Girls Gone Republican

The longer the summer drags on without an announcement of some sort, it seems that Sarah Palin won't be running for President after all.  Which disappoints me, only because if Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann were going to run, I was hoping we could also recruit that batshit-crazy anti-Muslim weirdo Pamela Geller into the race as well. Because c'mon, how awesome would it be for the girl-power trifecta of the modern Republican Party to feature a Sarah, a Michele, and a Geller?

But even if Palin won't be running, I think we can all agree that she'll be a presence in politics throughout 2011 and 2012, for good or ill.  Most of my friends would certainly choose "ill," and I don't blame them.  Sarah Palin was a small-town mayor and half-term governor who (let's be honest) lies a lot, and I feel fairly secure in my belief that she adds a lot more heat than light to the national discourse.

But the same can be said of lots of political pundits.  And yet, there seems to be a special kind of scorn among by leftie friends reserved for Sarah Palin, a kind of seething hatred matched only by the hot wrath that they feel for surprise GOP Presidential front-runner (if anyone can be a front-runner before a single primary) Michele Bachmann.

Okay, so let's start with the obvious similarity between these two.  Yes, I'm talking about their vaginas.  Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are, according to my highly unscientific sampling of my friends, the two most hated figures in Republican politics right now, and they both happen to be women.

But just try and suggest that one has anything to do with the other, and you'll get an earful.  A friend of mine started quite the brouhaha on Facebook by posing this very thought just yesterday, and the response was quick - and often angry.

There seems to be this belief among liberals that they absolutely, positively cannot harbor any sexist thoughts by virtue of their very liberal-ness.  To be fair, you won't find many conservatives who will openly admit to sexism either - but the denials among liberals are, to me, especially ironic.  After all, you can't find many liberals who will tell you that sexism is a thing of the past, the way conservatives sometimes like to.  Yet, there are many on the left who know it's real, but refuse to imagine that any sexism lives inside of them.

I probably don't need to say this, but I have this niggling voice in the back of my head, shouting: "Let me be clear.  I am no 'fan' of either Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann."  If this particular rant has a point at all, it's not to defend either of these women, but rather encourage readers on the left to be honest with themselves, where these two women are concerned.

It might help to go back a bit.  When Barack Obama was campaigning for and eventually became President, I found a lot of the rhetoric used against him to be tinged - nay, saturated - with racism and racist assumptions.  You can't look at that now-famous Photoshopped image of Obama as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose and deny that there is a lot of racist invective coming his way.  The very idea that Obama should be the first and only President in our history to be forced to make public his official birth certificate to prove that he's actually an American-born citizen is racist to the core.

And yet - when I was engaged in several political "conversations" (ahem) with my conservative parents during his campaign and administration, they grew very frustrated with the notion that they weren't allowed to criticize the man without being called a racist.  They had a point.  They, like almost every white person in American, probably harbor more covert, unconscious bias against people of color than they'd like to admit.  AND, they had some real concerns with Barack Obama's policies, worldview, and political philosophy.  They leveled many of the same criticisms against our last Democratic President, Bill Clinton - and no one ever accused them of racism when they did it.  It's not racist to criticize someone who just happens to be black, they'd tell me.  And they were right.

AND ... a lot of the criticism being leveled at Obama was and is racist.  But not all of it.  So it's complex.  And I think the way the left thinks about and reacts to Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann is similar that way.

First of all, there's some stuff out there that is sexism in its purist form.  For instance, during the 2008 campaign, some voters were "concerned" that Palin, a mother of five, wouldn't be able to handle the pressures of being Vice President - or perhaps worse, might not be there for her children the way a good mother ought.  A man with a spouse and five kids would never hear this complaint.  It was sexist, and it was dumb.

But it's not always so obvious.

Last week, Bill Maher defended himself against the sexist charge by saying, "It's not because they have breasts.  It's because they ARE boobs."  It was a great line, and it got a lot of applause.  And I believe him when he says that.  And by that I mean, I believe that he believes it.

One denial that liberals are quick to spout when you inquire into their attitudes about Sarah and Michele is, "I can't be a sexist!  I voted for Hillary!"  Which would make sense, if sexism were as simple as we think it is.  But it's not.  Sexism is not as neat and clean as "Men good. Women bad. End story."  A lot of us (including me) loved Hillary because she was so smart.  But what's our definition of smart?  Is it possible that we assign intelligence to those who say things that we already agree with?  I'm not suggesting that our Secretary of State isn't as smart as you think she is.  She's done an amazing job at the State Dept. and in the U.S. Senate; she is clearly a brilliant woman.

The question I'm much more interested in is this: Are Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann as stupid as you think they are?  What I find really curious about our feelings about Palin and Bachmann isn't that we don't like them.  We (meaning we blue-state liberals) also don't particularly care for Sean Hannity, Eric Cantor, Rush Limbaugh, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, or John Boehner.  But while we think of these guys as being bad people who are wrong about so many things, we don't think of them as idiots, the way we frequently characterize Sarah and Michele.  We disagree with them all, but we do so a little differently.

Now ... are there men on the right we deride as less than intelligent?  Sure.  Are there women on the right that we respect for their ability to turn a phrase even while wishing them to their own special circle of deepest, darkest hell?  You betcha.  But by and large, there's a theme that's present when it comes to people we disagree with.  The men are bad and evil.  But the women are stupid.

Is it reasonable to suggest that a stupid woman would not have been able to turn an incomplete term as Alaska's governor into a media empire?  Am I weird to think that a woman who might very well win the Iowa Republican primary has the teensiest bit of political savvy?

Maybe, or maybe not.  But it's worth a thought.