The woman effect: From Kagan to Palin

Pamela Varkony Contributor
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If the recent emergence of women as a political force were cast as a 1950’s movie, you’d be hearing catty remarks about each other’s looks; innuendo about having “a reputation”, and viewing a scene where the driven career woman shoves one of her employees in a fit of pique over an embarrassing public appearance.

The tableau that is female politics in 2010 has all that and more. The only stereotypical “girls gone wild” vignette that we haven’t yet witnessed is a roll-on-the-floor cat fight; although the tussle between Queen Bee incumbent Carolyn Maloney and Smart Young Thing challenger, Reshma Saujani, in the upcoming September 14 Democratic Primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District, is close. Reminiscent of any high school clique jostling for pecking order, supporters and girlfriends of both women have reportedly chosen sides and aren’t speaking. A recent Saujani remark, which appeared in Politics Daily[1], about the appropriateness of her challenge to a long-time incumbent, was, “The last time I read the Constitution, it didn’t say anything about waiting in line.”

Republicans practically invented that concept: The gentlemanly way in which one waits ones turn to ascend to the ranks of power has long been a GOP tradition that has brought us such candidates as, with all due respect, Bob Dole and John McCain. That was until the Thrilla from Wasilla came on the scene.

Now there’s a woman who knows how to get to the front of the line, and bring a few of her sisters with her, or should we call them Mama Grizzlies? Sarah Palin has broken almost every rule of how to rise through the ranks. Along the way, she’s provided focus for the Tea Party, revitalized mainstream Conservatives, flummoxed the moderates, and generally enraged the liberals, although NOW did step away from its “liberals only” track record to come to Palin’s defense[2] when David Letterman made his disgusting jokes about her 14 year old daughter being “knocked up by Alex Rodriguez”[3] at a baseball game.

Women who have been pounding on glass ceilings for much of their careers, whether in journalism, politics, or at the PTA, are enjoying the panoply of styles and positions that the girls school class of 2010 offers us. No matter which end of the political spectrum your ideals occupy, there’s a woman out there for you. Surveying the continuum line from left to right, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan may be one of the few people in the country who has benefitted from the Gulf oil spill. That black goop is covering more than birds, marshes, and pristine beaches; it has practically disappeared Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court from the national dialog. But the back yards are still buzzing. In a moment of candor from one of my most liberal friends, so liberal that we usually eschew political discussions, I was stunned to hear “You know I’m not sure Elena Kagan is a good choice for Supreme Court. There’s just not enough of a paper trail; I have no idea where she stands on the issues.” If Kagan’s vetting continues to conveniently sail under the media radar screen, we’ll all find we have a historic third woman on the Court before you can say Hillary Clinton.

Sharron Angle, Nevada’s Republican Senatorial candidate and avowed Tea Party supporter, is not beneath the radar screen[4], although she is trying, at least temporarily. After a barrage of stories portraying her “extreme” positions, meant to scare the daylights out of anyone who isn’t living in the woods waiting to shoot “the revenuers”, Angle has stepped back to prepare for her national close-up. Her recent visit to Capitol Hill remained low-key despite a recent Rasmussen poll[5] showing an eleven point resurgence over Democrat rival Harry Reid.

High-profile female candidates, especially Republicans, are doing well everywhere. Carly Fiorina leads in her Senatorial race despite a catty remark about her rival’s hair. Meg Whitman is looking like a winner even after the revelation of a settlement with an employee that she allegedly shoved. Nikki Haley has won the South Carolina runoff election in the face of less than strong support from her own state party.

Here we are, almost four decades after the start of the modern women’s movement, finally having a political impact from coast to coast and across the political spectrum. What we’ve always wanted is coming to pass: Women of all political persuasions are duking it out in the public arena, taking on each other…and the boys. They’re paying their dues, spending their own fortunes, and setting their own agendas.

I love the smell of estrogen in the morning.

Pamela Varkony is a writer, commentator, and political observer. Her advocacy for women’s empowerment has crossed four continents including two fact-finding missions to Afghanistan. Her blog is: http://perspectives.pamelavarkony.com/

[1] http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/06/13/n-y-rep-carolyn-maloney-vs-reshma-saujani-incumbent-vs-upst/

[2] http://www.conservatives4palin.com/2009/06/now-defends-governor-palin-and-her.html

[3] http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-06-12/news/0906110705_1_bristol-palin-joke-apologize

[4] http://voices.washingtonpost.com/right-now/2010/06/sharron_angle_meets_conservati.html

[5] http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/elections/election_2010/election_2010_governor_elections/nevada/election_2010_nevada_governor