Palin sets out to reclaim feminism for the right

Sat, May 15, 2010, 01:00

The former governor’s giddy energy flows like an electrical current at anti-abortion gathering

A THOUSAND of Sarah Palin’s adoring fans gravitated from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and states further afield to hear her expound on the evils of abortion, Washington and what she calls the “lamestream media” at a fundraising breakfast here yesterday morning.

Palin was invited by the Susan B Anthony List, an anti-abortion group named after an early suffragist, which campaigns to defeat pro-choice candidates. Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the list, said Palin, who reportedly receives $100,000 (€80,700) per speaking engagement, delivered the keynote address as a favour, a “freebie”.

With mid-term elections in November, the list reserves special venom for Democrats who called themselves “pro-life” but voted for President Barack Obama’s healthcare Bill. (The group claims the Bill allocates federal funds for abortion. It does not.) The lion’s share of Susan B Anthony’s funds go to Sue Lowden, the anti-abortion candidate from Nevada who has surpassed Senate majority leader Harry Reid in opinion polls.

The average age in the packed banqueting room looked to be about 46 – Palin’s age. There were more women then men, and almost no black people. Some clutched Palin’s best-selling book, Going Rogue, and wore “Palin Power” baseball caps and “Team Sarah” badges. In conversation, they referred to her by her first name. Many were blonde, and through some unconscious mimicry wore Palin-style high heels and neat little suits.

“Ours is a 24/7 mission,” said Jane Abraham, the chair of the Susan B Anthony List, who introduced Palin. “We will fight every day, every hour, until every baby in America comes to term.”

Palin was “a role model” for her 16-year-old twins, Abraham said. “You have given us more courage to keep fighting.”

Palin swept on to the stage in a figure-hugging black suit, with a crucifix at her throat and a jewelled American flag in her lapel. “We Love Sarah” and “Vets for” said placards held high in the audience.

“Talk about courage and boldness; you all came through in [the presidential election in] 2008!” Palin exclaimed. “I appreciate you soooo much.”

Palin’s giddy gosh-golly-gee energy flowed through the huge room like an electrical current. She praised Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Carly Fiorina, the Senate candidate in“deep blue” (Democrat) California who “is brave enough to proclaim herself pro-life and pro-NRA”. Palin’s second appearance yesterday was to be before the National Rifle Association in North Carolina.

For decades, as Palin said to laughter, American feminists were found “in faculty lounges in east coast colleges”. She was reclaiming feminism for the right, defining herself as “a western feminist, influenced by the pioneering spirit of our foremothers who went across the country in wagon trains. They had dirt under their fingernails and could shoot a gun and push a plough . . . I feel a connection to that tough, gun-totin’ Annie Oakley feminism.”

Mothers were the antidote to “these policies coming out of Washington”, Palin said.

“We don’t like this road to national insolvency, being under the thumb of big government. It’s kind of a mom-awakening . . . The policies coming out of Washington are allowing us to be empowered, because moms know when things are going wrong.”

The Tea Party, the grassroots conservative movement that is pulling the Republican Party to the right, was good. The media was bad. “The media kind of crack me up,” Palin said. “They embed themselves in Tea Party rallies and they say, ‘Who are these creatures?’ Americans are smart enough to start holding the media accountable.” The media portrayed tea-partiers as racist and violent when they were “just hard-working, patriotic, liberty-loving Americans.”

Palin had gleaned nuggets of wisdom from hoardings and signs at Tea Party rallies.

“My kid is not your ATM,” she said to applause. “I do like that billboard that says, ‘Mr President, I need a freakin’ job’,” she continued. “And I like the one with George Bush’s face that says, ‘Miss me yet?’ Yes! We do!”

The mounting deficit was “immoral, unethical . . . generational theft”. Palin exhorted her fans: “Moms, rise up and say it’s enough! In Alaska, the mama grizzlies rear up – and you thought pitbulls were tough. There are a lot of mama grizzlies here in this room – common-sense, constitutional women.”

Palin’s audience listened most raptly when she recounted her last pregnancy, and that of her unmarried teenage daughter Bristol. When she learned that she was carrying a baby with Down syndrome, she said she told God, “I don’t think I can handle this: being governor, four kids already, my husband often away doing commercial fishing . . .”

But when Trig was born, she said she melted. “He looked up at me, and I thought, ‘He gave you to me and me to you . . .’ The recognition of Trig’s perfection has been a blessing. I want to tell women, ‘You will be blown away. Your life will be enhanced’. Trig is there in our life, showing us his golden heart. Trig has been the best thing that has ever happened to me and the Palin family.”

Thereupon, the audience burst into the longest of several standing ovations.

Palin moved on to the story of Bristol, who “didn’t expect to become pregnant at 17”, and “had to endure some public humiliation on a national stage”.

Again, the media were the villains. “Our culture and the media are sending the message that it would be easier if you abort your child,” Palin said. Bristol now advocates abstinence for teens.

“Why should I get clobbered for using myself as a lesson?” Palin said her daughter asks. Bristol’s infant too “turned into an awesome blessing”. The lesson was that “choosing life may not always be the easiest path, but it’s always the right path”.

Though Palin is Protestant, the half-dozen breakfast guests I spoke to at random were all Catholic. There was a sprinkling of clerical collars and wimples through the audience.

“I just wanted to look in on Sarah, and see how she’s doing,” said Father JD Zatalava, who’d travelled from Pennsylvania.

One or both of Palin’s parents were Catholic, the priest said, but they left the church. It bothered him a little. “I don’t think it’s wishful thinking, he added. “When you listen to her, she’s on the cusp of coming back.”