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- JANUARY 19, 2011
- THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Palinoia, the Destroyer
What’s behind the left’s deranged hatred.
Why does their hatred of her burn so hot?
Ask them, and they’ll most likely tell you: Because she’s a moron. But that is obviously false. To be sure, her skills at extemporaneous speaking leave much to be desired. But that can be said of a good many politicians on both sides of the aisle, including George W. Bush, John Kerry and, yes, Barack Obama. And don’t get us started on the man who defeated her for the vice presidency.
Whether or not she is presidential timber–and we are inclined to think that she is not–there is no denying that she is a highly accomplished person. She is also a highly accomplished woman, what in an earlier age would have been called a feminist pioneer: the first female governor of the malest state in the country, the first woman on the presidential ticket of the party on the male side of the “gender gap.” Having left politics, whether temporarily or permanently, she has established herself as one of the most consequential voices in the political media.
They say she is uneducated. What they mean is that her education is not elite–not Harvard or Yale, or even Michigan or UCLA. They resent her because, in their view, she has risen above her station.
In this respect we identify fully with Palin, for we have been on the receiving end of similar disdain. Our education, like Sarah Palin’s, consisted of too many years at inferior state universities, although unlike her, we never even got around to graduating. The other day Paul Reidlinger took a shot at us for featuring one of his restaurant reviews under our “Wannabe Pundits” heading last month: “I was even denounced by noted high school graduate James Taranto.” (For the record, our high school diploma is a GED.)
“Denounced” is far too strong a word; “mocked” is more like it. Reidlinger writes for San Francisco Bay Guardian, whatever that is. He doesn’t say, but we surmise that he possesses advanced degrees from Stanford or the University of California, both very fine institutions. He observes that “it is a writer’s job to afflict the comfortable and complacent.” That would be an insufferably pretentious way to describe our job as a political columnist for an elite newspaper. What is a restaurant critic going to “afflict the comfortable” with? Food poisoning?
Professional jealousy and intellectual snobbery, however, only scratch the surface of the left’s bizarre attitude toward Palin. They explain the intensity of the disdain, but not the outright hatred–not why some people whose grasp of reality is sufficient to function in society made the insane inference that she was to blame for a madman’s attempt to murder Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
This unhinged hatred of Palin comes mostly from women. That is an awkward observation for us to offer, because a man risks sounding sexist or unchivalrous when he makes unflattering generalizations about women. Therefore, we are going to hide behind the skirts of our friend Jessica Faller, a New Yorker in her 30s of generally liberal politics. Over the weekend, she wrote us this analysis of Palin-hatred, which she has generously given us permission to quote:
I am starting out with a guess that this stems from her abrupt appearance on the national scene during the McCain-Obama race. She appeared out of nowhere and landed squarely in a position of extreme attention and media power. Her sex appeal might not have been as much of an issue had she been a known entity with a tremendous, watertight political résumé.
Even lacking that, her sex appeal might not have been such an issue if her demeanor on the campaign trail had been more, well, conservative. But here is this comely woman, in a curvy red suit, giving “shout-outs” during the debate with Joe Biden, giving controversial interviews without apology, basically driving in there, parking the car, and walking in like she owned the place.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. But she couldn’t have pulled it off if she were a gray mouse in a pantsuit, and because the devil in the red dress wasn’t orating like a professor, it roused an unquenchable forest fire of rage and loathing in the breasts of many women, perhaps of the toiling gray mouse variety, who projected onto her their own career resentments and personal frustrations.
I am amazed at how people still abhor her. I personally do not. I don’t feel she would be a good choice to run this country, but she does not deserve the horrific treatment she gets. I can tell you, being privy to the endless, incendiary rants this past week about her, coming from hordes of liberal women–age demo 25 to 45–they rip her to pieces, they blame her for everything, and the jealousy/resentment factor is so clear and primal. I’ve never seen anything like it.
We’d say this goes beyond mere jealousy. For many liberal women, Palin threatens their sexual identity, which is bound up with their politics in a way that it is not for any other group (possibly excepting gays, though that is unrelated to today’s topic).
An important strand of contemporary liberalism is feminism. As a label, “feminist” is passé; outside the academic fever swamps, you will find few women below Social Security age who embrace it.
That is because what used to be called feminism–the proposition that women deserve equality before the law and protection from discrimination–is almost universally accepted today. Politically speaking, a woman is the equal of a man. No woman in public life better symbolizes this than Sarah Palin–especially not Hillary Clinton, the left’s favorite icon. No one can deny Mrs. Clinton’s accomplishments, but neither can one escape crediting them in substantial part to her role as the wife of a powerful man.
But there is more to feminism than political and legal equality. Men and women are intrinsically unequal in ways that are ultimately beyond the power of government to remediate. That is because nature is unfair. Sexual reproduction is far more demanding, both physically and temporally, for women than for men. Men simply do not face the sort of children-or-career conundrums that vex women in an era of workplace equality.
Except for the small minority of women with no interest in having children, this is an inescapable problem, one that cannot be obviated by political means. Aspects of it can, however, be ameliorated by technology–most notably contraception, which at least gives women considerable control over the timing of reproduction.
As a political matter, contraception is essentially uncontroversial today, which is to say that any suggestion that adult women be legally prevented from using birth control is outside the realm of serious debate. The same cannot be said of abortion, and that is at the root of Palinoia.
To the extent that “feminism” remains controversial, it is because of the position it takes on abortion: not just that a woman should have the “right to choose,” but that this is a matter over which reasonable people cannot disagree–that to favor any limitations on the right to abortion, or even to acknowledge that abortion is morally problematic, is to deny the basic dignity of women.
To a woman who has internalized this point of view, Sarah Palin’s opposition to abortion rights is a personal affront, and a deep one. It doesn’t help that Palin lives by her beliefs. To the contrary, it intensifies the offense.
It used to be a trope for liberal interviewers to try to unmask hypocrisy by asking antiabortion politicians–male ones, of course–what they would do if their single teen daughters got pregnant. It’s a rude question, but Palin, whose 17-year-old daughter’s pregnancy coincided with Mom’s introduction to the nation, answered it in real life.
Recently we were at a party where a woman in her 60s, a self-described feminist, called Palin a “moron” for having encouraged her daughter to carry her child to term and “to marry the sperm donor.” Even apart from the gross language, this was a completely irrational thing to say. First, that Palin’s values are different in no way reflects on her intelligence.
More important, why is Bristol Palin’s decision to carry her child to term any of this lady’s business? Those who claim to be champions of privacy and choice need to do some serious soul-searching if they have so much trouble tolerating the private choices of others.
What about male Palin-hatred? It seems to us that it is of decidedly secondary importance. Liberal men put down Palin as a cheap way to score points with the women in their lives, or they use her as an outlet for more-general misogynistic impulses that would otherwise be socially unacceptable to express.
Liberal women are the active, driving force behind hatred of Sarah Palin, while liberal men’s behavior is passive and manipulative. In this respect, feminism has succeeded in reversing the traditional sexual stereotypes. If this is the result, you have to wonder why anyone would have bothered.