Palin's Paradoxical Power

In the past two years, the culture wars have been complicated on the Right by the rise of the "tea party." In a time of grave economic crisis and massive government action, the traditional right-wing alarm about "statism" has gotten out in front of the "traditional values" agenda that would use the power of the state to enforce a code of personal behavior.

The American Right has always carried this internal contradiction. It’s a twin to the American Left's contradiction between libertarian personal ethics and communitarian political economy. But the Right has really risen when it has had a figurehead leader who can turn the contradiction into a unifying paradox.

Ronald Reagan was that kind of figurehead even though, back in his day, there were lots of jokes about his shaky grasp of policy details. Then George W. Bush came along as a sort of Reagan-lite. But the only unifying figure the Right has now is Sarah Palin.

Palin is strongly identified with the tea party faction, but she also has strong credibility with the Christian Right. She belongs to a nondenominational “Bible church.” She talks the talk. She can use the term "prayer warriors" in a sentence without blushing or cringing. And, in some ways, she has walked the walk. She gets big points for refusing to abort her baby with Down syndrome. On the other hand, it is hard to square Palin's whole "Mama Grizzlies are the real feminists" routine with the usual conservative Christian notions about traditional gender roles. Palin went right back to work as governor immediately after the birth of her fifth child. Since ditching that job, she seems to spend most of her life on the road, signing books, making speeches, and tweeting her head off.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2011
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