Politics is a nasty business, and both sides are guilty. Yet, I can honestly say that the sheer viciousness that I’ve seen toward Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, in the course of merely a few weeks since her sudden emergence on the national stage, truly seems unprecedented.
I tend to think like a historian; so, at one point amid the onslaught of terrible attacks on Palin, I thought to myself that someone ought to start filling a box with examples simply for the sake of history.
Much like has happened with George W. Bush, it will be impossible for future historians to fully convey the level of white-hot hatred toward this woman. And that’s without her having enacted a single policy on the national level. She’s completely innocent of having even had the opportunity to do anything to hurt her detractors.
I would like to share only a few examples as a prelude to trying to explain what I believe may be the underlying motivations coming together against Palin:
South Carolina Democratic Chairwoman Carol Fowler, whose husband formerly led the national party, stated that Palin’s only qualification as John McCain’s running mate “seems to be that she hasn’t had an abortion.”
Indeed, the fact that Palin chose to bring to term a baby with Down syndrome — proving that she truly walks the walk as a pro-lifer — has infuriated liberals. Compared to the “Retarded Republican Babies” T-shirts for sale on the Internet, comedian Bill Maher seemed good-natured. He joked that the newborn “looks a lot like John Edwards,” the Democratic senator who recently made headlines for cheating on his wife.
In a rant against Palin’s “outrageous” pro-life views, comedienne Sandra Bernhard warned the governor that she better watch herself, lest she be “gang-raped by my big black brothers.” In a comedy skit, “Saturday Night Live” had a pretend reporter ask if Sarah Palin’s husband, Todd, was guilty of incest with his daughters.
Slate magazine, on the same day, ran two depictions of her: One as an uptight fundamentalist, and the other, scantily clad with a whip. The Chicago Tribune ran a piece on the latest case of a nude depiction of Palin. The Tribune ventured to a tavern on the city’s north side, where artist Bruce Elliott painted a large nude “portrait” of Sarah Palin. Given that the governor wasn’t available to pose, Elliott tasked his daughter, who served as the model while he painted. The work now hangs above the bar, where it has become a huge attraction to local celebrities. Elliott boasts of the work: “[People are] coming to take pictures with their camera phones. The photo is all over the place.”
Elliott admits to an impish interest in Palin: “I find her bizarrely fascinating, even though I pretty much despise everything she stands for.”
Think about this contrast: Todd Palin was parodied on “Saturday Night Live” exploiting his daughters, which, of course, no one has ever suggested is true. Here, this man in Chicago is in fact exploiting his daughter. The first is fiction; the second is fact. And the one common thread in both cases is the shared purpose of ridiculing Sarah Palin and her family.
When not vilified for being pro-life or being attractive, Palin is being attacked for her “Neanderthal faith,” as one critic described it. Her past membership in a Pentecostal church has been caricatured unfairly and often brutally, from sources from the The Washington Post to the Associated Press, as if she spends her Sundays baying at the moon from a church pew.
The shots at Palin rise all the way to the halls of Congress. On Sept. 10, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) took offense at Palin’s dig at Barack Obama as a community organizer. Rather than simply responding, Cohen went right over the top. He fired back that “Barack Obama was a ‘community organizer’ like Jesus,” whereas “Pontius Pilate was a governor” — like Sarah Palin.
Joseph Epstein, at the Weekly Standard, described the effect Palin has on women who are her political opponents.
“They don’t merely dislike her, the way one tends to dislike politicians whose views are not one’s own; they actively detest her. When her name comes up — and it is they who tend to bring it up — their complexions take on a slightly purplish tinge, their eyes cross in rage. ‘Moron’ is their most frequently used noun, though ‘idiot’ comes up a fair number of times; ‘that woman’ is yet another choice. A wide variety of adjectives, differing only slightly in their violence, usually precede these epithets.
“Liberal men don’t show the same fervent distaste for Governor Palin. … They don’t take Sarah Palin so personally, so passionately, as their liberal female counterparts do; the element of anger isn’t there.”
Indeed, leading Democratic blogs don’t just disagree with her politics: They go after her hair, her fashion sense, her accent.
But the heart of the problem many of these women have with Palin seems to be abortion. Gloria Feldt, former president of Planned Parenthood, openly decried Palin for allegedly forcing her unwed teenage daughter, Bristol, to not abort the baby in her womb. “She probably feels powerless right now,” lamented Feldt, in reference to Bristol. “Because of her family’s attitude, she probably doesn’t feel that she has a choice.”
Ah, yes. If only the Palin family had the proper attitude toward unborn human life. Keep in mind that the likes of Feldt angrily protest when they are called “pro-abortion” instead of “pro-choice.” Well, Feldt’s statement is pro-abortion.
I must say that I saw all of this coming from the moment that John McCain announced that Sarah Palin was his running mate. I had already known about Palin’s choice to bring to term a child with Down syndrome, of which she and her husband had been informed last December, prior to the little boy’s birth in April. Like other pro-lifers, I was ecstatic with the example.
Just as many more people from the “pro-choice” side were not pleased at all; quite the contrary, many of them were enraged, furious. We are hearing from those people now.
I’m losing track of all the sources, from pro-choice feminists to off-their-rocker libertarians, who are openly condemning Sarah Palin for not aborting that child.
The estimate of the number of children with Down syndrome aborted when prenatally diagnosed is astounding: 90%. There is something particularly vicious about that massive denial and destruction of innocent, harmless infants. In order to countenance it, you have to get meaner and darker than you otherwise would be.
Consider that in Palin’s biggest speech, delivered at the Republican National Convention, with tens of millions of Americans watching closely, Palin paused to say that she hoped that she could use her position to fight as an advocate for children like her newborn son, Trig: “Children with special needs inspire a special love. To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.”
There’s no question that Sarah Palin’s hope for those unwanted children, expressed in that speech, was a line in the sand — not just politically, but spiritually, against darker forces in an ancient battle between good and evil.
When Barack Obama voted against protecting babies accidentally born alive during abortions, it was after hearing testimony about a Down syndrome baby allowed to die after an abortion attempt at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill.
That’s what Sarah Palin is up against. It may be bitter guilt that is fueling the breathtaking viciousness that we are witnessing against this woman, wife, mother, governor and genuine special-needs advocate from Alaska.
Author Paul Kengor is professor of
political science at Grove City College.