Say Yes to Hubris: The Other Palin Effect

The next time you want to take a big career leap, stop and think, "What would Sarah do?" The answer: Don’t let sexism get in the way.

By Melinda Henneberger
Sarah Palin at a rally in Carson City, Nevada (Photo: Max Whittaker / Getty Images)

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, 52, a Minnesota Republican, did the stretch too: A tax litigator with grassroots volunteer experience on education issues, she first ran for state senate in her forties, and later for Congress. She got lots of "how can you do this?" flack, in part because, like the Palins, Bachmann and her husband, a therapist, were also raising five children (plus, over the years, 23 foster children). "I wasn’t offended," she says. Still, she found Charlie Gibson’s barrage "astounding. For a national media personality to engage in that type of stereotyping while demanding political correctness of others? It’s jaw-dropping. "[This is] the kind of success story feminists have been waiting for for 30 years," Bachmann says.

Palin has always reached big. She led her high school basketball team to a state championship, headed her school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes and was a Miss Alaska runner-up. Although new to national politics, she did the step-by-step routine locally; four years on the Wasilla, Alaska, city council; six as mayor. She ran — and lost — her first statewide campaign, for lieutenant governor, in 2002, but was named to chair the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (but resigned in 2004 over what she said were ethics lapses by fellow Republican commissioners).

To be sure, Palin’s own aw-shucks, it’s-just-us-moms-here routine sometimes undercuts her bring-it-on bravado. When she decided against a Senate run in 2004, she cited responsibilities to her kids: "How could I be the team mom if I was a U.S. Senator?" Just weeks before McCain named her, Bachmann says, Palin didn’t seem to take her chances seriously. "I don’t think I’m on McCain’s long list," Bachmann says Palin told her over dinner. "I’m just a hockey mom."

Voters, of course, will decide if they think Palin is ready. In the meantime, when asked whether Barack Obama was ready to be president, Bill Clinton remarked that, in a sense, no one is ever ready for the job. And yet, every four years, someone always fills the president and VP candidate slots — and, except for Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, that someone is always a man.

Choosing Palin was not only a bold move for McCain and a game changer for Palin’s career, it has also inarguably altered the trajectory of their party, with many now considering Palin — and women like her — the future of a revitalized GOP.

And, not least of all, it has forced us to have a national conversation about the big questions about work, family and gender. Were we just kidding, for example, when we said motherhood should be no more of an obstacle than fatherhood?

Whatever your politics, you have to admire Palin’s moxie in stepping up and refusing to blink. Joe Biden, beware.

Melinda Henneberger covered the 2008 Republican National Convention for MORE.

Originally published on, September 2008.

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