems to be proliferating. Just browse through the comment sections of the various blogs on any subject, but particularly politics, and you will see venomous, hateful and scurrilous opinions that are nothing more than emotional, mean-minded and hateful rants that have little relations to factual and reasoned discourse.
In face to face conversations, political views have hardened to such an extent that one fears to incur blind wrath and nastiness by expressing anything that challenges the prevailing views on either end of the political spectrum. Which brings me back to Sarah Palin.
As a supporter and committed believer in equal rights for woman, especially in the workplace, I am confused and a bit appalled by the virulence of the attacks on Governor Palin by other women, particularly those who profess the same commitment she has to the upward mobility of women, of which she is a shining example.
She has been attacked for her faith, for her parenting, for her hair-do, for her supposed lack of knowledge of foreign affairs, for allegedly censoring library books, for her having been badly educated in state schools, for being too aggressive as an athlete, for not aborting her challenged fetus, for being a hunter and for being a hockey mom to only one of her offspring and, to top it off, too cute. Underlying the contempt of her critics is an unspoken prejudice of self-appointed elitists against people brought up in a blue collar environment, the sons and daughters of plain folks who work with their hands and do the heavy lifting for the rest of us, who fight our wars, police our neighborhoods, put out our fires, drive our trains and buses, clean our streets and build our houses and our infrastructure.
She has been put down for being Mayor of a small town and the Governor of an “insignificant state.” She has been portrayed as a cornball hick, as trailer trash, as a dumbed down “good ole girl,” as an empty-headed wannabe, as a liar and a fraud and as unfit to govern at any level, especially as an eventual President. In short, she has been crucified by what passes today as the best and brightest in media land, the thought police who believe in the infallibility of their judgment.
She has been dissed by the spoiled and overpaid Hollywood crowd who dispense advice as if they really were those heroic images they mimic on the silver screen. Her detractors don’t just dislike her, they hate her with what can only be described as homicidal passion.
To have become the Governor of Alaska, the largest land mass state in the union and a key repository of hydrocarbon energy reserves, a state which is merely a shade below the population of Delaware, from which Senator Biden hails, and to be dismissed as inconsequential in the pecking order of politicians seems to me bizarre and insulting to all women.
Dismissing Alaska’s importance as a State and becoming its Governor as a minor achievement, Sarah Palin’s critics seem bent on making her seem somewhat lesser than other politicians. Tom Daschle, the former Democratic leader in the Senate, came from South Dakota, a less populated and arguably less important state than Alaska, and few have criticized him for attaining his once vaunted and powerful position. Indeed, like him or not, the present Vice President hails from Wyoming, a state even less populated than Alaska and South Dakota.
To me, such criticism is not only ugly but the height of hypocrisy. As for her faith, talk to me about that when they take “In God We Trust” off our currency and excise the words “we are endowed by our creator” from the Declaration of Independence.
In terms of parenting, talk to the pillars of the feminine movement about juggling priorities and “having it all,” which has been their mantra. And which parent has the magic know-how to successfully discipline their children on sexual matters when the hormones start to rage? Try discussing the challenges of parenting with Gloria Steinem.
Some of her more hateful critics have gone so far as to say she is not a real woman, that she is merely a womb, that she is a religious nut, a far right wacko and a lousy mother, that she doesn’t have the brains or the experience to occupy any political post. Tell that to the people of Alaska and eighty percent of them will want to lock you in an igloo. I well remember when Roosevelt picked Truman to be his Vice President and the critics raged that he was just a dumb failed haberdasher and a corrupt machine politician.
As for her experience in foreign affairs, I wonder what the chorus of female naysayers might have said if an acknowledged expert on foreign affairs, such as Condoleezza Rice, was chosen by McCain to be his Vice President pick. As for her education, it is true that Ivy Leaguers and their “old boy and old girl networks” get an automatic leg up in the race for fame and fortune, but that exclusivity loses steam when they confront the real world and have to compete with the so-called lessers who got their bones and street smarts in State colleges or in the school of hard knocks where Harry Truman got his mojo. And what college degree is displayed on the walls of Mount Vernon, the occupant of which laid the foundation stone of our Republic? In this context, how about all those MBA geniuses whose overconfident arrogance and greed screwed up Wall Street?
The fact is that Sarah Palin needs no defense from me. Having lived in the near West for more than a decade, I have met lots of women like Sarah: tough, smart, outspoken, authentic, independent women comfortable in their own skin who say what they mean and mean what they say. They are brimming with life, love their country, their parents and their extended families and revel in the energy of the world around them, and, although they might be loath to admit it, they are like the pioneering women of the early West who built this country with their tough optimism, their mothering, their sacrifice and their boundless energy and good humor.
I know. I know. There will be those who might take this essay as an exercise in political persuasion. No minds will be changed. No way. I glory in female achievement. Like many of us, I am the son of an adored mother with an abiding respect and a cheerleader for her gender. Yes, it was a cagey political move for Senator McCain to pick the Governor of Alaska as his running mate. Indeed, Barack, in my opinion, made a fatal error in not offering the Vice Presidency to Hillary Clinton. Now that would have been something, seeing those two tough ladies go head to head.
The fact is that I would rush to Sarah’s defense no matter which side picked her. Win or lose she deserves a fair shake and certainly not the ugly calumny heaped upon her, especially by her sisters. I don’t agree with her on every issue. Who does? And I’d fight like hell if she tried to tell me how to run my life or by legal coercion change my views about religion or a man or woman’s right to make choices that are important to them.
In fact, as a Governor of Alaska she has not tried to impose her personal views on Alaskans and, more importantly, she has not made these views part of her governance. Nor has she tried to hide them. Besides, Alaskans are independent, stubborn, free-wheeling and strong-minded, and many live in that rough climate by choice. For those very reasons, they would likely balk at any attempt by her to reign in their attitude by sending her packing by dog sled to the North Pole.
In Alaska she bucked the system and threw the rascals out. We could use some of that courage in today’s appalling political climate. What’s wrong with a lady who knows how to use a broom (and I don’t mean to fly on it)? And for those interested in irony, she was, as students of the Bible know, named after the right woman. My advice to the voters is to give the lady some space and, if you disagree with her, fight her fair and square.
It might be of interest, too, to assess the qualifications of other Vice Presidential picks in American history, both winners and losers. With a few exceptions, they were a dreary lot. Many were political hacks designed to balance the ticket geographically. Some, like Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman, were great. On the other hand, Aaron Burr was eminently qualified and a murderer.
If I were Joe Biden, I would armor myself well for his debate with Sarah. If he’s not careful, he might go home with a very clean clock.
Warren Adler is the author of 30 novels, including The War of the Roses and his latest, Funny Boys.