September
2nd 2008
Stand down, Dimmesdales

Posted under: American history, book reviews, class, Gender, the body, women's history

I don’t like Sarah Palin’s policies, which are extremely right-wing and are not the direction we need to go.  I don’t want her to be the next Vice President of the United States.  However, speculation about and scrutiny of her body, pregnancy, and sex life, or her daughter’s body, pregnancy, and sex life, and all discussions of leaking amniotic fluid, lactation practices, medical records, or anything at all relating to the sexuality and reproductive history of anyone in the Palin family are disgusting, beside the point, and moreover, a really dumb path for so-called “liberals” and “progressives” to go down.  (Aren’t we the party of sexual and reproductive liberty?  Do we or do we not believe in medical privacy rights?  Or does that all depend on whether we’re sniffing Republican or Democratic panties?)  Besides–guess who else had a teenaged mom (h/t TalkLeft)?

Please see these posts at Roxie’s World and Anglachel on why it’s never appropriate to make any woman’s (or teenaged daughter’s!) sexuality or reproductive history a political talking point, and to ask yourself how you would react if Bristol Palin weren’t just a media image to most of you but rather a student of yours.   (Thanks to Roxie for the Scarlet Letter comparison, a concept that I’ve borrowed from her.  A also stands for Arrogance, friends.)  All of the Dimmesdales out there should remove the logs from their own eyes before scrutinizing others for splinters.  Big Tent Democrat–and Bob Herbert–also explain why the Dimmesdales need to lay off.

Historiann will warn you again:  there are an awful lot of families out there who have dealt with teenaged pregnancy and who are helping to raise their own grandchildren.  Are those families going to be more sympathetic to the Palin family, or to the people who are gossiping about and laughing at them like city slicker collegiates chuckling at the antics of the small-town rubes?  Figure it out.  Doing the right thing morally just might be the right thing politically.

Here endeth the lesson.

41 Comments »

41 Responses to “Stand down, Dimmesdales”

  1. ej on 02 Sep 2008 at 8:42 am #

    Spot on, Historiann. The reason why I think the McCain/Palin ticket will fail is not because of anything related to their personal lives, but because their policies are completely out of step with what the country needs right now. This is particularly true of their stance on taxes for the middle class, oil, health care, need I go on?

    Those are the issues that voters want to hear about, and all this obsession with personal issues prevents us from having that conversation, the one that really matters.

    All this talk about Gov. Palin is merely a distraction from the real issues, the ones that people will think about when they pull that lever.

    And of course, it is totally inappropriate and icky as well.

    I think that’s why the Obama campaign is trying so hard to steer the conversation back to the issues-they realize that that is where their strength is, and that is what people want to hear more of.

  2. Profane on 02 Sep 2008 at 8:52 am #

    Damnit Historiann, I cannot handle all of this intellectual honesty, basic decency, and sane political discussion. You are hereby banished from my blogroll.

  3. Roxie on 02 Sep 2008 at 9:09 am #

    Thanks for the link and the shout-out, Historiann. Mom nearly barfed this morning when she woke up to see Bristol’s pregnancy was the lead headline in Wa Po — and that it was being compared to the hurricane in terms of distractions for the GOP convention. Damn those wombs anyway — Always getting the guys off-message.

    Good grief.

  4. Historiann on 02 Sep 2008 at 10:09 am #

    Hey there, ej, Profane, and Roxie–I thought you’d be interested to hear what I learned today on AM-760, Denver’s allegedly “progressive” talk radio:

    1. Sarah Palin can’t be trusted, because what kind of a mother would put her daughter in this kind of a situation by running for VP?

    2. We just feel so sorry for that poor girl, but you know that if it were Joe Biden’s daughter, the right wing press wouldn’t desist. Plus look at what they did to Chelsea Clinton and Amy Carter–what a sin!

    3. Sarah Palin clearly can’t manage her own family, so how can she ever be trusted to serve in high office in the U.S. government?

    4. Hillary Clinton really needs to step up and make the case that Palin isn’t worthy of her legacy. (Never mind that she already has. But–did I hear that right? It’s up to Hillary, once again, to clean up after the boys!)

    Keep it up, Dems! This isn’t just about gender and sexuality, either. This is about living up to those charges that Dems are “elitists” who are laughing at the rubes, the small-towners, the working class. I hope everyone is taking notes for the day when Sascha or Malia Obama find oppo researchers pawing through their panty drawers and following them into public restrooms to stick Clear Blue Easies into their used toilet bowls! I hope all of the Dems are ready for that!

  5. ortho stice on 02 Sep 2008 at 10:19 am #

    Historiann, what did you think of The New York Times’ front-page article that quoted a litany of women who question whether Governor Palin can be both a mother and a Vice President? http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/02/us/politics/02mother.html?pagewanted=all

    It seems members of the liberal-media establishment were caught so off guard by Governor Palin, that her selection as Senator McCain’s running mate was so unthinkable, that they’re now trying to undermine her candidacy with “biology.”

  6. Historiann on 02 Sep 2008 at 10:31 am #

    Ortho, I think it’s an absolute shame, a shande. But, we saw plenty of so-called liberal or feminist women attack Hillary Clinton during the primary with similar slurs and allegations, so it’s unsurprising. Women are part of the culture, and they sometimes are even more aggressive and vigorous about enforcing gender roles, especially when it comes to women who appear to be rising “above their station.”

    Even Michelle Obama unfortunately voiced a similar sexist concern trollish statement when she said, “If you can’t run your own house, you can’t run the White House.” I still wouldn’t license going after Michelle Obama or her daughters, of course. This just goes to show how sexist language and ideas are so readily at all of our disposal when it comes to trying to take uppity bitchez down a peg or two.

  7. Knitting Clio on 02 Sep 2008 at 10:41 am #

    I’m across the pond in Glasgow, finally found an internet cafe so am just getting caught up on this. I’d agree this is really sexist. Might make a case against abstinence-only sex education though.

  8. Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » “Obama says Palin’s family off limits” on 02 Sep 2008 at 10:43 am #

    [...] Once again HIstoriann lays it down good: I don’t like Sarah Palin’s policies, which are extremely right-wing and are not the direction [...]

  9. Historiann on 02 Sep 2008 at 10:50 am #

    KC–I’d tread very carefully with that one. There’s lots of real evidence beyond one possible anecdote that makes the case against abstinence-only. Feminists for Life, of which you note Palin is a member, is in favor of birth control. I still think the kids should be–MUST be–off the table, so long as they’re not engaged in criminal activity that directly impinges on or benefits a mother’s or father’s political career.

  10. hysperia on 02 Sep 2008 at 11:02 am #

    I wish I coulda said it better myself. What a nauseating cavalcade of ignorance.

    It’s going to take me some time to understand the comments of women whom I really do believe to be committed feminists. My world is being rocked by some of it and I’m not sure that the motive is wanting to “take an uppity bitch down”. Maybe something more like internalized misogyny, as in, we know we’re fair game for these kinds of stories, we know our daughters (nieces, sisters etc) are fair game for them; so we fail to respond respectfully to other women because we don’t respect ourselves. That may be overly psychological, but I’ve had to look deeply and carefully at this because of the respect I have for some of the women who are falling into what I perceive to be “the trap”.

  11. Profane on 02 Sep 2008 at 11:09 am #

    KC – that is what Roland Martin was just attempting to do on CNN. The assumptions within his argument amounted to the idea that he knew that abstinence only was the sole thing preached to Bristol, and that he knew what went on in Bristol’s bedroom.

  12. Shinhao Li on 02 Sep 2008 at 11:11 am #

    I agree, walk away from the story. It’s morally right and smart politics too.

    The media is so tone-deaf, they actually think this will hurt conservative support. Bullying a teenage mother, yeah, that’s smart. But they just can’t help themselves.

  13. Historiann on 02 Sep 2008 at 11:32 am #

    KC–I forgot to say, enjoy Scotland! I love it there. It seems to me like a great place to write in the summers. The weather’s not that great, so you’ll want to be inside a lot anyway, and the long days and late sunsets (around or after 10 p. in June and July) were incredibly energizing. Profane makes a good point–we don’t know (nor should we, please god!!!) the circumstances of this one pregnancy.

    Hysperia–I think I know what you’re getting at, and they’re good points. I think we’re both thinking along the same lines. I would argue that a fundamental disrespect for oneself (your point) is connected to anxiety that others may outshine one (my point). That is, because there are a lot of frustrated women out there who may realize too late that the Cult of True Womanhood is not the path to happiness, they’re especially anxious about women who have chosen different paths and may succeed in big ways because of it. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin are formidable women with formidable accomplishments–but those of us who are well-adjusted will say, “wow–I certainly couldn’t have done it, but good for them!” Women who fear they’ve taken the wrong path are more inclined to judge or want to punish women who took another path and look like they might enjoy themselves or be successful.

    As a very smart feminist philosopher and running partner used to say, “That kind of advice (i.e. blanket advice to all of womankind) only makes sense if one believes that women are all exactly alike.” We’d never make the same mistake of assuming that one way to be, one job, or one kind of family was right for all men. I don’t get why women are so eager to tear down and judge women who have different lives–it’s one of the biggest problems in feminism, perpetually. Sigh.

  14. Shinhao Li on 02 Sep 2008 at 2:39 pm #

    Historiann, you might find this article interesting. He echoes a lot of the points about Palin and the media reaction that both you and your readers have been making.

  15. Historiann on 02 Sep 2008 at 2:45 pm #

    Wow, Shinhao Li–that is a good piece, with a very interesting anecdote about how this may change people’s minds. (I also saw the linked Time Mag story–I think it’s a window into how the news plays in small towns.)

    I particularly liked this part: “I think part of the outrage one sees in much of the press and TV coverage of the Palin nomination is disappointed amour propre. We had not been talking about Palin; Palin had not occurred to us; therefore, by definition, Palin was not a worthy contender. Of course, it may turn out that she is not: knowing so little about her, we are not yet in a position to say. But it would do the press a world of good if she proves us wrong.”

    Yep. Palin will pay now, in part because the media weren’t able to pick this nominee.

    These are strange times. I found myself agreeing with Richard Viguerie when I heard him interviewed this afternoon! (I’m sure he’d be just as surprised by this as I am.)

  16. Historiann on 02 Sep 2008 at 2:49 pm #

    Aaaaand, just skimming over the first 20 comments or so, it looks like Dems are determined to pile on Palin and her daughter! Super classy, Dems. Keep it up–you’ll have lots of time to rethink your prurience and bad political judgment while the Republicans are planning one hell of an inaugural ball…

    Shameless.

  17. Susan on 02 Sep 2008 at 5:37 pm #

    I totally believe in medical privacy rights. But — for better or worse — every presidential and vp candidate for some time has ended up releasing medical records. That’s not some special standard for women. It would end scuzzy speculation and enable people to deal with reality.

    I don’t care about Bristol’s pregnancy, and I wish her luck in marrying her boyfriend. I do care about Palin’s values insofar as they would have an impact on me and my god-daughters & grand-daughters. To that extent her actions are windows on her thinking. But yes, let’s get on to what Palin thinks & knows. . . and what the choice of her says about McCain. THAT is the story that we should be following. (How had I missed that he liked to gamble?)

  18. Historiann on 02 Sep 2008 at 5:54 pm #

    I see what you’re saying, Susan. I didn’t know that VP candidates released their medical records–maybe because they don’t get as much attention/scrutiny. (Wait–I’m sure you’re right, because Cheney’s clearly been at death’s door for years, and there’s minute scrutiny of his health problems.)

  19. Susan on 02 Sep 2008 at 6:37 pm #

    Historiann, I’m pretty sure that in 2000, Cheney released his medical records for precisely this reason. . . But it’s really the Eagleton thing.

  20. Profane on 02 Sep 2008 at 6:46 pm #

    Random thought of the evening. The subject of my next three Ren/Ref classes will be More’s Utopia. This should produce some very interesting teachable moments should my students be on the ball. . .

  21. Historiann on 02 Sep 2008 at 7:15 pm #

    Wow, Profane–good luck with that! I hope you’ll take a break from sports blogging to report on your results with More…

  22. mary on 02 Sep 2008 at 8:17 pm #

    Okay, historiann. I know I’m late to blogshere tonight. But a combination of catching up from spending the weekend packing up my folks’ house and my new commitment to not use your blog as a way to procrastinate doing my schoolwork has kept me away. You (and all this absurd talk about Palin’s children) have me convinced that there’s more to Palin than upholding what I think I called a non-threatening, traditional image—but none of this changes my opinion of her actual policies.

  23. Historiann on 02 Sep 2008 at 8:41 pm #

    Mary–I’m not out to change anyone’s minds on her policies! Judge them as you see fit–I think they’re wrong, but everyone has to make up hir own mind.

  24. hysperia on 02 Sep 2008 at 9:01 pm #

    Hi Historiann – thanks for your response to my comment and yes, I had thought after I left it that we were saying much the same thing.

    And you said this:

    “I don’t get why women are so eager to tear down and judge women who have different lives–it’s one of the biggest problems in feminism, perpetually. Sigh.”

    And yes, we feminists have been through this crap before and I guess I like to forget it. Then get all shocked when it happens again. Sigh me too.

  25. hysperia on 02 Sep 2008 at 9:21 pm #

    I needed to come back and say, I guess I AM shocked by the number of feminists who think that at least some aspect of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy is fair game for political football. So I guess I wonder, have all these people become some kind of semi-illusory media figures with whom we really can’t identify? I ask that because all I have to do is think of that young woman for fifteen seconds and I believe that I have good instincts about what is and is not ok with respect to her. So I’m wondering, where IS the compassion? Where IS the empathy? Never mind the feminism.

  26. “Mommy Wars” At A Whole New Level « mirabile dictu on 02 Sep 2008 at 9:30 pm #

    [...] UPDATE III:  This post is too long already, but I have to add this moving post by Anglachel via Historiann [...]

  27. Historiann on 02 Sep 2008 at 9:33 pm #

    Great questions–you don’t even have to be a feminist to ask them, too!

    Some of Obama’s supporters are frequently his worst enemies. Many of them seem incapable of imagining or believing that anyone might perceive something differently than they do, and are derisive and scornful of those who disagree with them. They have great intensity, but few persuasive skills, and as you say, no empathy.

  28. Ellen Petry Leanse on 03 Sep 2008 at 9:29 am #

    Thank you for taking the higher path and keeping some dignity and equality in this discussion. I have strong opinions about Palin and I do not view her as a qualified candidate. And I am offended that the party has (to quote a sage friend) “affronted feminists by putting up a female candidate so that voters can vote Republican and feel that they’re doing something “progressive” even though she’s a hardline conservative on most every issue.”

    BUT.

    We are exposing ourselves as hypocrites if we bring reproductive issues into the discussion. It’s time for all of us to move beyond habitual, meaningless ways that we know don’t, and won’t work. We can do better than that. Yes, we can.

  29. Historiann on 03 Sep 2008 at 9:35 am #

    Right, on Ellen. Except, I don’t think the Palin pick was about picking up Hillary Clinton partisans–not to any meaningful degree. If McCain had picked someone like Christine Todd Whitman, a moderate pro-choice former Gov. of NJ, now THAT would have been a play for the PUMAs. But Palin? Not so much–she’s there to toss the red meat to the evangelicals and values voters.

  30. James on 03 Sep 2008 at 11:04 am #

    I agree, Historiann. Some of the attacks have been shameful. One caveat however. Some aspects of her family values, which will be trumpeted by her through her campaign placed in the context of her policies reveals the cold-hearted realities of the Republican Social Conservative agenda. I’m thinking of such things as denying state funding for teenage mothers. See Buck
    Naked Politics
    for the details.

  31. Historiann on 03 Sep 2008 at 12:13 pm #

    Hi James–good to hear from you. I agree–but since her policies are so egregious, there’s so much to work on from there. Why bring the kids, pregnancies, and leaking amniotic fluid into it, y’know?

  32. ej on 03 Sep 2008 at 1:43 pm #

    So my question is, where do you draw the line? Last night was all about John McCain’s character-how who he is makes him suited for the job. No mention of any policies he would implement. And clearly, they are going to try to sell Palin in the same way-her life story is part of the appeal. The Dems did the same thing last week, in their attempt to “introduce Obama” to the country. Personal life takes center stage at these moments.

    So when they make it about the person, what do you say in response? (Assuming, of course, you are trying to run a respectable. respectful campaign, and believe certain issues are off limits).

    It seems to me that this goes back to your distinction between “do” candidates and “be” candidates. When a campaign makes the personal political, what is the line between appropriate and inappropriate? Where you draw the line between public and private when the two are so often conflated in today’s understanding of a “good candidate”?

    I ask these questions in a completely non-partisan way, because I think they apply to both parties at the moment.

  33. Historiann on 03 Sep 2008 at 4:18 pm #

    Good questions. Children unquestionably are used by their parents, by both parties, all of the time. Malia and Sascha Obama are part of the package that sells the Obama family as America’s Next First Family. Ditto the Bidens, McCains, and Palins.

    While the children may enjoy the attention, it’s not their decision to be thrust into the national spotlight. So everyone else must back off–the news media, but especially the political opposition: it’s not just morally right, it’s also politically right. Attacking or holding up for scrutiny someone else’s minor child is like trying to win votes by kicking dogs. You’ll (rightly) look like the bully in the long run.

    As for adult children: have you noticed how few adult children of presidents stay in the spotlight, unless they go into politics themselves? Most of them happily flee the media glare as soon as they can. In the case of adult children, it would only make sense to slam them if they’re involved in criminal activity, preferably criminal activity that directly benefits the parent’s political campaign, or hurts the political campaign of hir opposition. Someone’s kids drug problems, DUIs, etc.–not that interesting, and not really anyone else’s business.

    So yeah, it stinks that politicians can use their own children, but 1) who wants to beat up a kid, and 2) it has ever been thus, so who cares? I don’t vote for someone because ze has a “beautiful family,” so it’s not the kind of thing that I really care about, but a lot of people like to see politicians’ families. I think the best political parents are like the Clintons, who really shielded their daughter and used their privileged position to expose her to things that would enrich her understanding of the world, and only when she was old enough to appreciate it. She’s about the best-raised child to come out of the White House–whereas the Kennedys, Fords, Reagans, and Bushes have all had their problems with drugs, alcohol, or bad relationships with the parents.

    But, that’s just what I think. The kids have it tough, no question about it. What’s your line?

  34. ej on 03 Sep 2008 at 4:23 pm #

    That all makes sense. It does seem as if Chelsea Clinton has become the poster child for being a normal adult of political parents. She seems as if she’s thrived since leaving the Whitehouse. More power to her!

    But what about the candidates themselves. Where do you draw the line between policies and personalities, especially when they seem to be blurring them.

  35. Historiann on 03 Sep 2008 at 4:34 pm #

    Oh, I see where you’re going. Yes, the Republicans seem to be running a campaign that’s totally a be-campaign with be-candidates this year: the aging war hero and the moose-hunting family values Western state governor.

    I don’t know where to draw the line, except that the line should be drawn at the same place for women and men candidates. I think it will be almost impossible to go after Palin personally without it quickly turning ugly. Republicans are rallying around her, and as Shinhao Li pointed out earlier on this blog, Republicans love to run against the media and will fight to protect their own. If she does halfway decently tonight, it will be a win for her. She’s been thoroughly bumpkinized and trashed in the media this week, so as long as she doesn’t mispronounce too many words or fall off the stage, she’ll be hailed as the next coming of Ronald Reagan.

    Lowering expectations always worked for Bush. Once again, Dems like to let everyone know that they’re so superior and that they got better grades in college and joined fancier eating clubs. They’d rather do that than win elections, I think.

  36. ej on 03 Sep 2008 at 4:46 pm #

    Yeah, maybe that’s why they’ve won so many elections of late. They realize that if you make it about the person, and people are reticent to attack the person, you really can silence your opponents. Assuming, of course, your opponents have a sense of decency and self-respect and don’t level personal attacks.

    Perhaps the Dems think that in making this election about Obama as a person, they’ve stolen a page from the Republican play book.

    We’ll see if it works.

  37. Historiann on 03 Sep 2008 at 5:40 pm #

    That’s where the underground nasty, false e-mails and the whisper campaigns are working–on who Obama is. Historically, it’s not been a winning strategy for Democrats.

    I think they ran a “be” campaign in the primary anyway was because his record in public life is very thin compared to the last century of Dem candidates for president, going back perhaps to Woodrow Wilson. He didn’t have a substantial record of accomplishment to look at, so it has to be all about character and judgment, right? Wilson ran for President in 1912 after having served as New Jersey’s governor only since 1911! Somebody ought to point that out to all of these Palin mockers. Even Kennedy had served a few terms in congress and was completing his first term as U.S. Senator when he ran and won. (Carter may be a closer comparison, but he had completed a full 4 year term as governor, 1971-75, before he ran for president–relatively restrained by comparison to Wilson!)

  38. Profane on 03 Sep 2008 at 8:00 pm #

    Clinton aides: Palin treatment sexist

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/politico/20080904/pl_politico/13129

    A reasonably fair rundown of reaction in the ‘MSM’.

  39. Professor Zero on 05 Sep 2008 at 7:40 pm #

    You’re right, of course. In my conservative area what I’ve heard on Bristol’s pregnancy is more the opposite: that she’s the shining example of having made the most “moral” choice in her situation.

    That’s what bothers me. When I was her age we had *just* gotten over the idea that her current plan – pregnancy in high school and marriage to the father to cover that – was the only choice. Having this NOT be the only choice had taken generations of work. And it was SO amazing to have it not be the only choice at last, and the idea of not being judged for your choices was SO new.

    But by now it often seems to me that barefoot and pregnant is turning into the new ideal, if not what people are coerced into again – now not as luck of the draw, but as Most Moral Model and so on. So I guess I’m saying that I hope right wing politicians / media don’t exploit this for *their* political ends, either.

  40. Professor Zero on 05 Sep 2008 at 7:46 pm #

    P.S. And, yes – this whole thing about how it’s “the person” and not their views, plans, and policy proposals is VERY problematic. I really do not understand this obsession (which I see as “American”) with “the person” and “their qualifications” as opposed to what they stand for and what they want to do. Am I naive … is it because we recognize, already, that they’re going to have to change their views and plans once they get in, so that these are immaterial, really???

  41. Men Who Get It : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 08 Sep 2008 at 12:08 am #

    [...] See her latest post on Palin and how her fundamentalism is not being read accurately by the Demoratic Dimmesdales among [...]

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