Can Palin’s non-traditionalist role be justified from a traditionalist point of view?

LA writes to Laura W.:

I think Palin is remarkable.

At the same time, a woman running a state, and running for VP, with a five month old baby, is wrong.

Laura W. replies:

Palin has the opportunity to use this fact to conservative ends. If she is a genuine conservative, she could create a shining example here by making it clear that her situation is exceptional and that while she gave up raising her children in order to serve her country (not to crack the glass ceiling), the highest civic duty of ordinary American women is responsibly to raise the citizens of tomorrow. Phyllis Schlafly obviously didn’t spend gobs of time with her children either, but she worked for the betterment of the lives of those who did, and, in an age when motherhood was cheapened and denigrated, defended its essential worth as a life’s vocation. The point isn’t that every single conservative mother must raise her children herself or that every conservative woman must have children, but that each sees that as the best working model for a well-functioning society and openly promotes it. Women must have the freedom to create their lives, and not have to conform them to unbending absolutes, but they shouldn’t feel free to toy with or disparage those common ideals. It will be interesting to see if Palin can resist the temptation by the media to cheer self-absorbed feminist ambition.

Laura continues:

You once said, “Nothing good has come of feminism. Nothing.” I wasn’t sure if I agreed with you at the time. I would say no long-term goods have come to society from feminism, but there have been undeniable benefits to individuals. In any event, you will have to qualify your statement if Sarah Palin turns out, as some are predicting, to be the savior of American conservatism.

LA replies:

Why do you need feminism in order to have a Sarah Palin?

Women have had political rights in this country since the early 20th century. Feminism is not needed to enable a woman to run for office.

Laura replies:
Palin is the product of a feminist culture. Women don’t aspire to high office and fight their way to the top in a non-feminist culture. A woman governor or president is not born, she is made. I’m not trying to be excessively argumentative or to upset the joy many feel at the possibility of defeating Obama. But I am struggling to follow the general line of reasoning at VFR regarding Palin’s nomination and feminism in general.

Many readers have portrayed Palin as an Annie-get-your-gun, rugged individualist; a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington political upstart who will bring a breath of fresh air to the White House; a true conservative who upholds family and God; a likable and attractive woman who hunts and fishes with the guys; a woman who can overcome her relative lack of experience and become a national leader out of sheer force of character.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that all of the above are true. Let’s go one step further and predict that Palin will be the greatest conservative leader since Ronald Reagan and will help Republicans not only win the White House this year and four years from now, but regain control of Congress for the next decade.

There’s only one problem. And that is that Palin is a woman. And you either believe that the highest reaches of government are the preserve of men, or you do not. Now, if you hold to the view that it’s okay for women to become the leaders of a democratic nation, you certainly are not unreasonable. It is reasonable to believe women should do everything men do. It is not, however, reasonable to believe that women should do everything men do and then complain about the effects their efforts to do everything men do have on society at large. That is unreasonable and illogical. If you accept the good of feminism in some areas of life, you must be willing to put with its ill-effects in others. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

There was a long discussion at VFR recently about women’s dress and the degradation in the appearance of women. Unfortunately, a big reason why women dress this way is not because they are more immoral than women of the past. It is largely, though not exclusively, because they are busier than women of the past. They run into a store, grab a camisole and go. In contrast, women once spent many hours on the niceties of their wardrobe. They also spent much time on the niceties of a pleasant well-ordered home in which children were taught respectful behavior and fed decent food. Today, the average woman is more like Sarah Palin, who, according to the Wall Street Journal, commutes in an SUV 45 miles each way to work every day from the family home. In other words, on top of what must be at least 60 hours on the job, she spends at least ten hours a week in the car even though she is a mother of five children.

Most women today are like Sarah Palin, who, according to the Wall Street Journal, in the eighth month of pregnancy refused her doctor’s advice to remain at home because she was starting to experience labor contractions and traveled to Dallas to make a speech. “I was not going to miss that speech,” she said, boasting of a decision to put the health of her child at risk for the sake of her job. Most women are like this not because they are more selfish than others, but because they are told by the world at large it is noble to pursue a career and that home is merely a sideline.

Again, it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that it’s worth the cost to the family for women to do everything men do. But it’s unreasonable to do so and then gripe and moan about the general downturn in civility. You can’t have everything.

LA replies:

But the justification of Palin began with your initial reply to me (which surprised me, since you have been so anti-her). You said that there is a general rule, but that we also allow (or ought to allow) for exceptions to the rule whereby some women serve the traditional family in non-traditional ways.

By contrast, I was the one who began the exchange by saying it’s wrong for her to be doing what she is doing.

So it seems to me that you are the one who is in contradiction now, not me.

Laura replies:

Great point! And absolutely true. I am sorry for the contradictions. I was thinking out loud.

Here was my line of reasoning, which started very early this morning.

“This is so depressing,” I thought. “Why are all these ‘traditionalists’ ga-ga over a woman candidate? Is there any way I can see some good in this? It’s not that I personally dislike Palin. It’s just that I see her way of life as a symbol of much that is wrong.”

That’s when I wrote that comment about Palin’s making conservative use of her position.

But then I thought:

“The problem is that a true conservative woman would believe she shouldn’t even be in such a position in the first place. The other problem is that it is highly unlikely Palin will make conservative use of her position, because she is a feminist and a product of a feminist culture.”

That’s when I said that you must acknowledge that you believe in feminism to a degree.

Here’s the bottom line. I could not vote for her, and I believe that traditionalists who accept her candidacy merely out of pragmatism must abandon at least one central ideal. I feel Palin’s personal qualities and brilliance are utterly beside the point.

LA replies:

I’ll leave this exchange as is for the moment, with Laura’s and my respective and shared contradictions in place, which will have to be worked out further.

- end of initial entry -

Adela G. writes:

TCM is showing Breaker Morant this morning. I turned it on in time to see an immaculate British officer bound up the steps of an exquisitely furnished porch. It was a beautiful moment, more than that, it was a symbol of vanished elegance and order. I heard myself exclaim, “Ah! Back in the days when men were men and wicker was wicker!”

Then I realized that one of the reasons I like this film is the relative absence of women in the public decision-making sphere. That, of course, brought me to thinking about Sarah Palin.

What the heck is a putatively conservative female doing running for vice-president of the United States a few months after giving birth to a child with special needs?

Now, if she were married and explained that she’d decided to forgo motherhood in the service of her country, I would have no problem with her. But raising a family and running a government are two of the hardest jobs in the world, so far as I can tell. You cannot hope to do both competently. And it is against all traditionalism stands for to neglect one’s duties to family and to country. You can forego one for the other for the sake of both. But you cannot try to do both, except that you end by neglecting one or the other to the eventual detriment of both.

She’s not a traditionalist, she’s a gun-totin’ feminist.

I can set aside my shock at this cognitive dissonance only because I believe the election of Obama would do permanent and serious damage to America. Better to have some muddled feminist as second banana than some “black” empty suit in the top job.

Have we really come to this?

September 2

M. Mason writes:

To address some of the understandable concerns raised by Laura W. about this topic and the important primary question Mr. Auster raises here, I will add this to what I said earlier. I apologize for the length of it, but the subject does call for some argumentation.

As a member of the evangelical Christian community (and by that I’m not referring to the corrupted, feminized, modern-day liberal version of it, but rather to the robust, Scripturally-based evangelicalism of several generations ago) I subscribe to a traditionalist view of gender roles. But modern society is different from a Christian community; it is neither Christian nor a community. Once a person accepts that obvious fact, I see no necessary reason for objecting to the idea of a woman President or Prime Minister per se—at least from the point of view of Christian principles, even though I believe a traditional Christian view of gender roles also represents the best approach available for society as a whole. God does not absolutely forbid women to be leaders in society, generally speaking, but when that does occur it’s usually because men have abdicated their traditional role and responsibilities.

There is an excellent example of this from the Old Testament in the story of Deborah—an Israelite wife and mother, an insightful woman of integrity and the most noble person in the Book of Judges. She was a strong woman in a day of weak men and became the impetus for great good during a dark period in Israel’s history. Her strength and charismatic leadership was used to motivate men and was the catalyst that roused the faithful remnant of the nation. There is a lot that could be said about her, but most importantly what Deborah’s godly example demonstrates is that such women occupying temporary leadership positions want to compliment men and strengthen them to be leaders, providers, and protectors. In contrast, women with a liberal egalitarian agenda want to replace men in these roles.

Now concerning this present situation, when Laura said a few days ago that “Perhaps Palin offers a level of charisma and conviction no man in America possesses. Wow. Are things that bad?” I believe she essentially zeroed in on the crux of the matter. We have a nation half-full of absent, passive and weak “conservative” men, a situation which may now literally force the emergence of a strong, conservative, charismatic female in a position of high political leadership in our country at this critical point in time to fill the void. I just had a conversation two days ago with a woman who hosts a popular conservative radio talk show that airs up and down the East Coast and she thinks that by making this choice McCain—perhaps unwittingly—saved the Republican party. Had he chosen a Lieberman or just other male liberal as a running mate, McCain would have torn the party in half. Whether she’s right about that is a matter of opinion, but one thing is clear—as Mr. Auster said during a conversation earlier this year: “In many respects the GOP is a vehicle for conservatism and indeed the most powerful vehicle for conservatism in existence. And therefore, if conservatism were driven out of the GOP, conservatism itself would be radically disempowered.”

In previously defending Palin up to a certain point, I was dismissing lesser objections from those deriding her for being a former beauty queen, sportscaster and having a thin resume, etc., none of which, I believe, are disqualifying as far as her being a VP candidate is concerned. However, with what we’re learning about her compromised personal and family life, along with what appears to be her liberal egalitarian view of leadership, whether she can effectively occupy the role of a modern-day incarnation of Deborah to help revitalize a true, traditionalist conservatism is what is now in doubt.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 01, 2008 08:24 AM | Send

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