Crisis of Conservatism? The Republican Party, the Conservative Movement and American Politics after Bush

By Joel D. Aberbach; Gillian Peele | Go to book overview

7
Pro-Women, Pro-Palin, Antifeminist
Conservative Women and Conservative Movement Politics

RONNEE SCHREIBER

Take that feminists—here is a woman of accomplishment who brings a
fresh face to traditional values and models the type of woman most girls
want to become.1

Hillary Clinton’s impressive run for the Democratic presidential nomination generated national attention about women in politics. When she left the race discussions about gender, sexism, and elections were muted. Enter Sarah Palin. As the first Republican woman nominated to be a vice presidential candidate, Palin’s presence ignited intense debates and discussions about feminism, conservatism, and the significance of women in electoral politics. That she is a conservative Republican, however, meant that the public discourse about women and politics shifted and entered new territory.

Unlike Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin is decidedly conservative. She is opposed to legal abortion, favors limited government involvement in social programs, endorses tax cuts and heartily advocates the teaching of “Intelligent Design” in the classroom. Yet like Clinton she sees herself as representing women. In this way, Palin embodies the many faces of a growing conservative women’s movement in the United States—a movement that has significant implications for the future of conservative and gender politics broadly speaking. I have argued elsewhere that people should not underestimate Palin’s appeal to women.2 There was a justifiable feminist outcry when she was nominated, because Palin does not support most goals of national feminist organizations. Debates have ensued about whether she is a “new feminist,”3 but these miss a more critical point—that Palin represents decades of conservative women’s activism and there is nothing new about her or her politics. Indeed, McCain’s belief that a socially conservative, politically successful woman could help the Republican Party was, in general, an insightful one. Conservative women have

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