A fellow blogger recently told me how encouraged he was that so many strong conservative women were running for office this year. He said he believed it would most likely be conservative women who saved the country. That is the first time I had heard it said that directly, but the more I thought about it, the more I agreed.
He asked me why I thought so many women were running for office this year. It would be really easy to attribute it to the example of Sarah Palin -- and I believe that is part of it -- but that is just one piece of the puzzle.
Sarah Palin has been an inspiration. Many women watching Palin in the 2008 presidential race saw themselves. They might not be former beauty queens or Alaskan hunters. They have not served as governor of a state. But they saw a woman who came to hold office not by being born into privilege or being a Rhodes scholar, but by working her way up from the local level. They saw a woman who became involved in her community -- starting on a small city council, then as a small town mayor, then as governor.
They saw in Palin, unlike some other female politicians, a woman who did not see her femininity as a weakness, but instead embraced it. They saw someone who wasn’t a Harvard law school graduate or a policy wonk. They saw a politician who looked at the world from the perspective of a wife and a mother.
They saw the mother of a son serving in the armed forces, a pregnant teenage daughter and a young son with Down syndrome.
Palin’s example showed them that life experience and common sense were qualifications to represent their fellow citizens every bit as much as a blue blood pedigree or an Ivy League degree. After all, the people with the law degrees and decades of experience in public office haven’t done such a great job of running things lately.
Palin isn’t the only woman who has inspired so many women running today. Some of the women in Congress like Michele Bachmann -- and my state of North Carolina’s Representatives Virginia Foxx and Sue Myrick -- have as well. But strong conservative women role models are just one of the reasons so many women are politically active and even running for office today.
Technology and new media have made it easier than ever for women who were not plugged into politics to become informed. No longer are they isolated in their homes. The world now comes to them via cable news, talk radio, blogs, and social media. The more they have learned about what is going on in the government and how it is affecting them, the more involved they have become.
The Tea Party movement has served as a vehicle to take that information and put it into action. Mel Aben, a working mom in Raleigh, North Carolina who had "never even organized a birthday party" volunteered to organize a tea party in her area. She not only organized a protest attended by an estimated 6,000 people, but coordinated the 2009 Tax Day tea parties across the state. Aben got her introduction to political activism though Smart Girl Politics. She is just one of many Americans across the country who have used blogs, social media, and talk radio to provide organization and structure to the grassroots movement.
That is a partial explanation of how so many women have come to be participating in the political process, even running for office, today, but it doesn’t explain why. The problems we see today are not just ours. We are facing problems that will affect our children and grandchildren – staggering debt, a shift from private to public sector growth, weakened national security policy, etc. Dads and moms both have a strong instinct to protect their children, but women have that “Mama Grizzly” reaction when their children are threatened.
I am currently working for Renee Ellmers, candidate for Congress in my home district. When asked why she, a woman who has never been involved in political activism, much less ever run for office, is running, she answers, “I am running for Congress because as a mom, I want the same opportunities for my son as I had growing up. I am concerned about the direction our country is heading and I want to help get us on the right path.”
Dads want what is best for their children, as well, but it is difficult to run for office and hold down a full time job. That is one of the reasons so many wealthy people have traditionally run for office. When looking at today’s citizen activist/candidate, it makes financial sense that Mom would often be the one best able to jump into the political ring. There are plenty of full time working women who are becoming politically active these days as well, but speaking from personal experience, it does make it easier to spend time on political endeavors if your family does not depend on your salary as the main source of income.
A new film from Citizens United looks at the women who are making an impact in the conservative movement today, both as activists and candidates, and at the history of the conservative women that preceded them. The women who may indeed “save our country” today, had a lot of groundwork laid for them. In November we may reap the benefits of several generations of conservative women.