Newsweek and “Saint Sarah” – Updated

Newsweek, bless its little money-bleeding heart, is trying desperately to make a buck by putting Sarah Palin on its cover.

The story starts off innocently enough. A few paragraphs in, Palin’s main sin seems to be that she’s honest and uncharacteristically open about her life. In so doing the rest of America, especially women, are able to identify with her. Oh, the horror.

The author, Lisa Miller, begrudgingly admits that Palin’s experience with Trig does indeed strike a chord:

Let’s face it: the Trig story is a women’s story, the kind girlfriends share over coffee or in church. It has all the familiar elements of evangelical testimony: tribulation and dread; trust in God; and, finally, great blessings.

“Let’s face it.” In other words, “Like it or not, it’s a great story. I guess. I hate to admit it. Stupid Sarah Palin and her great story. Why couldn’t she have a really depressing story?”

Lisa also takes a backhanded swipe at the fact that Palin shares her story with others, but I won’t go into that for fear of losing my cool.

To millions of women, Palin’s authenticity makes her a sister in arms—“Sisters!” she called out in Washington, as if at a revival—a beautiful, fearless, principled fighter who shares their struggles.

So a feminist calling her fellow females “sisters” reminds Lisa of a revival meeting? That’s weird. Seems to me that that term has been a part of the feminist vocabulary for quite some time.

The idea here is to turn people off to Palin’s message by suggesting that it goes along with religious extremism. It’s an exercise in branding. An exercise they need to partake in because Palin’s message resonates. It’s effective. And it is motivating a whole lot of conservative women who finally have a prominent role model.

To a smaller number, she is a prophet, ordained by God for a special role in the cosmic battle against the forces of evil. A 2009 profile in the Christian magazine Charisma compared Palin to the Old Testament’s Queen Esther, who saved her people, in this case the Jews, from annihilation.

Do you really want to go there? As for Esther, I always thought the Deborah story was more interesting. Deborah had to kick into action a guy named Barak. How’s that for irony?

Lisa does point out a few encouraging bits of information:

Eleven states have passed anti-abortion laws since the beginning of the year, and 370 bills have been introduced in state legislatures, according to the Guttmacher Institute. American women are more likely to call themselves “pro-life” (48 percent, up from 42 percent in 2001, according to Gallup), and while young white evangelicals are more accepting than their parents of gay marriage, they’re less open-minded on abortion. Seventy percent want more restrictions, compared with compared with 55 percent of those in the older generation, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Nothing to add to that except for “Yay!”

Most of the rest of the article is pretty harmless. It continues the branding and goes through some history. I even agree with some of it.

This sentence is rather confusing:

It’s an emotional appeal, unfettered by loyalty to the broader policy agenda of traditional feminism. Palin will praise suffragettes, abolitionists, and Margaret Thatcher, but not the early feminists who arguably paved the way for the 96 Republican women running for House seats in 2010.

Um, weren’t the suffragettes the earliest feminists? And I should point out that early feminists were pro-life. That was a part of their policy agenda, as it is Palin’s. Lisa unwittingly makes the point that feminism today is often seen as synonymous with liberalism. And since Palin does not embrace liberal policies, she is not seen as embracing feminism’s policy agenda.

The women who follow Palin will fight against Roe—and support adoption and prenatal health clinics—but they aren’t generally focused on birth control, sex education, or gender discrimination. They shrug at the agonies of the overeducated moms who feel forced to choose between work and family (no one had to do that on the farm), and they refute the idea that to succeed in the world a woman must look and act like a man.

I should point out that Palin herself supports birth control.

As a kid it always confused me, the idea that for a woman to succeed she had to act like a man. It’s one of the reasons I found it hard to relate to prominent feminists. Wouldn’t it be better to succeed as a woman? Isn’t that the whole point?

Palin may say she’s a pugnacious jock primed to take on the big boys, but her family, beauty-queen figure, and glossy hair are her calling cards.

Randy Reudrich would beg to differ. Way to completely dismiss her accomplishments and write her off as a beauty queen, Lisa. How very sexist of you.

I’m a conservative Christian woman. I don’t think I’ve ever brought up Proverb 31 with regards to Sarah Palin, although I’m sure others have. However, I cannot disagree with the larger point:

When asked why she loves Sarah Palin, a conservative Christian woman will point you to Proverbs 31. There, you’ll find a wife and mother who adores her husband, works the fields, rises before dawn, “makes her arms strong,” feeds the poor, helps the needy, has a head for business, and wears beautiful clothes. No exhausted careerist is she: the Proverbs 31 woman laughs easily; her children are happy. Christian women have long puzzled in their Bible study groups over how she does it, and in Palin they finally have an example—not just for themselves, but for their daughters.

“God gives us gifts and talents and abilities, and [Palin] is kind of modeling that it’s OK to use those,” says Lynette Kittle, 52, a mother of four grown daughters, who recently traveled more than a thousand miles from her home in Colorado Springs, Colo., to hear Palin speak. “I know there’s a saying, ‘You can’t have it all,’ but in some ways you can.”

That’s one part of the article I have to begrudgingly agree with. Sarah Palin is a first. Just as Hillary Clinton was a role model for women who tended Left, Sarah Palin is a role model for women who tend Right. It’s no different than the example that Barack Obama has set by being the first black man to occupy the Oval Office. It’s proof that it’s possible. It opens doors for others who may have thought that those doors were sealed shut. Nothing wrong with that.

But, in the end, Lisa manages to drift back into this kind of territory:

For all her apparent authenticity, though, Palin’s real motivations remain hidden. (She declined to be interviewed for this article.) The Trig story, moving in its first hearing, turns discomfiting and self-serving upon repetition. Further, Palin’s lack of expertise on policy questions—and her apparent lack of curiosity—bothers not just her critics but even some of her most devoted fans.

Ah, cynicism at its finest. The Left cannot wrap its head around the idea that Palin might be sincere, because so many of them are not. She can’t possibly be trying to reach out and help others with her message of what she has gone through, it must be all about staking claim to a people group. They project their own character onto her and question her “real motivations.” She only appears to be authentic. What’s she really up to?

As for her “lack of curiosity” and policy expertise, you just keep on repeating those worn-out memes.

A few more thoughts:

Early feminists were pro-life. If Sarah Palin is doing anything, she’s reclaiming their banner and making it acceptable again for a powerful woman to be pro-life. This is part of what the Left feared when Palin burst onto the scene in 2008. For a long time they had hijacked the feminist label and reinterpreted it to stand for only their particular brand of feminism, aka, liberalism. Palin has opened the feminist label up again and made it more inclusive.

At a few points in Lisa’s article, she almost articulates this herself. In fact, there seems to be an underlying fear that Palin’s message might actually be reaching out to women in the middle. That “gray area” that Palin’s supposedly claiming for the “Religious Right.” On that point she’s not entirely wrong. The glowy cover and the Religious Right theme may be an attempt to mitigate that effect. Again, branding. Look out gray-area ladies, you’re going to be identified with Jerry Falwell.

Just in case anyone does have the crazy idea Palin’s message is for political show, I want to call your attention to a little speech from November of 2007. According to Bob Lynn, Sarah Palin was the first sitting Governor in Alaska’s history to attend the Alaska Right to Life “Proudly Pro-Life Dinner.” Her words at that event ring especially poignant in retrospect because she was pregnant with Trig at the time, though nobody knew about it yet.


I serve a God who creates and cherishes life and I believe, from the core of my being, that he has created everyone for a good purpose and that we have a destiny from the very beginning. So I do cherish and I will defend innocent life. As a woman, as a mother, as an Alaskan, as your governor, I will protect and serve the future of Alaska – your children – both born and (those) yet to be born.

I’m not going to judge or condemn anyone. Everyone has a different style about getting their word and beliefs out there. I’m just not wired to do that. I am not calloused about the issue of unplanned pregnancy. I sympathize and I empathize with those who are in that situation.

Someone in less than ideal circumstances finds out they are pregnant and they think, “Oh no, in an instant, my plans are ruined, my dreams are broken.”

I’m not calloused to that. In fact, I understand. So I want to help and encourage those who are in that situation. But helping and encouraging is really hard in our culture, because our culture places too little value on honor and commitments and selflessness…

Mother Teresa once said, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you can live as you wish.”

This was before the cameras, before the fuss, before everything. I encourage you to read the whole thing here. Dr. Alveda King also spoke at the event. Sean gave a great speech as well.

By the way, Marjorie Dannenfelser wrote a great piece from the pro-life perspective about the success of the Governor’s Mama Grizzlies on June 8th. Well worth a read. The last few lines:

Abortion rights feminists should stop the name-calling and recognize their pro-life sisters’ efforts to move feminism in a more inclusive, responsive, and rational direction.

“Feminism.” Claim the term or don’t. But if you do, don’t assume you’ve got proprietary rights to define its meaning. You will be hugely disappointed this November.

Update: Here’s an article that pretty much makes the point Newsweek was trying to make without all the garbage.

Update II by Doug: Josh Painter and Benyamin Korn have also written articles on Newsweek’s pathetic publicity stunt. Both are excellent and well worth reading. And last, but not least, Governor Palin provides her own opinion of the Newsweek article and succinctly predicts the future viability of the tabloid magazine:

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