M.Snowe would like to share some very astute summations (below in blue) from her coworker/friend, thatsyourtrouble. This was birthed from a lively email debate...
Sorry for the ramblings below, but your blog helped to crystallize some of my thinking here:
Even I was a bit surprised that some have actually been using the term “catfight” to describe Clinton/Palin disputes that are not even occurring. I tried to measure this with my sexismometer, but all of a sudden it seemed to be broken.
The gender politics angle of the Palin nomination is very interesting. It is of course the duty of those on the left to defend her from sexist attacks but to oppose her on the content of the McCain platform (or her own opinions on the issues, if we find out more about what those are).
But what are we to think about her instant popularity among many conservatives and independents? We should not assume that a male candidate could not have attracted the same enormous support, but regardless of whether her gender is an essential component, her own unusual and particular identity is the key.
Her story as a regular person who has achieved tremendous success without the elitist taint of Ivy League education is a large positive factor in the populist tradition. Furthermore, the story of her own life as a woman and mother who has lived her pro-life principles is extremely validating for “values” conservatives of both genders. Conservative and apolitical women will support her fervently because they can stand up for women by doing so. They may even identify as pro-life feminists, but Palin has none of the “negatives” that traditionally accompany feminism in the conservative mind. Her feminism consists in her ability to accomplish anything she tries to achieve (and to do so while raising a family). Thus they agree with her stand against the old-boy network and her ability to break the glass ceiling. She does not embody a challenge to any “traditional” values, and her somewhat unusual (and yet still traditional) relationship with her husband is extremely reassuring in that it shows that she has no fundamentally “anti-man” views that most conservatives associate with feminism. Furthermore, her pro-life credentials obviously cannot be doubted. I would argue that her physical attractiveness is also extremely important. The Rush Limbaugh conservatives truly believe that feminists (feminazis) turn to this ideology in part because they themselves are physically (and thus spiritually, one suspects they believe) ugly, and I suspect that Palin’s physical attractiveness (and youth) are as important to mobilizing enthusiastic support in both men and women as a child star’s cuteness is to eliciting sympathy from a movie audience. I think that even in this allegedly more enlightened age, the attractiveness/likeability connection continues to be as huge a factor in politics as in life. Kay Bailey Hutchison would not have elicited enthusiasm, partly because she is not new to the scene and a rising star, but also because her physical appearance makes her less likely to be liked. The same can apply to male politicians, I’d say, though the bar is set far lower and the effect is probably much smaller.
So in the end Palin is an instant hero(ine) to female voters because of her impressive personal accomplishments while also validating the views of conservative women and (perhaps especially) conservative men. At the same time she also claims the status of a maverick; her maverick status and McCain’s probably reinforce each other in increasingly positive ways. Furthermore, she is threatening only to “old boy network” male politicians, and men and women alike will generally cheer the success of anyone (especially someone who is as instantly charming as Ms. Palin) who has unseated the undeserving establishment (of which the old boy network is an example).
The backstory of the Democrats and the fate of Hillary Clinton helps further, because Republicans and independents can feel that they are standing up for women while the Democrats dissed them. Furthermore, Palin’s place on the ticket allows Republicans and independents to be enthusiastic about an historic candidacy of their own—ground that was formerly necessarily ceded to the Obama people. This eliminates the enthusiasm gap, and, for any Republicans or independents who think about race, it probably wipes away any race-related guilt.
Of course, there are some wonkier conservative voters out there who will worry about Palin’s lack of experience, but comparison to Obama’s lack of experience makes this easier to overlook. Some will also see the pick of Palin as a cynical ploy, but the feel-good story seems to be winning the day. It’s still possible that external events could knock Palin from her current popularity, but unless that happens, I think this gives the Republicans an advantage that the Dems will not be able to overcome.