By Ellen Goodman
Who would have dreamed that a hockey mom could produce such a bounce? I didn’t even think the puck was supposed to get off the ice.
But now that so many women have skated over to her side, allow me another metaphor. Sarah Palin is the Zamboni of this campaign.
This hockey mom rolled onto the ice, did a couple of turns around the rink and managed to clear off all the nasty old Republican detritus. She gave the Grand Old (Boy) Party a new image, or at least a new surface.
Let us remember that Republicans had long targeted working mothers as the centerpiece of the culture wars. They ran an entire convention on Marilyn Quayle’s line, “Most women do not wish to be liberated from their essential natures as women.”
Now their heroine is the in-your-face governor who once said: “To any critics who say a woman can’t think and work and carry a baby at the same time, I’d just like to escort that Neanderthal back to the cave.”
Hey, wasn’t that our line? Weren’t the Neanderthals who wanted women to stay in their traditional roles these same conservatives? Suddenly, we are watching the parade of the flip-floppers, patriarchs with pedicures.
Who can forget James Dobson, who blamed the decline and fall of morality on “working mothers and permissiveness,” and told us that real women “are merely waiting for their husbands to assume leadership.” He now says, “I believe Sarah Palin is God’s answer.”
Who can forget Phyllis Schlafly saying “flight from home is a flight from yourself, from responsibility, from the nature of woman.” She now says, “I think a hardworking, well-organized CEO type can handle it very well.”
Who can forget Pat Buchanan, scriptwriter of the culture wars? He now says, “For heaven’s sakes, I mean, can’t you have a traditional woman who is also a—you know, a beauty queen and is a governor? What’s the matter?”
Who can forget all this? I’ll tell you who can forget: Everyone! Sarah the Zamboni has cleared the ice of this pesky historical memory.
Mind you, sexism is still alive and well, although it is enchanting to watch the same folks who criticized Hillary supporters for whining take off after the media for vetting. Back when a Hillary hater asked John McCain “How do we stop the bitch?” John responded, “Excellent question!” Now his campaign says it’s “offensive and disgraceful” of Barack Obama to use the word lipstick. How do you spell chutzpah?
Nevertheless, the good news for this cockeyed optimist is that Sarah Palin has made it politically incorrect to criticize working mothers. The mommy wars wage on in playgrounds and the blogosphere, but among candidates and in politics, working moms are the demilitarized zone of the cultural battleground.
There is, however, another divide between left and right that has reappeared with the governor’s star turn. It’s the difference between those who think a woman can have it all as long as she can do it all ... by herself. And those who think that it is neither wimpish nor whiny to push for some help.
The Emergence of Sarah Palin is actually the Return of Supermom. Mother of five, moose killer and marathoner, she was back at work three days after her son’s birth, juggling a BlackBerry and a breast pump while making Helen Reddy look like a slacker. Call her a role model or a parody, but the fresh face of 2008 looks like the exhausted face of the 1980s.
The conservative virtue of Palin’s life is that she doesn’t need anything from anyone outside the family. She isn’t lobbying for, say, maternity leave, equal pay or universal pre-K. Let alone universal health insurance. Or college tuition breaks, especially for that soon-to-be-teen-mom and her soon-to-be husband. Compare this to the actual Wal-Mart mom juggling day care fees and gas bills, fantasizing about a job with benefits and the flexibility to be home when the kids are sick.
Somehow the original women’s movement slogan, “The personal is political,” has been turned on its head. It’s more fun to talk about the candidate’s family and eyeglasses than Iraq and the recession. If George Bush was the guy you wanted to have a beer with, Palin is the gal you want to go to aerobics with. The political is waaay too personal.
So let us applaud the way Sarah Palin has pushed the working mother out of the firing line of the culture wars. But what about those family issues flattened by Sarah Zamboni?
Ellen Goodman’s e-mail address is ellengoodman(at)globe.com.
© 2008, Washington Post Writers Group