February 14, 2024
July 19, 2010
Mama Grizzlies: The Year of the Conservative Woman
By Kathryn Lopez ‘We don’t like this fundamental transformation, and we’re going to do something about it.” With that line, in her savvy “Mama Grizzlies” video, Sarah Palin may have captured not only the political mood of much of the country, but also why women seem to be getting ready to make tea — and political hay — this year.
Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, agrees that this is only a beginning and that this “year of the conservative woman” meme is a real growth opportunity for the Republican party: “I think there is a genuine chance to change the face of the GOP and reach an entire generation of women. Palin was the booster rocket.” This may not quite be Elizabeth Dole’s cup of tea. Palin signals, as Reed puts it, “a generational change” in the GOP “to a younger, feistier, post-feminist, Tea Party–style woman.” He adds that many of them “are Christian, conservative feminists . . . if that is not an oxymoron. At a minimum, the message of empowering women is a powerful subtext in their candidacies and their politics.”Good advertising is not everything in politics. But it sure doesn’t hurt. Kellyanne Conway, president of the polling company, says the former governor of Alaska, with her bearish message, “is calling for a Moms’ Mobilization to encourage millions of women like her to tell Washington to tighten its belt the way they’ve done. Women make up a majority of the workforce and account for 83 percent of household purchases. Palin is encouraging them to become more active and demanding as political consumers. Some are enraged, others engaged, but most are coming to a ballot box near you. Palin is a good messenger for this mobilization because she is one of them. They may like her — or not — but they are like her: a working mom with no Ivy League degree who thinks Washington’s ‘new math’ does not add up.” Many political observers thought the video was the opening salvo of — or at least the trailer for — the Sarah Palin 2012 presidential campaign. When, days later, her PAC issued impressive second-quarter fundraising results, that speculation only increased. But to focus on Palin is to underestimate what’s going on in American politics. It’s not just Palin or even the cast of other attractive women who are running for office as Republicans. The “year of the conservative woman” is manifesting itself in a big way in the tea-party movement. The Sam Adams Alliance, which has done a series of surveys on people who identify themselves as tea partiers, reports that at least 45 percent of tea-party leaders are women, including some who have never had a career outside the home but feel the need to organize their communities. Quinnipiac similarly has found 44 percent of self-identified tea-party supporters to be women. The Sam Adams Alliance’s Anne Sorock says she has seen women “empowered through the tea parties.” It’s the kind of movement the women’s movement would be if it weren’t really more about liberal politics than about representing women in America. There’s a tumult in our society today. We see it in Washington and we see it in our churches and our schools and even, not infrequently, our own families. And Americans are increasingly not comfortable with it and, in my experience, are increasingly determined to take action. Women do worry and may naturally be the arms to reach first to pull us back from this brink, to encourage a back-to-basics approach. “Attitudes about risk may partially account for their prominence in the movement,” John J. Pitney Jr., politics professor at Claremont McKenna College, offers. “Many studies suggest that women tend to be more risk-averse than men. In the past, this risk aversion helped liberals by making women more receptive to their arguments on issues such as environmental protection and nuclear proliferation. But now, a liberal administration is restructuring health care and running the federal debt up to the stratosphere — which a lot of people regard as scary and risky.” Conway agrees: Women generally favor modest change but fear and abhor overhaul, revolution, and transformation. It is easy to show how the past 18 months have been a radical departure from common sense and the solutions women tell pollsters they favor. Plus, Obama’s priority list does not match their own. They rejected the health-care bill; he signed it into law. They say jobs and the economy should be the top focus; his actions have made things worse. Conway believes the message of that Palin video has a powerful potential. No longer are women in politics cheered on only by a pink-T-shirted army of Planned Parenthood interns: Women’s savvy stewardship of kitchen-table economics is spilling over into conversancy with and concern about macroeconomic issues like bailouts, the cost and implications of overhauling health care, the federal budget deficit. It amazes me to hear women recite facts and figures about specific policy issues. With women looking at politics through green eye shadow, Palin is subtly challenging the tired “women’s right to choose” message of yesteryear as the best way to attract women to participate. And, while conservative women or women in Republican politics more generally are not a new phenomenon, what’s especially remarkable right now is that outside observers are noticing this new feminine pull in center-right politics. Conservative women are on the covers of magazines and the subject of prime-time debates. Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, wonders if “an unintended consequence of the Tea Party” might just be a change in the look of the Republican party nationally. Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, agrees that this is only a beginning and that this “year of the conservative woman” meme is a real growth opportunity for the Republican party: “I think there is a genuine chance to change the face of the GOP and reach an entire generation of women. Palin was the booster rocket.” This may not quite be Elizabeth Dole’s cup of tea. Palin signals, as Reed puts it, “a generational change” in the GOP “to a younger, feistier, post-feminist, Tea Party–style woman.” He adds that many of them “are Christian, conservative feminists . . . if that is not an oxymoron. At a minimum, the message of empowering women is a powerful subtext in their candidacies and their politics.” It’s not an oxymoron at all. It’s a factor that has been at the heart of so much of American family and church life. And now that the cultural upheaval that has been creeping into our lives since the Sixties is fundamentally threatening our national identity, the natural protective instincts of women are kicking in even on a political level, in an undeniable way. And here, it may be best to let the men have the last word. John Paul II called it the “feminine genius.” Alexis de Tocqueville chivalrously observed it in us: “If anyone asks me what I think the chief cause of the extraordinary prosperity and growing power of this nation, I should answer that it is due to the superiority of their women.” The rise of the mama grizzlies hardly spells “the end of men,” John Pitney emphasizes, knowing that one prominent magazine recently declared just that. It’s simply confirmation, once again, of the complementarity of the sexes and the gifts each one brings to the table, essential even for politics. Maybe it is all about sex, after all. Just not in the way the sexual revolution told us.
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