Magazine article The American Conservative

Maternal Flame

Magazine article The American Conservative

Maternal Flame

Article excerpt

Sarah Palin's family-Mendly appeal.

WHY, IN ONE UPROARIOUS week of American politicking that not even H.L. Mencken would have expected, has the obscure governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, outraged roughly one half of the country and overjoyed the other?

What intrigues people about elections aren't the platform planks. Deep down, political contests are about picking symbolic champions. Just as Barack Obama, recently of the Illinois legislature, has excited tens of millions by his emphasis on his bloodlines, by his implication that national racial reconciliation is "in my DNA," the overstaffed life story of the caribou huntress and mother of five (and soon to be grandmother at age 44) embodies the oldest boast Americans have made about their homeland: the fecundity of the frontier.

Compared to Obama's much-lauded but tedious life, cautiously plotted in countless Chicago backrooms, the Alaskan-sized lustiness of Governor Palin's full-throttle biography-the onlyin-Alaska factoids about her keep piling up like an Old West tall tale-always leaves me laughing.

Consider, for example, Palin's husband lbdd. What kind of man could be married to a woman so hormonally exuberant, with her dual archetypes straight out of a Camille Paglia reverie: half Alaskan Amazon, half Venus of Willendorf? Exactly the kind you'd expect he works as both a North Slope oilfield roughneck and a salmon fisherman. He's also won the state's snowmobile championship, the 2,000-mile Tesoro Iron Dog race, four times. He only finished fourth this year because he had to ride the last 400 miles with a broken arm after being thrown 70 feet Did I mention he's part Eskimo?

Mrs. Palin's instant ascent to frontier folk hero explains some of the unhinged hatred felt by Obama supporters. They'd been fantasizing about their genetically nuanced man of the future, their political Tiger Woods, when they were blindsided by a figure out of America's buried past, a merrily comic Wild West character in the tradition of Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane. She's already inspired hundreds of one-liners in the Chuck Norris mode-"As head of Alaska's National Guard, Sarah Palin taught troops how to scare agrenade into not exploding"-the modern equivalent of all the yarns about Davy Crockett.

The even more fundamental reason underlying all the fury on one side and amusement on the other is that this brouhaha centers around female fertility.

In more than a few liberals, she sets off the same creepy stalker behavior that Michelle Malkin has endured for years. Palin has the accent of Francis McDormand's classic character Marge Gunderson, the heavily pregnant lady sheriff who shoots the bad guy in "Fargo," but, as Obama has discovered, Palin has an old point guard's sharp elbows. The littlestudied but no doubt sizable Nerd Bloc is excited by pictures of an attractive woman shooting big guns, just like in their favorite Angelina Jolie movies.

Human beings can't help feeling strongly about making babies. Look at the celebrity gossip columns. The whois-sleeping-with-whom stuff can't compete with the pregnancy news. Stars now auction off exclusive rights to the first photos of their offspring, even though all newborns look alike. Pictures of the new twins from the most celebrated breeding stock-Jolie and Brad Pitt-went for a reported $14 million.

An obsession in politics with breeding is both very old (hereditary monarchy) and very contemporary. The main qualifications of the current president and this year's Democratic runner-up are that they are, respectively, the scion and consort of ex-presidents. …

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