I never voted for Sarah Palin. Politically, we don’t get along. She wants drilling where I’d like to leave tundra. She doesn’t want kids to hear about condoms, I don’t mind them having accurate information about their own health. She wants one big cathedral ceiling covering schools and churches, while I prefer Christianity to stay in its log cabin, smoke peacefully rising from the stack, reminding me I can warm myself if and when I want to.
But I did like her. I’ve never liked any politician so unlike myself so much. Many of my liberal pro-choice mom friends liked her too. She was an Alaskan after all–a mom like me, bundling babies in snowsuits and dragging them around in sleds. She nursed and governed. She seemed real, someone who, despite our differences, I could talk to. Like everyone else in this giant, small state, I was on a first name basis with her. “Sarah,” I’d say if I ever ran into her at the airport, “Hello.”
Then McCain flew her to Ohio. When she read off the teleprompter, “It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all,” I decided I was finished with Sarah. That she could, with a straight face co-opt the words of a woman she considered “whiny” shocked me. Suddenly, Sarah wasn’t as real as she seemed the past twenty months. She wasn’t the Sarah I thought I knew. With her speech accepting McCain’s offer, she re-mythologized herself.
Alaskans know about myth, how it works. If we drive Outside with Alaska plates, people roll down their windows at red lights to talk to us. Alaska has mystique. It’s big. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s tough. It’s the Last Frontier. Our state even brands itself to tourists as the place to go “before you die.” Myth is the reason white-haired tourists flock here each summer, and McCain would fit right in on the Princess Tours bus. Conveniently, for the McCain campaign, Alaska is also too far away for most people to know anything about it.
For Outsiders, our self-proclaimed Hockey Mom is exotic. When she chose to take on mother with a capital M, Sarah stopped being human for me. The symbolism eclipsed her humanity. Sarah. Hockey Mom. The Mother. The Alaskan Mother.
Looking back I realize that she’s always traded in myth. I just never paid attention. I was so busy liking her. Without me noticing, she traded on her religion to get elected mayor. She emphasized her outsider status to get elected governor (which was easy as a large contingent of the Republican Party in Alaska is under indictment, awaiting sentencing, or in prison).
Now, she’s added motherhood to the myths she’s willing to play. She’s the handbag and red lipstick the McCain campaign slapped on in their cynical attempt at drag. At first I felt sorry for her. It must be frustrating to be toted around on the right’s ideological elbow. It must be painful to be rifled through and x-rayed all over the news.
But I reminded myself, while choice may not be the hallmark of the right, individual responsibility is. Sarah chose to read from the teleprompter. She chose to participate, to step up on stage, to become a cardboard cut out for Mother, Family, Life. She chose to step into that spotlight.
Her children didn’t. According to Fox news’s celebratory play-by-play of the secret flight from Alaska to Ohio, none of the Palin children knew what was going on. Only after they arrived at a hotel on Thursday night, “Palin’s children, who had been told they were going to Ohio to celebrate their parents’ wedding anniversary, also on Friday, were told for the first time that their mother would be a nominee for the vice presidency.”
Again, I try to be sympathetic. She was just trying to do the best she could in a high-stakes situation. Perhaps her children would have texted someone and spilled McCain’s secret beans. It seems surprises are a family tradition. For whatever reason, Sarah chose to keep it a secret from her kids.
But I think of Bristol, her daughter, up on the platform next to her mother, and I know some of those 18 million shards falling from the glass are going to hit her. In the glare of the spotlight, her pregnancy is a symbol too. Bristol’s privacy wasn’t sacrificed by liberal bloggers. Her mother, who aimed the spotlight squarely in her daughter’s eyes, sacrificed it.
Sarah chose. Bristol didn’t.
I don’t like Sarah Palin anymore. Sarah’s willingness to brand our state and herself in service to McCain is disturbing enough. That she’s willing to do it at the expense of her family’s privacy and then simultaneously decry the invasion of her family’s privacy is a testament to her poor judgment.
To this Alaskan mom, Sarah’s not a person anymore. She’s a hammer in the wrong hands pounding on the right ceiling. She’s a stiletto heel on a 72-year-old man’s foot. She’s the “Alaska Girls Kick Ass” bumper sticker slapped on the GOP’s Hummer. I’m going to have to let go of calling her Sarah. She’s Ms. Palin to me now.