Miller, Lisa, Newsweek
Byline: Lisa Miller
To white evangelical women, Sarah Palin is a modern-day prophet, preaching God, flag, and family--while remaking the religious right in her own image.
Another memoirist might prefer to keep such matters private, but Sarah Palin is not another memoirist. In Going Rogue: An American Life, Palin describes, perhaps for the first time in the history of political autobiography, a furtive trip to an out-of-state drugstore to obtain a do-it-yourself pregnancy test. This was in the fall of 2007, when the 43-year-old mother of four was governor of Alaska and began to notice "some peculiar yet familiar physical symptoms, like the smell of cigarettes making me feel more nauseated than usual." So, while on business in New Orleans--at a time and in a place where her anonymity was still possible--Palin procured the kit. In the privacy of her hotel room, she "followed the instructions on the...box. Slowly a pink image materialized on the stick.
Palin has already overshared: nothing makes a person, let alone a politician, appear more vulnerable, more ordinary, and more unambiguously female than a scene in a bathroom where she pees on a stick. But then she defies a generation of pro-life activists who preached that the life of the fetus is sacred, no matter what an individual woman wants. For a split second, Palin--already at the limits of her time and energy--stops to consider the chaos another baby will create in her life. These are really less than ideal circumstances, she thinks. And then the inconceivable. I'm out of town. No one knows I'm pregnant. No one would ever have to know. Any woman who has faced a pregnancy test with hope or with dread can picture the governor sitting there, alone with her dilemma, certain that her future will change. We know, of course, how the story ends. Trig, diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome, was born just months before his mother's vice presidential run.
At a breakfast in Washington, D.C., last month, Palin, wearing a rosarylike cross around her neck and a sparkly Tea Party lapel pin, told a version of the Trig story to 550 women who had paid at least $150 each to the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization devoted to supporting pro-life female politicians. When Trig was born, Palin recounted, "they lay him in my arms, and he just kind of melted right into my chest...And it was just like he was saying, 'See, God knows what he's doing, and this is going to be good'...I tell you truly, Trig has been the best thing that has ever happened to me and the Palin family." Around the room, women rose from their chairs, stamping their feet, clapping, and hollering. And when they all finally sat down, Palin smiled like a beauty queen and said, "Yes. Bless you."
Let's face it: the Trig story is a women's story, the kind girlfriends share over coffee or in church. It has all the familiar elements of evangelical testimony: tribulation and dread; trust in God; and, finally, great blessings. Although many white evangelical men adore Palin, a certain kind of conservative Christian woman worships her. And it is these women Palin has been actively courting as she crisscrosses the country talking about Trig to women's and pro-life organizations.
To millions of women, Palin's authenticity makes her a sister in arms--"Sisters!" she called out in Washington, as if at a revival--a beautiful, fearless, principled fighter who shares their struggles. To a smaller number, she is a prophet, ordained by God for a special role in the cosmic battle against the forces of evil. A 2009 profile in the Christian magazine Charisma compared Palin to the Old Testament's Queen Esther, who saved her people, in this case the Jews, from annihilation.
Palin has been antagonizing women on the left of late by describing herself as a "feminist," a word she uses to mean the righteous, Mama Bear anger that wells up when one of her children is attacked in the press or her values are brought into question. …