Women Marching to the Right

5 million viewers tuned in for the debut this autumn of Sarah Palin’s Alaska,the former state governor’s manipulative excess in ‘reality’ television. Millions also follow her Tweets and Facebook posts; and her two books are selling like hot-cakes.

Once a joke of the self-admiring North American liberal class, the undeclared Sarah Palin is easily among the favourites for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Her uncanny ability to reach mass audiences, even her use of language…”lamestream media”…”refudiate”… may make liberal elites titter, but has her growing crowd saying, ‘You tell ‘em, Sarah!’

But let’s leave world headquarters in Washington behind us for a moment. Go north young woman…not all the way to Alaska, but to Alberta.  In that province, Danielle Smith of the Wildrose Alliance was holding a comfortable lead over the government of Ed Stelmach in polls taken earlier this year. Ms. Smith, a former journalist and climate change skeptic, champions more rapid development of Alberta’s oil sands. Significantly to the right of Alberta Conservatives, Ms. Smith could well be the next provincial premier.

November’s Republican sweep of America’s lower house illustrated many things. Obviously ‘folks’ were angry with President Obama. His inability to reduce unemployment; his unpopular, hugely bureaucratic approach to “universal” health care; and  his fawning approach to Wall Street interests and automobile manufacturers are among the factors that both infuriated his opponents and alienated his base.

What’s less well documented are the crucial roles that politicized women of the right have played in the opposition to Obama.  Sarah Palin is simply  the prototype for a newer brand of female politician that is surging throughout the United States and influencing Canadian politics.

 Nikki Haley, governor-elect of South Carolina and Jan Brewer, who signed a shameful immigration bill as Governor of Arizona, are but two of the right-wing politicians who embrace the Tea Party’s program of radical change to American politics.

Of course, the role model for all these women is Palin.

What do these female politicians share?  They manage to extract the individualism and empowerment of earlier feminist movements while eschewing the social democratic components.  They often represent faith…usually evangelical Christianity. They revel  in poking a finger in the eye of older, more liberal, male dominated elites. They are often physically vigorous, active, attractive women with children.

Palin’s TV show works like a series of parables in which the heroine displays her pluck and shares lessons about life and America.   See Sarah shoot a gun…see Sarah overcome her fears to rock climb up the side of a mountain…see Sarah at the gym for a workoout at dawn…see Sarah and her beautiful family fly down a wild river in a raft. It’s raw, iconic, America as frontier, stuff. She wears her patriotism on her sleeve.

Sarah Palin, Danielle Smith and their ilk are no joke. Their mastery of twenty-first century media and the simple populism that they proclaim has a receptive audience.  It is likely they will have transformational appeal in the years ahead.