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The Torch Is Passed « The Washington Independent

No question, Sarah Palin is a trip. We have all been watching her and arguing about her since she appeared on the national scene. For women she is an absolute lightning rod.

Some are much taken with her, identifying with her folksiness and her feistiness and her self-confidence (that thing women are always worrying they don’t have enough of) — her winking feminine swagger. They see her as the real deal, a refreshing new kind of female with power.

But other women, those who have worked hard to grasp the details and minutiae of complicated issues, be they economic or political or whatever, are bothered, even offended, by the charming upstart now in line to be vice president of the United States.

No question, Palin stands on a kind of class fault line when it comes to women. I get that it works for some, the anti-elitist angle, the “darns” and “goshes,” the “I’m just a small town gal,” mantra she hits over and over. There is something both preternaturally girlish about her and very, very tough — a post-feminist hybrid, the hockey mom-turned-frontier state governor.

What she represents finally is a turning of the dial, the torch being passed to a new generation of women. This is a new version, a new model of ascendant female pol — a God-fearing, country-loving mother of five who stresses not her wide-ranging knowledge of the economy or the world and its myriad problems. Quite the contrary.

Let Joe Biden and company talk about Hamas and Saakashvili all they want. Let them flaunt the details of their knowledge. I, Sarah Palin, bring something else, America, something you all out there have, too — a good, solid sense of right and wrong, of the bright, shiny promise that is and will always be America. No need to get bogged down in details — that’s the game of the over-educated elites, the pointy-headed intellectuals. Make no mistake, Palin telegraphs with every down-home verbal tick, that’s not me.

This is a woman running on her common sense. That’s what she brings to the table. That’s the message she flashes to her sisters out there. We know what matters; we know what’s important. We’re the real capable ones, we moms—hockey or otherwise. We are the multi-taskers; we can diaper and run the PTA and, gosh darn, it isn’t really a big leap from there to the White House, now is it? That’s her winking subliminal text, hidden in everything she says. Time for the country to have a mom near — or at — the helm.

For women of an earlier generation, the second-wave feminist, baby-boom generation that fought so hard to compete with men and be taken seriously at the highest levels, there is something astonishing about watching someone run for the highest office by underscoring her familial and maternal skills.

That would have been unthinkable, certainly, for a Hillary Rodham Clinton, who out-policy-wonked the boys. Clinton studied harder, fought harder, talked harder — with more articulateness and range than most of her Washington colleagues. She was intense, driven, did her homework and certainly didn’t go around advertising her family skills. She was all about political skills. It must be hard for her, irritating, to say the least, watching this upstart gal make the rounds.

Palin is also unabashedly feminine and a tad flirty — certainly with the camera, pert and perky. “Can I call you Joe?” she asked to Biden out of the box—a bit of one-upping familiarity. Oh yes, this is, underneath the feminine, a fierce competitor—the testament given by those who have crossed her in Alaska and felt her ire.

But the notion of being unabashedly feminine, twinkly — that, too, for women pols — is something rare to say the least. The Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has a bit of girlishness herself, but her usual performance is more decorous, careful, and coated in pol-speak, than anything from Palin.

How she ultimately plays out, we don’t know. More than half of those polled don’t think she’s ready to be vice president, or, certainly, president. Her candidate is sliding and she will go with him.

We are at a time — perilous economic time — when answers are more of the essence than presence. In the debate Thursday, Palin navigated around tough questions she didn’t want to answer or didn’t know the answers to, mortgages and bankruptcy for example.

But for now, Palin is still up and running. And it is Hillary Clinton who, after a lifetime of mastering the intricacies of public life, is on the campaign sidelines.

Anne Taylor Fleming is a novelist, commentator and essayist for “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” She is the author of a memoir, “Motherhood Deferred: A Woman’s Journey.”

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