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On The Issues Magazine - Fall 2008
The Terror … and Error … of Sarah Palin
by Writers Kathryn Joyce, Esther Kaplan and Sunsara Taylor share their thoughts about Sarah Palin, below, with an introduction by Cindy Cooper, editor.

As I stood listening to Sarah Palin speak inside a stadium of 6,000 or so in Colorado Springs, Colorado on October 20, the theme of What is Terror for Women in this edition of On The Issues Magazine, came to mind. In this setting, the most frightening thing was watching a girl next to me held high on a man’s shoulders to get a really good view of Palin reading her text.

Palin stood out on the platform, readily visible in a tight red-leather shortwaisted jacket. Her text had a red tinge, too, casting Senator Obama as a socialist. The speech was laced with red meat anti-abortion messages about the importance of the “culture of life,” but at every turn, her commentary was undercut by a tone of derision and demonstrable lack of empathy. She did not inspire.

But it was the women in the crowd, dressed by the request of organizers in echoing red, who worried me. In the conservative bastion that houses Focus on the Family, they brimmed with excitement and waved campaign-supplied signs that said “Women 4 Palin.” By putting Palin on a pedestal, these women assented to an agenda that fails to recognize that it is women who are harmed most in an economic downturn, women who suffer the most by a denial of full freedoms, women who bear the burdens of reproductive injustice.

Sadly, as the authors below note, Palin fits the mold of other right-wing “frontwomen” who shill policies for conservative religious interests. These frontwomen accept the mantle of their positions and use their power to diminish the rights of women as a whole. They range from Phyllis Schafly, campaigning against the Equal Rights Amendment. to Wendy Wright, denouncing emergency contraception as the frontperson for Concerned Women for America, an organization that was itself started as an antifeminist women’s front when Moral Majority co-founder Rev. Tim LaHaye designated his wife, Beverly, as its caretaker.

And, in Colorado, there is Kristi Burton, a young woman who fronts the campaign to provide “personhood” to fertilized eggs, an idea developed by the ultraconservative Thomas More Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A Colorado writer called Burton a “wind-up doll.” From what I saw in the stadium, the term applies aptly to Palin, as well.

The alliances between the anti-abortion movement, the Religious Right and Palin are described by Merle Hoffman in Sarah Palin and the Apocalypse in On the Issues Magazine. On October 20 in New York, a panel of writers on Christian fundamentalism co-sponsored by On The Issues Magazine and The World Can’t Wait -- Drive Out the Bush Regime expanded on the dangers that Palin represents. Their comments are excerpted below.

Cindy Cooper, On The Issues Magazine


Kathryn Joyce, author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.

Since the moment Palin was announced as McCain’s running mate, conservative organizations have been hailing her as “our kind of woman,” a “real woman,” and the vanguard of “a new women’s movement.” Obviously, it’s not entirely new, after more than twenty years of grassroots antifeminist activity. But Palin’s nomination did serve as a sort of coming-out party for a movement that conservatives know has been growing for decades.

On the day she was announced, Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America released a statement saying: “Take that, feminists – here is a woman of accomplishment who brings a fresh face to traditional values and models the type of woman most girls want to become. For years, the feminist movement has acknowledged for leadership only those women who embrace a radical agenda. How refreshing that we have a woman who reflects the values of mainstream American women…pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-family.”

CWA was only one of literally dozens of Christian Right groups that immediately released statement praising the pick of Palin as one that not only paid homage to evangelicals, but to the conservative women who fill their ranks. Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition said that Palin would bring a new demographic to life -- “Faith Moms.” Faith moms, he explained, are “the millions of women that attend weekly Bible study and discussion groups, coordinate church activities, drive their children to youth group and choir practice and are literally the lifeblood of thousands of churches across America.” Mahoney continued, “I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say these millions of ‘Faith Moms’ could make the difference in November. Their passion and energy, which has been ignored in past elections, will be front and center this November. To paraphrase an old expression, this year ‘maybe the hands that rock the cradle’ will help decide who rules this nation.”

“The hand that rocks the cradle” is a favored expression among complementarians and patriarchy movement advocates, who use it frequently to describe women’s true and lasting power, as they see it – through their posterity and the influence they can have on society by proxy -- through the children they raise and the men they support. That this form of power is very second-hand and relational doesn’t really come into the discussion of platitudes promising that women really are their most powerful as mothers... CNBC pundit Donny Deutsch illustrated it blatantly when he said that Palin marked “a new creation … of the feminist ideal” as a woman who did what Hillary Clinton did not do: “She put a skirt on.” “I want her watching my kids,” wrote Deutsch. “I want her laying next to me in bed.”

…While it might seem contradictory then that so many conservative Christians have embraced Palin’s candidacy, considering that, if the Republicans win, she will be in a position of serious authority over men, a number of prominent Christians have performed some rhetorical gymnastics to square their support with their complementarian convictions. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Southern Baptist leader Richard Land both argued that Palin was acceptable as long as (a) she was performing political and not spiritual leadership, and (b) her husband approved of her career goals.

That the Christian Right has found a way to approve of Palin’s candidacy should not be seen as a comforting move towards modern gender roles, but rather a stark reminder of how far afield from the mainstream the people Palin appeals to and represents are.


Esther Kaplan - author of With God on Their Side, George Bush and the Christian Right; editor, Investigative Journalism Project at The Nation magazine.

Sarah Palin is an enormous, enormous star on the Christian Right now. Even though the polls are pointing to an Obama-Biden victory, this is just a prelude to a mega political career for this woman….

She could emerge in three years time as a much more knowledgeable and viable political candidate. We're going to be dealing with her on the scene for a very, very long time...

The other key thing to understand is the difference between her and George W. Bush. Clearly, Bush has been carrying water for the Christian Right since his days as Governor of Texas and certainly as President, He's a guy who discovered evangelism late in life after being a drunk and an addict and a screw-up, and created an alliance with the Christian right out of his need to clean up his life and out of political convenience because he understood that was how he was going to be victorious in Texas and nationally.

Sarah Palin's really different. She came up in the bosom of this movement. She grew up in a church with pastors who believe in creationism, who believe in End Times, and generally embrace the whole Christian Right agenda. Her very early political effort to run as Mayor of Wasilla was supported by the evangelical churches in the town, along with activists in something called the Alaska Independence Party, a secessionist party in Alaska that her husband is very active in. She's appeared at most of their conventions... .

The 1990s were a time when the Christian Coalition was at its apex and working around the country to elect local leadership to school boards, local city councils, mayors of small towns. This was their strategy of creating a farm team. And Palin is the first national political figure to emerge from that 1990s farm team. She's the real deal. She's extremely different from someone like Bush who just kowtows to this movement. She came directly out of it....

Another really important thing is, as we see in her rallies, Sarah Palin has really unleashed something or exposed something really significant about the Christian Right, that it's a white racist movement. The Christian Right has taken a lot of pains in recent years to reach out to Latino churches, to create special funds to investigate Black church burnings in the South, and famously recruited one of Martin Luther King's nieces to be one of their spokespeople in opposing abortion -- to try to create a veneer of diversity. Some of their issues, such as opposing same-sex marriage, do get a decent amount of play in the Black church, but it is fundamentally a white racist movement.

Palin's ties to the Alaska Independence Party are interesting when you think about how her rallies have played out lately, and the open racism - calls of "kill him" and so on in relation to Obama. The Alaska Independence Party participates annually in something called the North American Secessionist Organization, a gathering of all the secessionist movements in America, many of them openly white supremacist and racist...

This is someone who comes from a very monolithic world who's comfortable with at least second-hand associations with the white militia movement and overtly white supremacist movement, and now we see her complete embrace and comfort with playing this role. Sometimes it's framed as the vice-presidential attack dog role, which is a traditional political role, but it's now the fomenter of racial hatred role.


Sunsara Taylor, writer for Revolution newspaper and a member of the World Can't Wait Advisory Board.

What does Sarah Palin's candidacy, her being taken as a "legitimate" candidate, mean for reproductive rights and for women?

… Beneath her winks and hints, her rallies are a celebration of the most close-minded, arrogant ignorance, implicit – if not explicit – racism, vicious intolerance, and virulent bigotry. She is part of a fundamentalist Christianity that believes it has a mandate to impose itself through the force of the state – and she talks of the Iraq war and drilling in Alaska as “God’s will.” At a time when torture is the national policy, she jokes about the rights of detainees.

When it comes to reproductive rights, in a sense you can learn all you need to know about Palin by the fact that in Wasilla, Alaska – when she was mayor – victims of rape, if they reported their rape to the police, would be charged for their own rape kits! Why? Because these kits contained emergency contraception – and Palin is of the Christian fascist tradition that opposes birth control and abortion, even in cases of rape or incest!

Palin’s candidacy – as extreme as she is -- is in a lot of ways the logical conclusion of the whole political spectrum and discourse in this country on abortion and women's rights for the last 15 years. It's one that's been initiated and led by the Christian Right, but conceded to and adhered to by the Democrats, and it's a framework that needs to be decisively ruptured if we're not going to witness the ushering in of the horrific dark ages view of women that Palin concentrates.

Palin and what she represents cannot be opposed just by taking on her most extreme positions, but only by rejecting the whole framework that she extends. This includes three things: (1) the fallacious notion that there is something tragic or morally wrong with abortion; (2) the enslaving notion that there is something “sacred” about motherhood and that it is somehow a woman's highest calling, and (3) the logic that has gripped and demobilized prochoice and progressive people -- and which has been a big signature of Obama's campaign -- that we should find common ground and get away from the extremes of either side….

On the third point, there is a lot that is different about Obama and Palin. But it has to be understood that if opposition to the direction this country has been going through the Bush years and the continuing active movement of Christian fascists and the way this has been legitimized by the whole ruling class is confined to support for Obama and the terms he is offering, this is both demobilizing and deadly. When Obama advises “common ground” with Christian fascists who would criminalize abortion and birth control and force women to bear children against their will, he is advising prochoice people to capitulate on our insistence that women are human beings who should not be enslaved by their biology. This we cannot do. If women cannot control when and whether to have children, then they cannot be free. And if women are not free then no one can be free.

The only way you can bring together two antagonistic positions - the view that women's role is to be enslaved to their biology and to their husbands and the idea that women are human beings and are capable of participating fully and equally in every sphere of society together with men - is by having one side capitulate to the other.

And the Christian fundamentalist movement, the pro-natalist movement and the movement to criminalize abortion are not capitulating and they are not toning it down. They are actually coming more and more forward with their full program. This is what's on the ballot in Colorado, which will bring personhood rights to a fertilized egg and would make it murder, potentially, to have an abortion or even use some forms of birth control. They are not capitulating; they are on the offensive and continue to be. But Obama is getting prochoice people to conceding these views of motherhood and that abortion is a tragedy.

Opposition needs to be built, resistance needs to be built to the attacks on women's reproductive rights. If women don't have these rights we will be enslaved. This is a very dangerous time. But it can only be built by stepping outside of the parameters, outside of the framework that, frankly, Obama is promoting. We need to be out there demanding abortion on demand and without apology, saying that women are not incubators, abortion is not murder, and fetuses are not babies. We need to go on the political and ideological offensive.

October 27, 2008

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Also see Sarah Palin and the Apocalypse by Merle Hoffman in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.


 

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