The stridency and intensity of the continuing attacks on Palin strike some -- not necessarily Sarah Palin herself -- as evidence that gender is an obstacle unique to women in politics. She shares this obstacle with Hillary Clinton, writes Leslie Sanchez, a Republican campaign strategist, in her new book on women in politics, "You've Come a Long Way, Maybe."
"While women have come a long way since the dawn of the modern feminist movement, women seeking public office share a daunting task," she writes. Well, maybe. But men share "daunting tasks," too. She cites the usual complaint that the Palin campaign coverage started with harmless commentary about her good looks and devolved quickly "into running commentary on her clothing, intelligence, marital status and career home-building act."
It's true that Palin endured unusual media hostility, but media hostility is a Republican birthright for both male and female. Besides, politics is daunting for everyone in the arena. You could ask Bill Clinton, whose private life and public shame became the stuff of caricature, or George W. Bush, who was mocked for nearly everything he said and a lot he did. Soon you probably can ask Barack Obama how it was that even a messiah couldn't get immunity from raillery and ridicule.
In the Sanchez account, both Hillary Clinton and Palin had to recast themselves to please different constituencies. "Some women identified with Sarah Palin because she seemed like a small-town girl, wife and mother. Others vilified her because she is a pro-life, practicing Christian who supports gun rights. Older women identified with Hillary Clinton but by focusing her campaign so heavily on experience, she failed to forge a connection with younger women."
But what makes Palin particularly attractive to many Americans, male and female, is that she hasn't invoked the convenient feminist excuse. She revels in the obvious good looks that attract the eye of men, and many women -- who after all pay a lot of attention to looks, clothes and "home-building acts" themselves -- delight in her roguish success. She makes it all look like serious fun.