Hillary Clinton and Palin

A Palin of our own or a charismatic H. Clinton?

Rebecca Traister and Anna Holmes want a progressive Sarah Palin to rise up from the Democratic doldrums and said as much in this Sunday’s New York Times, two years to the day since Palin first appeared on the political scene. This swoon-worthy duo of feminist thinkers is critical of the Democratic party, which they feel hasn’t cultivated enough female leaders in prominent positions and consistently asks women to hide their feminism under a bushel and compromise on feminist issues (ala healthcare reform and abortion). They write:

But as women of a different generation — of, gulp, Sarah Palin’s generation — we wonder if Democrats shouldn’t look to her for twisted inspiration, and recognize that the future of women in politics will be about coming to terms with (and inventing) new models.

I’m with them on just about every account. As I wrote in a column ages ago for the American Prospect, there’s no doubt in my mind that the same feminists who bemoan Sarah Palin’s vacuous spunk have a lot to learn from her about how to preach to the unconverted. But there was a word missing from Traister and Holmes’ column that I see as imperative: performance.

The question, to my mind, is not: do we have something to learn from Sarah Palin, as both feminists and Democrats? The question is: how can powerful women perform an authentic, inspiring politics? Palin’s got the performance part down to a science, but there’s no substance behind it. Is there a way for female politicians to affect people, as she has, to feel heard, seen, and galvanized to more engaged citizenry, without appealing to the lowest common denominators of fear and hatred?

One of the key reasons that Obama defeated Clinton in 2008 was because he was better at projecting a refreshing, relatable politics. I could write a Ph.D. dissertation on why Clinton failed at this–one part innate personality, one part voters’ sexist subconscious, one part husband’s shadow etc. I, personally, don’t want a progressive Palin–all performance and no integrity; I want a charismatic Hillary Clinton.

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