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Joan E. Dowlin Headshot

The Lightning Rod Named Sarah Palin

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Love or hate her, you "gotta" admit, she attracts attention. She's a lightning rod for controversy. Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin, the first woman GOP Vice Presidential nominee is still eliciting a media frenzy six months after the election. Take for example this recent feud between Palin and David Letterman. The video on the Huffington Post of her interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show has received over 200,000 hits and 10,000 blogs. (www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/11/sarah-palin-today- show-in_n_214587.html)

My recent article published in the HuffPost: "Where is the Outrage by Feminists On Letterman's Sexist Remarks About Palin?" (www.huffingtonpost.com/joan-e-dowlin/where-is-the-outrage-by-f_b_214473.html) was filled with feedback about Palin, not the subject I wrote about (sexism and feminism.) Most of the blogs were critical of Governor Palin, some saying Letterman's remark about her being "slutty" was brought on by herself because of her appearance, and his joke about her daughter being "knocked up" by A-Rod was justified because "she paraded her children in public during the campaign."

I disagree with both of these premises. Firstly, blaming sexism on a woman's appearance reminds me of the old argument that women that are raped bring it on themselves because of the way they dress. This is absurd and in no way excuses a horrible crime against women. As for her daughter, I believe the children of politicians should be off limits even if she did become pregnant at seventeen. All politicians present their family to the public during their campaigns. Remember seeing Chelsea Clinton, Meghan McCain, Barbara and Jenna Bush, and even the Obama girls? Why is there a double standard for Sarah Palin?

Even Arianna Huffington has said that Palin is using this controversy for political purposes. (www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-tv/arianna-discusses-iranian_b_215284.html). That may be but it doesn't change the fact that Letterman was out of line with his sexist and perverted "jokes."

Back to the question of the public's fascination of Palin: is it because she is a woman? I don't recall the first VP woman candidate (Rep. Geraldine Ferraro) being this much in the news after the 1976 election. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geraldine_Ferraro). Why did Sarah Palin create such enthusiasm on the campaign trail drawing more supporters and excitement from the crowds than her running mate? Is it because she was new and different, a self made woman with an 80% home state approval rating taking on the old boy GOP network and the oil companies causing a conundrum for feminists because of her social conservative views?

Some thought (and hoped) she would go away after the election. But even after her missteps with the Gibson and Couric interviews; Trooper-Gate; her rantings against Obama (accusing him of palling around with a terrorist); her support of shooting wolves from helicopters; criticism of her wardrobe expenses; back stabbing by McCain staffers who said she thought Africa was a country, not a continent (something she denied saying) (www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/11/05/Palin-didn't-know-africa-i_n_141653.html); and a relentless assault on her intelligence from SNL skits with Tina Fey (www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/09/27/tina-fey-as-sarah-palin-k_n_129956.html) to late night comedians, she is still drawing headlines. For example, at a recent Washington Republican fundraising dinner she upstaged the main speaker, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich just by being there. (www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/08/sarah-palin-shows-up-at-g_n_212904.html)

Is it that she represents soccer moms, Joe six-pack, and small town Americans that Obama once said were "bitter and cling to religion and guns"?

No one would doubt that she has charisma as shown by her VP debate performance. (www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/01/vp-debate-biden-palin-upd_n_130882.html). The question is will she be able to win over the moderate and independent factions of her party? Will her tarnished image from the campaign sink her as a viable candidate in 2012?

A lot can happen in three years but one thing is clear, Sarah Palin will get a lot of attention.