Don’t hate/blame/flame me for the sexist term in the title. Blame Josh Marshall (the real one) for coming up with it. Back before he was kidnapped and replaced with a Kool-aid zombie he was a pretty astute blogger. In 2004 he discussed the Swiftboat attacks being made on John Kerry by the Bush/Cheney campaign and came up with the Bitch-Slap theory of electoral politics:
It goes something like this.
On one level, of course, the aim behind these attacks is to cast suspicion upon Kerry’s military service record and label him a liar. But that’s only part of what’s going on.
Consider for a moment what the big game is here. This is a battle between two candidates to demonstrate toughness on national security. Toughness is a unitary quality, really — a personal, characterological quality rather than one rooted in policy or divisible in any real way. So both sides are trying to prove to undecided voters either that they’re tougher than the other guy or at least tough enough for the job.
One way — perhaps the best way — to demonstrate someone’s lack of toughness or strength is to attack them and show they are either unwilling or unable to defend themselves — thus the rough slang I used above. And that I think is a big part of what is happening here. Someone who can’t or won’t defend themselves certainly isn’t someone you can depend upon to defend you.
Demonstrating Kerry’s unwillingness to defend himself (if Bush can do that) is a far more tangible sign of what he’s made of than wartime experiences of thirty years ago.
Hitting someone and not having them hit back hurts the morale of that person’s supporters, buoys the confidence of your own backers (particularly if many tend toward an authoritarian mindset) and tends to make the person who’s receiving the hits into an object of contempt (even if also possibly also one of sympathy) in the eyes of the uncommitted.
So hitting back hard was critical on many levels.
Did you really think that all the unhinged attacks on Sarah Palin were just misogyny gone wild? Think again.
Until we manage to change it we live in a sexist, patriarchal culture. Our culture devalues “feminine” attributes and equates “female” with “weak.” That was the purpose behind calling John Edwards the “Breck Girl” and MoDo’s “practically lactating” comment about Al Gore – to “feminize” the candidates.
One of the problems that Hillary Clinton faced was establishing her toughness. She had to vote with the hawks on military issues and with conservatives on “law and order” issues or run the risk of being portrayed as weak. She built up a solid record in the Senate and more than held her own in debates yet nonetheless she was attacked for allegedly crying up in New Hampshire.
But Sarah Palin came to the table with two advantages that Hillary didn’t have. First of all Sarah is a Republican, and GOP candidates enjoy the presumption that they are tough on crime and military issues. But she also grew up hunting, fishing and engaging in other “manly” activities. Sarah can easily out-macho the chickenhawks and drugstore cowboys – how many men in this country have actually killed and eaten a moose?
So suddenly a self-made mother of five who has been married to the same man for 20 years became airheaded bimbo. Was she objectified? Oh you betcha! Google “Sarah Palin legs” and see how many hits you get. Soon after she was picked to be John McCain’s running mate this:
turned into this:
(both photos are fake)
Now before anyone says I’m claiming there is a vast left-wing conspiracy out to get Sarah Palin let me clarify a couple of things. I’m not saying that every slur and insult thrown at her is directed by David Axelrove. But we do know that during last year’s primary and general elections that the Obama campaign coordinated things like the Tuzla Airport fauxrage and the rape-kit smear. Not only that but some of the sexist jabs came directly from Obama’s mouth, like “periodically” and “lipstick on a pig.”
Secondly, I didn’t say that everything being thrown at Sarah comes from the left side of the political fence. Before Sarah will have a chance to face a Democrat in a national election again she will have to win the GOP nomination, and there are several men also vying for that prize. Although they have to be more circumspect because of her popularity with the GOPer base, the Republicans invented the bitch-slap theory – Josh Marshall just gave it a name.
So you’re gonna see Sarah get attacked from every direction, often unfairly and sometimes outrageously. But how she should respond is problematic. The conventional wisdom of the Village Idiots is that such attacks should be ignored. Ask Michael Dukakis how well that strategy works.
So if Sarah does nothing she looks weak. But if she responds she’ll be called a bitch or worse, a “whiny bitch.” Remember when David Shuster said that Hillary was “pimping out” Chelsea? Did all the fauxgressives rush to her defense? No they did not. Some of them (WKJM for example) said Hillary was cynically trying to manipulate the situation to gain sympathy. Does that remind you of anything? (Hint: David Letterman)
So what Sarah needs to do is find a balance between shrugging/laughing off insults and crude jokes and pushing back. She won’t get any help from the media – they will criticize her no matter what she does. She needs to win a battle of public perception, while simultaneously focusing on policies and issues. Meanwhile the media will ignore (or distort) the policies and issues and focus on her.
No one said it would be easy.
BTW – I promise this will be my last Palinpost
(until the next one)