It looks like Sarah Palin won’t be fading away. Not if Saxby Chambliss has anything to say about it. “I can’t overstate the impact she had down here,” said Chambliss shortly after his surprisingly solid 15-point victory in the December 2 Georgia Senate runoff. Chambliss, who went from a 49.8-46.8 percent lead on November 4 to a 57-43 victory over Democrat Jim Martin in the runoff (Georgia law requires an absolute majority), credited Palin with helping his campaign “peak” with four hugely attended election-eve rallies.
“All these folks did a great job coming in,” he said, referring to an all-star cast of Republicans who made appearances on his behalf. “But when she walks in a room, folks just explode.”
Despite the best efforts of the media, left-of-center feminists, and a brigade of political elites, including more than a few Beltway Republicans, to write obituaries for Palin’s national political career, she continues to be the second biggest phenomenon of the 2008 election cycle, behind only the president-elect.
“I am not going to Washington to seek their good opinion,” she said in her convention acceptance speech, referring to the media. And gain it, she did not. But their disdain–like that of the abovementioned elites–seems only to fan the firestorm of support for her. Witness the independent “Team Sarah” website, started September 15 by the Susan B. Anthony List, the pro-life group I head. Every time Palin is hammered by the media, this stable of online supporters grows. Our Facebook-style political networking site has grown from 50 members to 60,000 in less than two months, the biggest surges coming when Palin-bashing crests.
These are highly motivated grassroots activists, some involved in politics for the first time, some seasoned types, all awaiting the next Palin project. Some of the most eloquent are women ecstatic over the new brand of feminism Palin represents: populist and pro-life. There is no other woman on the national political stage like her–and hasn’t been in recent times. To whom could she be compared–Geraldine Ferraro, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein? She doesn’t begin to fit this cookie-cutter model of pro-choice, pro-gender-quota woman in politics that left-feminism has served up.
But Palin has forebears in American politics. She looks a lot more like the early suffragists than anyone on the national stage now, especially in her pro-life stance. Susan B. Anthony, for whom my organization is named, for instance, called abortion “child murder.” Elizabeth Cady Stanton called it a sickening symptom of women’s mistreatment: “When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women to treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.”
Under media attack and scrutiny, Palin and her family became a kind of microcosm of America’s “crisis” abortion debates. Her Down Syndrome baby Trig and her pregnant teenage daughter are witnesses to the life-affirming attitudes the early feminists held.
And Palin operates in a grievance-free environment. She likes being a woman. It is apparent, attractive, and typical of what most American women feel, or would like to. She gives every appearance of loving her role as a wife and mother of a bunch of kids. She lives as if she believes in the natural complementarity of men and women, rather than the supposed enmity and competition of the sexes depicted as universal by left feminism.
She is feminine and she is confident. This confidence is what gets under the skin of the old-guard feminists the most. How could she? She takes her femininity and pro-life position and strides confidently right through those doors they feel they opened. And it drives them to distraction that millions of American women either love it or are intrigued by it. Finally, after all these years, we see a confident, successful, feminine woman no more afraid of barriers than the hardest-core liberal feminist.
Put another way, her attractiveness is her authenticity. Perhaps that’s the upside of the “hokey” epithet pundits throw at her. She does not try to be somebody she is not, and she has resisted the professional image packagers that threaten to unravel her appeal.
The crowds that flock to see Palin wherever she goes have found something different in her: authenticity, charisma, and hope. Too bad these qualities are “different” in American politics, but the palpable craving for them explains much of people’s continuing interest in her.
Palin’s contribution to the Chambliss campaign’s impressive closing kick is evidence of two things. Grassroots America does not want her to go away, and she has no intention of doing so.
Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the Susan B. Anthony List and cofounder of Team Sarah. The SBA List and Team Sarah communicated through mail, phones, and radio with 400,000 registered pro-life voters in the Georgia Senate race.
This article first appeared in The Weekly Standard on December 15, 2008 (Vol. 14, No. 13)