Sisterhood of the Traveling Grizzly Moms


Nothing wakes you up like a cold, bracing dose of Sarah Palin. Speaking to 550 pro-lifers in Washington this morning,  Palin belted out her version of "frontier feminism," an amalgam of Western economic and resource conservatism overlayed with traditional social values. It's a movement of "moms" who "rise up because moms just know when something isn't working." That something, of course, is the "fundamental transformation of America that we were warned about during the last campaign" that President Obama and Democrats are attempting to impose by fiat. The Susan B. Anthony List, which hosted Palin this morning, might not overlap too much with the Tea Party movement, save for a common conservative orientation.

Palin pulled the two together. SBA was bringing the feminist movement back to its roots, where women don't face pressure from the media and society to have abortions, but can choose to have babies, to work, to stay at home -- to be whatever they can be. The Tea Party movement, Palin said, is a movement of "awakening moms." She likened them to Alaskan Grizzly Bear mothers who "rise up if you wanna mess with their cubs." She allowed that these mommas can be meaner than pit bulls.

Palin spent quite a bit of time identifying herself as the avatar of this movement. Her disabled son Trig, she said, proved to be the greatest challenge and greatest gift of her life. She talked about Bristol Palin's unanticipated pregnancy, and about how her daughter now counsels friends to "pause before you play." In Palin's universe, everything happens for a reason. Her biggest applause line was for this quotation: "God knows what he's doing. Trig has been best thing to happen to me and my family."

As per usual, Palin's foil was the folks in the back in the room -- the media, a clutch of whom came out to cover and (ironically, or perhaps synergistically) spread her media-hatin' message. Palin is a hero because the media took her on, and won, and Palin refused to go away.

If you want to understand who Palin is talking to, or who listens to her, her schedule today gives a perfect glimpse: pro-life women in the morning. Then an interview with Fox's Greta Van Susteren. Then a  flight to South Carolina to endorse Nikki Haley for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Then on to North Carolina, where she'll address the NRA's 139 annual meeting in Charlotte. Then a late-in-the-day flight to Arizona. (!).

Palin can talk about god, values, the media, and her life and identity without seeming fake. It's not so much that she's "authentic" -- she is clearly a product of her experiences and resentments.  It's that she is driven by something endogenously, whether it's a sense of needing to prove something, or genuine conviction, or whatever. I don't know if she's running for president, and I do know that even Republicans believe that her substance chip needs to be updated. But the Palin Voice is strong, it's loud, it is different and it resonates.
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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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