The McCain-Palin Ticket Renews the Culture Wars

Deal W. Hudson
September 5, 2008

With the nomination of Gov. Sarah Palin as the Republican vice-presidential candidate, a fatal blow was delivered to the great myth of this campaign: that religious voters, as we have been told repeatedly, have embraced a broader issue agenda, having left behind their fixation on abortion and marriage.

On the contrary: The thousands of Republicans who raised the roof of the Xcel C0nvention Center were not cheering about Palin’s concern for climate change or the minimum wage. They cheered her for being a traditional woman, a mother, and a pro-life Christian.

The venom suddenly released in the media and the blogosphere was predictable. The spin about a broader issue agenda was forgotten, and the culture wars that were supposedly a thing of the past suddenly reignited.

In my recent book Onward Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, I argue that the influence of religious conservatives in politics was far from over. The issues that fueled the rise of the Religious Right in the late 1970s are still bringing new legions of Christian voters into the political process. The ongoing alliance of religious conservatives with the Republican Party remains secure.

None of the critics of Governor Palin took her to task over global warming. These same pundits who spoke of the so-called “greening” of the religious conservative agenda couldn’t restrain their anger at the prospect of a traditional Christian woman being the first of her sex to work in the White House.

In this respect, the nomination of Sarah Palin actually brings a different aspect of the culture wars into the presidential campaign: It represents the rejection of the feminist movement and all the promises made in its name. If Palin becomes vice president, it won’t be a feminist who breaks the ultimate “glass ceiling” of American public life; this historic moment will be claimed by a PTA mom with five children who do not fear the intrusion of a Down Syndrome child on her time, energy, or career.

The Palin factor, in this way, introduces something entirely new in American politics. Until now, a traditional woman was never envisioned as the leader of a major political party, because feminism was assumed to be a requirement for women leaders in cultural and political life.

The viciousness of the media attack surrounding Palin’s nomination was fueled by its implicit repudiation of the feminine mystique. Whether they are aware of it or not, I believe the thousands of Republicans who cheered Governor Palin were expressing their relief at a woman political leader created outside the mold of Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi.

Thus, the choice of Palin by McCain has a consistency that goes beyond politics into the debate over so-called gender roles. Like the stark contrast that exists between Sarah Palin and the women leaders in the Democratic Party, John McCain and Barack Obama are different breeds of men. McCain is a man who never took any sensitivity training, while Obama’s persona and rhetoric are perfectly attuned to the male ideal as established by the feminist movement.

Where Obama is eloquent and emotionally affecting, McCain is brusque and matter-of-fact. Where Obama seeks to satisfy the canons of political correctness (“That’s above my pay-grade”), McCain speaks bluntly (“I believe life begins at conception”).

Much of the election turmoil over the next two months will be generated, I believe, by the subliminal challenge presented by McCain’s choice of running mate to Obama’s embodiment of the feminist ideal.

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