Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Paglia on Palin

I've been really fascinated lately by the trend of some members of the female intelligentsia--especially popular feminist thinkers like Camille Paglia--to come out in defense of Sarah Palin as a positive female role model. I hear the point, loud and clear: on a subjective level, all Couric gaffes and mindless mudslinging aside, there is something to be admired about the rise of a woman who came from abject humble beginnings and could soon find herself leading the highest office in the land. I'm not buying the argument, though.

You can't separate Palin from the quizzically inane statements she makes, the corruption plaguing her resume, not to mention the lack of fundamental knowledge and intelligence that it takes to steer a nation through dire, near-apocalyptic conditions. Her success not only sets the bar low for women in office, it sets the bar low for all politicians. She is a complete and holistic icon of incompetence, not empowerment.

From a Paglia post on

The mountain of rubbish poured out about Palin over the past month would rival Everest. What a disgrace for our jabbering army of liberal journalists and commentators, too many of whom behaved like snippy jackasses. The bourgeois conventionalism and rank snobbery of these alleged humanitarians stank up the place. As for Palin's brutally edited interviews with Charlie Gibson and that viper, Katie Couric, don't we all know that the best bits ended up on the cutting-room floor? Something has gone seriously wrong with Democratic ideology, which seems to have become a candied set of holier-than-thou bromides attached like tutti-frutti to a quivering green Jell-O mold of adolescent sentimentality.

Oh I'm sure there was some real genius material on that cutting room floor. And I'm sorry, but anyone who uses the terms "bourgeois conventionalism and rank snobbery" is guilty of both. BTW proud to consider myself one such snippy jackass!!!

She goes on:

One of the most idiotic allegations batting around out there among urban media insiders is that Palin is "dumb." Are they kidding? What level of stupidity is now par for the course in those musty circles? (The value of Ivy League degrees, like sub-prime mortgages, has certainly been plummeting. As a Yale Ph.D., I have a perfect right to my scorn.) People who can't see how smart Palin is are trapped in their own narrow parochialism -- the tedious, hackneyed forms of their upper-middle-class syntax and vocabulary.

Where does the "urban" come from in "urban media insiders"? Is she insinuating that only the "urban elites" are savvy or learned enough to question Palin? Ivy League bitterness got ya down, Paglia? Having a tough time paying off them pesky student loans with your meager salary?

She concludes:

The hysterical emotionalism and eruptions of amoral malice at the arrival of Sarah Palin exposed the weaknesses and limitations of current feminism. But I am convinced that Palin's bracing mix of male and female voices, as well as her grounding in frontier grit and audacity, will prove to be a galvanizing influence on aspiring Democratic women politicians too, from the municipal level on up. Palin has shown a brand-new way of defining female ambition -- without losing femininity, spontaneity or humor. She's no pre-programmed wonk of the backstage Hillary Clinton school; she's pugnacious and self-created, the product of no educational or political elite -- which is why her outsider style has been so hard for media lemmings to comprehend. And by the way, I think Tina Fey's witty impersonations of Palin have been fabulous. But while Fey has nailed Palin's cadences and charm, she can't capture the energy, which is a force of nature.

I must say, I do agree that some of the emotion-tinged malice people have been feeling towards Palin is in need of strong feminist analysis, but apparently Paglia was too smitten with her performance at the debates to provide it:

...I was admiring not only her always shapely and syncopated syllables but the innate structures of her discourse -- which did seem to fly by in fragments at times but are plainly ready to be filled with deeper policy knowledge, as she gains it...

From this passage I'm not sure that Camile Paglia was watching the same debate as the rest of the nation. I think it takes a latent, idiosyncratic level of misogyny, a "soft bigotry of low expectations" to look at this incompetent politician as a symbol of female empowerment. Sure she is making firsts for women: she is the first woman to be used to blatantly pander to a female electorate dispirited by another female politician's loss. The first VP candidate used by a conservative party as an empty token of values advancing equal rights, yet promising none.

I do not disagree that, on a purely visceral level, the image of this tough-talkin', unapologetic, unqualified politician is somehow inspiring to American women out there unaccustomed to seeing this image: this fierce and assertive woman poised to become so powerful. But giving her credit for Palin's own insistence that she is somehow "breaking the glass ceiling" is a notion that only looks good on paper. Yes, like I said she is establishing some firsts for women, but I find it incredibly ignorant on the part of Paglia, Christian Amanpour and others to give so much credit to Palin in this arena. How long ago, really, was it that America was given a glimpse of the possibility of a strong, capable (I cannot emphasize this word enough) woman becoming a major head of state? Are we forgetting how far Hillary Clinton came? Geraldine Ferraro?

From what I gleaned from Paglia, the reason Clinton cannot be lumped into the same category as that "force of nature" that is Sarah Palin, is that Clinton didn't come from a politically-unenlightened, "Joe Sixpack" kind of background. And Clinton perhaps forfeited the feminine aesthetic that only a former beauty queen that likes to wink and flirt with the camera can procure.

Sarah Palin has done as much for the women's movement as Britney Spears--although, I don't know, Paglia may also have a warped argument just as unconvincing, that disputes this.

BTW nice touch, Paglia, calling Katie Couric a viper! The first time Couric has actually come out to expose her proverbial lady cojones since drilling George H.W. Bush about the Iran-Contra Scandal before live television in 1992, and you dismiss her as a snake! For shame!

--Don't miss out on reading this Paglia rant in its entirety, where she contemplates Palin's possible Native American ancestry as a means of explaining why she's so gosh-darn spunky.


Bridget said...

Well said, Amity! I, too, was baffled by Paglia and Amanpour. I think it's so important for people to know the difference between supporting women who champion women, and supporting women who champion themselves or are just political gimmicks.

It would be a scary world if she, or the people who hand-picked her, get anywhere near the white house.

richpulliam said...

Let me see if I can present a much simpler way of stating it. Sarah Palin is the Paris Hilton of politics. No substance, no talent and quite clearly no intellect.

No offense to those who went to 5 or 6 years of community college but I wouldn't vote for you either (and I'm no Ivy leaguer by any means). What kind crap is Paglia talking about? Obama ALSO had no money or contacts growing up, but he got himself into Oxidental, Columbia and Harvard Law (magna cum laude and president of HLR anyone?). Is Paglia so blind as to think that somehow Obama would have advantages in that regard over Palin? Absurd. What I see is a woman who quite frankly doesn't have the ambition for learning or education that she should (are any of her kids going to even go to college, or will they just all go to war or get pregnant before 19?). She is not only a bad role model for women, but for Americans in general and, more frighteningly, her own family. That stated, I DO think she very well may be representative of many people in America today - but I, for one, do NOT think that is a good thing. Do we really want a female Dubya? I mean at least Dubya, as unintelligent and unenlightened as he is, had a solid education and an intelligent father who could provide him guidance.

It is my humble opinion that this woman would set back women and this entire country by 50 years if she were ever to become the President of these United States. Yes, I'm a man, so not qualified to speak on behalf of women's issues, but how can anyone with a brain listen to ANYTHING Sarah Palin says and think she presents even the remotest qualifications of intelligence or comprehension? I will be voting for the most (and only) intelligent and inspirational leader in this election, Obama, who showed at least humility in picking in a VP who would provide him the things he doesn't have.

There I've said my peace.

amityb said...

@bridget: Yeah, you mean, distinguishing between "Women who HELP other women" and "Women who SUPPORT other women"? I can't believe she is quoting Starbucks cups for political speeches. Are speechwriters on some kind of belated writers' strike right now or something?

@richpulliam: Thank you for your peace, Rich. I think any man who believes in equal rights should be able to identify himself as a feminist and speak on behalf of other women that share his views. Thank you for bringing it back to the glaringly obvious fact that Obama did have a hard-knock life and that the Ivy League wasn't handed to him on a silver spoon like his predecessor. He managed to shine through ambition, drive, curiosity about the world, and just plain smarts. If that's not a great story of The American Dream fulfilled, I don't know what is.

Amy said...

Anyone who calls Katie Couric a "viper" is most out of touch with mainstream media personalities. It was about time that Couric stepped up to the plate. And, to put things in context, while on a family visit to FL recently, I was pleased and gratified by the views of my parents and their Jewish senior citizen friends: Palin, they say, is an offensive fraud and an insult to women. This said by women who came of age before the second-wave feminist movement. What have they missed that Paglia gets? Lucky for me, I could enjoy my time in FL without any schlepping.