Is Sarah Palin a Plus for Women?

Three writers from the right parse what the Palin factor means to all of us.

By Lisa Schiffren, Cathy Young, and Kellyanne Conway

Sam’s Club, Not Yale ClubLast December, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin traveled to Georgia, in her capacity as the most popular Republican in the nation, to help Saxby Chambliss win a runoff for a Senate seat. At one rally, voter Tammy Hawkins waited four hours with her daughter and niece to hear Palin speak. She told a news reporter, "We wanted the girls to see a fine, upstanding Christian woman with five kids and a good career. We just wanted them to see you can succeed."If you are a pro-woman woman — even one who is secular, urban, and liberal — those words should make you rejoice. Knowing that conservative, evangelical Christian women want their daughters to see such a role model tells us that feminism, in its best sense, has won its central battle. And it tells us something about the future: Starting now, women have been liberated from having just one model for success.We all know that model: She’s the credentialed careerist who rises to leadership in government, business, or academia. In politics, the most visible example is surely Hillary Clinton, a woman who assiduously prepared and planned, beginning with her choice as a teen to attend an elite women’s college, then an Ivy League law school. Along the way she cultivated relationships with people who might prove useful, snagged important positions, and married a promising classmate. She set out to remake the world, according to her liberal lights, and maintained a laser-like focus. (She had just one child and stayed in an unenviable marriage, some Clinton watchers believe, for the sake of her grand plan.)Clinton took the meritocratic route, moving up by virtue of her brains, not her bloodline, in the onetime old-boy establishment. She and women like her have battered the doors of this bastion for the past quarter century — and by doing so they have created the real possibility of a woman seizing the ultimate power job. But that path is not available to most ordinary women. And to many, it isn’t even attractive. For them, there’s Sarah Palin.Unlike Hillary, Palin is more Sam’s Club than Yale Club. She had a haphazard college career and married her high school sweetheart. She showed promise as a TV sports reporter, but as her family grew, she left broadcasting to help with her husband’s fishing business. After working with the PTA and on the Wasilla town council, she won the mayor’s office — a job that, in a small town, combines well with child-rearing. If Clinton is the career politician who trained all her life for power, Palin is the scrappy citizen-politician, the kind the country’s founders hoped would keep politics focused on people’s real needs. This model happens to mesh nicely with the realities of most women’s lives. Palin has surely drawn on confidence and competitive instincts developed in girlhood. But her example is liberating precisely because it allows a woman who began with one set of interests to develop different ones, to make use of talents that had gone untapped and to bring her personal experience to bear on the issues she sees around her — in Palin’s case, education and small business survival, among others. Just as a careerist woman may later step off the ladder to spend time with family, a Palin-style woman, who in her younger years did more improvising than planning, can jump on. In a profession that’s all about mentors, connections, and networks, Palin was elected governor without benefit of an influential father, wealthy husband, or powerful political machine. She couldn’t even call on classmates from a top law school.If the erstwhile VP candidate’s rise to national prominence is extraordinary, her effect on other women’s lives will prove equally so: Her example opens the competition to millions of women who take on larger, more responsible roles as their children grow up and their judgment ripens. Palin’s supporters don’t care that she doesn’t meet media standards for being articulate or analyzing policy details. In her they see their own best selves: strong, capable, smart, religious.

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