and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
September #2

Defending Palin stirs feminist feelings
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, September 11, 2008

You're never too old to get to know yourself.

I've often said, I'm not a feminist; meaning: I don't think in terms of men vs. women, or "women's rights"; I am not aggrieved, and have never felt "unequal."

No men have ever treated me badly because of my gender, though of course I've had political battles with male politicians and activists, as well as with the League of Women Voters.

So I was surprised to find myself angry last week while covering the Sarah Palin phenomenon.

At first I was just delighted with John McCain's choice, enjoying the discomfort of her opponents, seeing no reason to look beneath the delight and enjoyment to find other, less comfortable emotions.

I was invited to do convention commentary with R.D. Sahl on New England Cable News while we all waited for Sarah's acceptance speech. My fellow panelists were former state senator George Bachrach, an Independent/Democrat professor at Boston University; state Sen. Scott Brown, R-Wrentham, who had supported Mitt Romney for vice president; and Jennifer Donahue, the political director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, who has been called "a rising star among political analysts" by Obama-hugging Chris Matthews.

NECN thought this was a balanced panel, especially since I, too, as an Independent, had supported Romney. And though both Sen. Brown and I are now enthusiastic about Sarah Palin, I think we could have provided fair analysis, along with Jennifer Donahue if Bachrach had not opened the discussion with his opinion that Palin should have had better judgment than to drag her children into the political arena.

Seeing red, I suggested that if his opinion prevailed, no woman with children could ever run for high and controversial office. Trapped in the liberal Democratic equality paradigm, he quickly added that his statement should also apply to men. No men or women with children should run for president or vice president?!!?

Before I could respond further, Donahue jumped in, agreeing with me. While she smiled sweetly, you could sense the steel forming itself into knives.

Brown agreed with both of us and asked Sahl, our host, if he could move over to our side of the table, away from Bachrach, who was wondering aloud "if Sarah becomes vice president, who will introduce her to the Joint Chiefs of Staff?" (Later we saw Henry Kissinger in the convention hall, and I sarcastically suggested that perhaps he could do it). Finally, NECN reporter Jim Braude told Bachrach by live feed from the convention that he hated to pick on him, but...

I think it was Bachrach's patronizing tone that was making me angry because the things he was saying were simply laughable. Donahue, however, did not seem amused either; I had heard her on her cellphone before we went on the air, reassuring a small daughter that she would be home soon. Somehow we were bonding, and I felt for the first time the stirrings of "sisterhood."

However, my emotional reaction wasn't just about gender, it was also about class.

Earlier that day I'd had a phone conversation with a Republican man who dismissed Palin and her working-class husband; and I'd received an e-mail from a liberal woman who wrote, "I'm getting a bit of a white-trash vibe from her."

And I thought, would both of you please say that louder so voters in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Michigan can hear you?

The term "white trash" might remind some people of the attacks on the single-mom activist Erin Brockovich, as played so delightfully by Julia Roberts in the movie of the same name. I suspect that much of the political establishment and media elite have a broader image of women that includes those who didn't attend Ivy League universities, who own guns, who take their kids to church, and who are married to blue-collar workers.

I do understand part of the Democratic response. Some traditional Republicans have argued that married women with small children should stay home and take care of them; I might have said that myself before I became a feminist last week. Now we seem to be giving Palin a pass to have minor children and not only be a governor, but vice president.

I'd probably still consider her challenges overwhelming if she had decided to run for president two years ago; but she was drafted for a two-month campaign, then gets an essentially part-time job with lots of reading homework.

In return, she gets to help make a better country for her kids, and perhaps influence foreign policy for her military son.

Laugh at my conversion if you will, but as I watched the Palin baby being handed around to various family members, I recalled making my in-laws' younger kids wear a scarf over their mouths to hold their infant nephew. I would never have brought him to an arena filled with strangers.

But looking back, I wish I hadn't so often given in to the fear and the what-if's.

We see in Sarah Palin a woman who is unafraid. She lets life happen, and rises to the occasion every time.

There are people like this. They aren't better than us, but the best of us, and we should honor that.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.