Democrat activists have let Sarah Palin get under their skin -- and if they don't get a grip, their visceral loathing of the Republican vice presidential candidate could cost them the election. First there was the "lipstick on a pig" flap -- a comment the Obama campaign insists was not directed at Gov. Palin, but which dominated political coverage this week. And there was the inexplicable claim by Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden that electing Palin as the first female vice president in our nation's history would be a "backward step for women."
Then there was the vicious statement by the chairwoman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, Carol Fowler, who claimed that Gov. Palin's "primary qualification seems to be that she hasn't had an abortion." Does it get any uglier than this?
In fairness, I'm not certain Sen. Obama intended to call Gov. Palin a pig. His explicit target was John McCain, especially the claim that McCain/Palin is the real "change" ticket in this election. But the audience of Democratic faithful assembled in Lebanon, Va., clearly reacted to Obama's unfortunate metaphor as if he'd just made a clever reference to Palin. They howled, roaring their approval at the remark, which clearly recalled Palin's famous statement about lipstick in her acceptance speech. Whatever Sen. Obama's intention, the crowd drew the inference that "lipstick on a pig" meant Palin.
But Obama's remark wasn't the only lipstick reference of the day. In his introduction of Biden at another campaign event, Democratic Congressman Russ Carnahan said of Palin, "There's no way you can dress up that record, even with a lot of lipstick."
So what is it that lipstick has come to represent to these partisan zealots? It is as if lipstick has become the new symbol of the culture wars that have dominated American politics since 1972.
Jonathan Last, writing online at First Things magazine, suggests that Gov. Palin's decision not to abort her son Trig when she learned he had Down syndrome was a challenge to liberals' idea of what constitutes worthwhile life. He notes, "the left sees Baby Trig as a provocation … as a little Terri Schiavo -- an assertion of the value of all life and an affront to their belief that there are differences in what constitutes meaningful life."
Carol Fowler's remarks certainly suggest she disapproved of Palin's decision. Fowler later issued a clarification of her remarks, which fell short of a retraction: "I personally admire and respect the difficult choices that women make everyday, and I apologize to anyone who finds my comment offensive. I clumsily was making a point about people in South Carolina who may vote based on a single issue. Whether it's the environment, the economy, the war or a woman's right to choose, there are people who will cast their vote based on a single issue. That was the only point I was attempting to make."
But do Fowler and others on the left really favor a woman's right to choose -- or do they only support women who make the same choices they would in the same circumstances? Washington Post editorial writer Ruth Marcus admitted that had her own amniocentesis "results indicated any abnormality, I have little doubt that I would have made a different decision than did Palin." Indeed, Palin's decision to have five children, in and of itself, seems to irritate many on the left, for whom population control is a major liberal tenet.
As Last correctly points out, "The Palin family's five children would have been unexceptional forty years ago, but today constitute something of a fertility freak show. … According to the most recent census data, only 1.1 percent of non-Hispanic white women bear five or six children over the course of their lifetime. By contrast, 22.5 percent of these women never reproduce. The percentage of childlessness among women rises in a straight line with educational attainment."
Sarah Palin -- smart, accomplished, pretty, maternal, and conservative -- threatens the notion that there is only one way to be a modern woman. Her political journey started in the PTA, not at Harvard or Yale Law School. She shops at Wal-Mart, not Barneys. And the more the Democrats caricature and underestimate her, the likelier it is they will alienate those Middle American voters who will determine the outcome of this election.