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Sarah Palin and the Bitch-Slap Theory of Electoral Politics


Don’t hate/blame/flame me for the sexist term in the title.  Blame Josh Marshall (the real one) for coming up with it.  Back before he was kidnapped and replaced with a Kool-aid zombie he was a pretty astute blogger.  In 2004 he discussed the Swiftboat attacks being made on John Kerry by the Bush/Cheney campaign and came up with the Bitch-Slap theory of electoral politics:

It goes something like this.

On one level, of course, the aim behind these attacks is to cast suspicion upon Kerry’s military service record and label him a liar. But that’s only part of what’s going on.

Consider for a moment what the big game is here. This is a battle between two candidates to demonstrate toughness on national security. Toughness is a unitary quality, really — a personal, characterological quality rather than one rooted in policy or divisible in any real way. So both sides are trying to prove to undecided voters either that they’re tougher than the other guy or at least tough enough for the job.


One way — perhaps the best way — to demonstrate someone’s lack of toughness or strength is to attack them and show they are either unwilling or unable to defend themselves — thus the rough slang I used above. And that I think is a big part of what is happening here. Someone who can’t or won’t defend themselves certainly isn’t someone you can depend upon to defend you.

Demonstrating Kerry’s unwillingness to defend himself (if Bush can do that) is a far more tangible sign of what he’s made of than wartime experiences of thirty years ago.

Hitting someone and not having them hit back hurts the morale of that person’s supporters, buoys the confidence of your own backers (particularly if many tend toward an authoritarian mindset) and tends to make the person who’s receiving the hits into an object of contempt (even if also possibly also one of sympathy) in the eyes of the uncommitted.


So hitting back hard was critical on many levels.

Did you really think that all the unhinged attacks on  Sarah Palin were just misogyny gone wild?  Think again.

Until we manage to change it we live in a sexist, patriarchal culture.  Our culture devalues “feminine” attributes and equates “female” with “weak.”  That was the purpose behind calling John Edwards the “Breck Girl” and MoDo’s “practically lactating” comment about Al Gore – to “feminize” the candidates.

One of the problems that Hillary Clinton faced was establishing her toughness.  She had to vote with the hawks on military issues and with conservatives on “law and order” issues or run the risk of being portrayed as weak.  She built up a solid record in the Senate and more than held her own in debates yet nonetheless she was attacked for allegedly crying up in New Hampshire.

But Sarah Palin came to the table with two advantages that Hillary didn’t have.  First of all Sarah is a Republican, and GOP candidates enjoy the presumption that they are tough on crime and military issues.  But she also grew up hunting, fishing and engaging in other “manly” activities.  Sarah can easily out-macho the chickenhawks and drugstore cowboys – how many men in this country have actually killed and eaten a moose?

So suddenly a self-made mother of five who has been married to the same man for 20 years became airheaded bimbo.  Was she objectified?  Oh you betcha!  Google “Sarah Palin legs” and see how many hits you get.  Soon after she was picked to be John McCain’s running mate this:

Sarah hunts caribou41811397

turned into this:

sarah-palin-bikini-photo-fakespalin2 (both photos are fake)

Now before anyone says I’m claiming there is a vast left-wing conspiracy out to get Sarah Palin let me clarify a couple of things.  I’m not saying that every slur and insult thrown at her is directed by David Axelrove.  But we do know that during last year’s primary and general elections that the Obama campaign coordinated things like the Tuzla Airport fauxrage and the rape-kit smear.  Not only that but some of the sexist jabs came directly from Obama’s mouth, like “periodically” and “lipstick on a pig.”

Secondly, I didn’t say that everything being thrown at Sarah comes from the left side of the political fence.  Before Sarah will have a chance to face a Democrat in a national election again she will have to win the GOP nomination, and there are several men also vying for that prize.  Although they have to be more circumspect because of her popularity with the GOPer base, the Republicans invented the bitch-slap theory – Josh Marshall just gave it a name.

So you’re gonna see Sarah get attacked from every direction, often unfairly and sometimes outrageously.  But how she should respond is problematic.  The conventional wisdom of the Village Idiots is that such attacks should be ignored.  Ask Michael Dukakis how well that strategy works.

So if Sarah does nothing she looks weak.  But if she responds she’ll be called a bitch or worse, a “whiny bitch.”  Remember when David Shuster said that Hillary was “pimping out” Chelsea?  Did all the fauxgressives rush to her defense?  No they did not.  Some of them (WKJM for example) said Hillary was cynically trying to manipulate the situation to gain sympathy.  Does that remind you of anything?  (Hint:  David Letterman)

So what Sarah needs to do is find a balance between shrugging/laughing off insults and crude jokes and pushing back.  She won’t get any help from the media – they will criticize her no matter what she does.  She needs to win a battle of public perception, while simultaneously focusing on policies and issues.  Meanwhile the media will ignore (or distort) the policies and issues and focus on her.

No one said it would be easy.


BTW – I promise this will be my last Palinpost

(until the next one)


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93 Responses

  1. They should be afraid of her. I won’t vote for jindal or gingrichbut I definitely would consider voting Palin., GOP or not.

  2. If she runs in 2012 I will be voting for her too.I’ve been checking her out- she’s not as conservative as the media wants her to be. So keep on posting about her myiq

    • I agree keep posting on Palin — it’s nice to see some sanity on the issue of Palin.

      And yes I’d vote for her — and I have a hunch if given a CHANCE a whole lot of people would vote for Palin.

      • Me three. I love the Palin posts.

      • You must’ve noticed that your Palin posts are pulling in the highest number of comments, right? Carry on!

      • I’ll chime in here, too.

        I really appreciate the Palin posts. They are the clearest distillation of these dynamics, and if we continue talking about it, we may figure out how to derail this BS next election.

        Thanks MyIQ

  3. myiq: you’ve been, ummm, much too sober lately. I tripped and lost my sense of humor, could use something to help me get it back.

  4. Gack – I meant somber – not sober. Maybe I’ve been sober too long.

  5. “Meanwhile the media will ignore (or distort) the policies and issues and focus on her.”

    Actually, the media does the same thing with Obama–trying to convince us how messianic he is, all the while ignoring how crappy his policies are. It’s just a different twist, but, in either case, the focus is on personality–as defined by the talking heads. Bottom line: the traditional media thinks that by focusing on personalities the newsmedia can be more appealing to us “dumb” Americans. Is it any wonder that so many newspapers are on the verge of bankruptcy? Why buy a newspaper if it isn’t going to report the news?

    • Actually they wanted us to see how capable he was at killing a fly…..yes, I mentioned the fly incident. Iran is in a melt down and we’re talking about flies!

      • It’s news of worldwide importance!

        Try google “Obama swats fly” – and wonder how many hits you’ll get in other languages than English! Sad state of affairs, isn’t it!

      • I saw one middle aged male commentator on Italian tv actually swat a fly, 2 days ago! Then he went on to comment on Berlusconi’s gaffes as carefully orchestrated kabuki theater…

  6. myiq:

    Excellent analysis! Any woman vying for positions of power will always be caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t! How else can the boyz keep them in line?

    I hope this is not the last Palin post you do. I believe the door has been opened to keep talking about these issue women face in society, in order to counter the constant patriarchial mysognynist spew that will never let up, unless we make it clear that we’ve had enough.

    Let’s just keep reminding ourselves and each other, what would Al Sharpton do, were this about race instead of gender. Believe me, Al would never let up and is still going strong, despite an AA becoming president before a woman.

    We have to be like Rosa Parks — women will no longer sit at the back of the bus.

    • You must be reading Hillbuzz (love that site)


      “What would Al Sharpton do?” is their current mantra.

      • Now there’s a motto I never thought I could go for. 🙂

      • Actually wasn’t Al asked that very question about Letterman’s “jokes” and the Imus “joke” on a Fox show this week and he offered some tortured reply that Letterman was not the same thing because it was about a particular individual whereas the Imus joke was about a whole race of people. He could not be swayed that this made no sense. So asking what he would do only applies if it is racial in nature–white women he doesn’t appear to give a hoot about. Yes, Hillbuzz rocks–readers are still writing to the advertisers. Confluence readers can too!

  7. Comment deleted – inappropriate

  8. What I’m admiring is that the media portrays her as ultra conservative – which reinforces her street cred with her base… but when you really look closely at her record, you can see she’s not that conservative – she’s quite human and reasonable.

    When you also consider the Dem running against her will have the media and bankers behind him – she really is the only one who might be able to challenge his star power and get people to donate $$$.

    This ‘lack of depth of knowledge’ she gets cracked for seems to be correctable – the Letterman issue showed she can make a very coherent argument and not only make it stick, but because it makes perfect sense, the perception of her depth of knowledge goes up with those who would’ve bought that false argument in the first place.

    If she can clear the primary, she would be formidable. She’s being underestimated – which means she can beat the low expectations….

    I’m on board now – I’m not going to get over what Obama did to my party.

    • Didja see Obama’s performances in the early Democratic debates back in 2007? He was sans clue through the first 10 or so, and he never won a single one vs. Hillary.

      He never had a hostile “gotcha” interview either.

      • That still burns me. It’s the old “women have to be twice as good to get half as far” rule.

      • That’s because during the primaries he let John Edwards do all the work of beating up on Hillary. After John was out there wasn’t much debating gong on. Hillary wanted them but precious didn’t. Barack is a poor debater.

        • B0 claims to be aggressive and claims to have a “bring it on” attitude. Then someone brings it on and he recedes into the woodwork. What a wimp.

    • So, Jeff, you’re assuming O will be the candidate? He’s starting to get some folks really ticked off and he’s only been in office about 6 months. :X

      • NBC even announced on the TODAY show this morning that his approval ratings are down 5 pts since last week…..56% and it’s all about his miserable stand on policies.

        • Wait until the economy does not rebound in a dramatic fashion–that’s when it’s going to get really interesting. I read that his concern over the deficit is causing him to lose sleep. It should be.

      • No one will be permitted to run against him. The party establishment won’t allow it.

        • What if his ratings go to the low 20’s?

          • The party establishment and the big money backers are gonna be in that 20%

            It will take an outsider and a genuine grass-roots (not astroturf) movement to beat him.

          • Trivia question:

            When is the last time (if ever) that an incumbent was defeated for their party’s nomination and the challenger won the general election?

          • I’m guessing….never.

            Thing is, what we watched happen during this election primary and general was a first in history, too.

          • The problem is, Obama’s suckitude tarnishes the entire party. It’s not like he can just hand off and everyone forgets him. It would be really hard for anyone, even Hill, to win in that scenario. Not that he would EVER step aside, but it would be an incredible task anyway.

          • My husband is hoping Hillary and Sarah will ditch their parties and run as a ticket. Yeah, I know, it ain’t gonna happen but one can dream.

            The only real hope I hold onto is that Sarah will somehow beat out Jeb for the top of the Republican ticket. If that doesn’t happen then I’ll have no one to vote for (unless McKinney runs again).

          • Re: MyIQ’s trivia question

            I don’t know about presidential elections, but Palin beat out an incumbent Repub governor and then cleaned house.

            Doesn’t really pertain, but I like her spunk.

            Now that I think about it, she actually has been the change agent that B0 only pretends to be.

        • If he gets really unpopular, he and Michelle will decide that it is in the best interest of their daughters and the grandmother for them to focus on their family. Then they will leave Washington, return to Rezko’s house and do a book tour. Michelle will make lots of money and they will disappear. Even I would buy a couple of copies of the books, if it made them leave our White House.

          Everyone would then moan about how unfair it was for Americans to expect them to give up soooo much for their country. A statute of the family would be placed on the Mall and Hillary would be President.

        • bingo.

  9. I love the Palin posts. She’s the most ‘real’ politician I’ve seen in a long time (perhaps since Ann Richards). I voted for her last time and I’ll vote for her again. (Unless, of course, by some miracle Hillary, the best candidate imaginable, were able to run).

    The Village Idiots will, of course, try to ‘bitch-slap’ Gov. Palin again. But she has more than shown that she’ll come right back at them – by punching them harder between the eyes. (Calling Letterman an old pervert enticing rape was brilliant). And they may call her a bitch, but it had better be ‘tough bitch’. There’s nothing even remotely whiny about her.

    • Who could possibly pull this country back in line better than a tough bitch?

      She’s got my vote if she runs.

    • She was also smart to focus the debate on his insult of “all women.” That helped to deflect the victim/whiny argument. It resonated.

      • agreed – it really solves so many issues about her – “if she’s so smart about this argument, she can’t be as stupid as Tina Fey portrays her to be”.

        She’s also getting used to the interviews – she’s done more now than when she was a VP candidate. She will only get better.

        I’m excited for her.

  10. Great article-Sarah is the only true GOP- Obama clearly will run in 2012 . I personally would like to see Conde Rice run with Sarah- That will put the issues squarely out there

  11. I really respect the fact that Palin doesn’t back down and was willing to play the traditional aggressive VP role, because she had to know she would get so much more $&@” for it, and not just because it’s Obama the media darling, because like you say women in politics have to be tough, but if they engage in the same garden variety back and forth they’re evil b——.

    I remember in MA when Shannon O’Brien ran against Mitt, and she was in the same bind. When she sat back and let him attack her, she was a weak pushover, and when she finally hit back, voters had an extreme reaction against it and blamed her for the negative atmosphere despite the fact that he’d been going at her harder and longer.

    • I think Palin responded perfectly with Letterman – she pushed back but not too hard, and then accepted his apology and moved on.

      She let her supporters do the heavy lifting as far as protesting.

      (if your supporters won’t stick up for you, give it up)

      • Yep. Palin played this out perfectly. She is one quick study.

      • Yeah, and when the media idiots told her to give it up, she scoffed at them. I think she learned a lot from Hill, the media is out to get you, there’s nothing you can do about it, so forget them and just keep coming, do what you need to, you can win anyway. I get the feeling she knows she tapped into something and has support and isn’t going to let the “whiny b—-” meme derail her.

        • “when you hear the dogs barking, keep going”
          –Hillary, convention speech

      • I read in a comment on Liberal Rapture that Olive Garden just pulled all their ads from the Letterman show for the rest of the year. Maybe they didn’t like the controversy?

        I’d say this was handled pretty darned well by Palin’s supporters and by her.

        • Now they are saying that Olive Garden isn’t pulling the ads.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if CBS cut them a good deal just to prevent a stampede.

          • The blogger boys are probably making irate calls to OG demanding that they restore the ads. “I have certainly never dined at your low rent dining establishment, nor would I ever consider consuming the slop that you serve. The disgusting gun toting Bible thumping pigs of America have horrible palates to go along with their degenerate lifestyles. However…” LOL

          • They put a sexist dogwhistle at the top of a post today about Olive Garden. All the sexists came out to denounce Olive Garden.

            (For the lurkers) You know it’s sexism because they wouldn’t denounce Olive Garden if they pulled advertising over a racist joke by Letterman about Michael Steele.

          • No time to comment. Too much depression over Iran apathy and health care.

          • Sorry. I hope you feel better soon. (:

      • Something that I find interesting about all of this was my son’s response. He’s 25 and actually didn’t vote. He moved from Michigan to Illinois and never bothered to register but he was seemingly for Obama. He thought his long time democratic mom had gone crazy because I couldn’t shut up about my stolen vote in the Michigan primary. We had many arguments as he bought into the Obama garbage about Palin. She’s stupid, a hick, you get the drift. So I was shocked when he said to me that what Letterman did was awful. I know he still doesn’t like Palin but all of those Kool-aid drinkers have been trashing Palin about this whole incident. It was striking that my son saw it much like we here do. There must be others out there that are starting to wake up to the contempt the media has for Palin and women in general.

  12. I keep trying to think back about (and recapture) my personal attitude when I was a teenager — the eldest of a large family of more boys than girls. I just never let anyone get the best of me and probably I really thought I was superior so nobody ever did get in my way. My mother always said I could manage because I knew how to handle teasing little brothers.

    Well, in the corporate world, somebody else’s teasing little brothers were the big bosses and even the most capable and brightest women were the middle management workhorses. I still ignored their teasing (which annoyed them) but they could make the decisions that hurt — policywise and moneywise.

    We have a lot to overcome in the wider society, but, as an old economics history prof (who worked for Kennedy) said, “When the women have had enough in any country, they will force changes.” We’ve seen it happen before (example, Argentina) and perhaps we’re seeing a little of it in Iran. In America, we’re still playing old silly social games, afraid of the power we inherently have. If only we could remember before we were brainwashed as teenagers.

  13. chickenhawks and drugstore cowboys

    Sounds like a song…

    Is that picture of the polar bear with the purple tongue real?

    You also have fauxfeminists like Tina Brown telling Palin to “study up and shut up.” Snotty English classist.

  14. I think there is some truth to what the OP said but I think it misses a point. There is an old saying that moderation is only a virtue in those who are thought to have an alternative. I always thought that Kerry’s problem wasn’t that his responses were weak *in light of his career* but that they were weak in light *the 30 second news cycle*. I think Palin is making the same mistake. She thinks she can get away with weak responses because she sees them through the eyes of the moose hunting GOP woman forgetting that the average person doesn’t know she hunts and probably doesn’t even understand she’s in the GOP.

    She needs (and every candidate needs to) look strong not to the chattering classes but to the person who knows nothing about them, because those unwashed masses are the people who vote. This is why Mike Huckabee will always trounce her. He doesn’t care what the media thinks or if they play him off as a religious idiot. He’s playing to the people who will vote for him. And it’s those votes that count.

    • Huckabee’s base is the fundies – outside of them he has little appeal in the party.

      Palin is popular with the fundies AND the blue collar/redneck rank and file. She also gets support from the genuine fiscal conservatives (not the borrow and spend fauxcons)

    • Where did you see Palin come off as weak? That was the point–she fought back quickly and effectively. She was not weak during the GE either. She kept hammering away at Obama, despite the hate that came at her for it. She’s strong, and cheerful–a powerful combination.

  15. Nice post, MyIQ. I don’t think the title’s sexist anyway. I don’t actually associate the phrase “bitch-slap” with anything so it went right over my head.

    I think the entirety of the liberal base (and the operatives) are underestimating Palin. That works in her favor in a big way. She’s getting her hands dirty in Foreign Relations and energy and women’s rights. She has a future on the national stage if she wants it. I think she does and I think the left is terrified of the idea that she might.

    • I think she does and I think the left is terrified of the idea that she might.
      This is why she still engenders such anger on the left.

  16. It is so sad that Josh Marshall is still having an out of body experience. I wonder where he has gone??

  17. I think it’s interesting that the GOP Boy’s Club is marginalizing her now. They were happy to promote her when they hoped she would pick up some of Hillary’s voters, but now that the race is over, there own misogyny is going to insist on that hierarchy. I do not seem them pushing her forward. They’d rather advance Newt again than Palin? The reason Palin is still in the public eye is that her charisma and authenticity are undeniable, and it resonates with people.

    • This primary is going to be ug-lee, you betcha.

      • The GOP has no one to run that can raise the dough like Obama. He has all the best (bailed out) bankers now.

        They will need someone ELECTRIC to get the money coming in. She is high wattage… unless someone else comes on the scene with her electricity, they will find it tough to ignore her forever.

        • It doesn’t matter, Obama needs to spend $20 to get $1 in return. His lack of return is pretty pathetic.

  18. She has to “find a balance?” Are you kidding me? I’ve been personally looking for that balance point for THIRTY GODDAMNED YEARS! It doesn’t exist! Every goddamned accomplished, ambitious woman alive has been looking for it!

    All she has to do is find the Fountain of Youth, how about. Or some lunar cheese. Or the Golden Fleece.

    Not easy my ass. Try NOT POSSIBLE.

  19. OT, but juicy. Ignore the link (just for reference), because it’s A. Sullivan, but he is really coming off his Kool Aid high now:

    Obama’s Continued Ban On People With HIV

    The administration continues to enforce the ban on non-Americans living with HIV – against the will of the Congress and the views of president George W. Bush. Here’s the latest example:
    As global health leaders from around the world met in Seattle for the first day of the Pacific Health Summit 2009, one speaker was notably absent. Paul Thorn, a British activist scheduled to speak today, said he was denied a U.S. visa because he is HIV positive …

    “The U.S. government actively discriminates against people who have been tested for the HIV virus and have been diagnosed HIV-positive,” he said in the statement … Thorn said his application was turned down despite the interventions of Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Jim McDermott and appeals to the U.S. Consulate in London.

    The U.S. policy gives people two choices: to lie on the application, committing a felony, or to be honest and have the visa rejected “because you are considered an undesirable person and unfit to enter the U.S.,” Thorn said. “I don’t want to be either, but being an undesirable seemed like the lesser of the two evils, so I decided to be honest.”

    When will this end? The Obama people won’t talk to me on the record about this. Before the election, they were all about getting gay and HIV-positive support. Now they are threatening to deport some of us for having HIV. And my civil marriage in the eyes of Obama? Null and void – and no plans whatsoever to change that.


    • Um, is wrong to completely want this policy to be repealed but to also want Andy to get deported? Can we just draft a special bill to deport one jackass for crimes against common sense and decency? Or two because maybe, you know, Hitchens?

  20. I need to see some change in Palin’s environmental policies before I can back her at the top of the ticket. That said, she’s certainly more attractive as a candidate than any of the male possibilities in the GOP and any likely male candidate the D’s might run.

    • There’s a big difference between backing her and preferring her over the other available alternatives.

      Palin vs. Obama and Palin vs. Hillary are two no-contest situations with completely different answers.

      • That’s where I am too. I could imagine many other Dems I could vote for too. I have to admit, I’d even consider the big O if he completely turned around and became a real Dem. But I’m not holding my breath. But there are a lot of Repubs I wouldn’t vote for. So they may just want to get their act together. Also not holding my breath there.

        Shh, don’t tell Hillary. I don’t think she’d like me if she heard that. She’s such a loyal Dem. But I don’t count that against her really.

        • After what he did in the primary, I can never vote for him.


          That and I think he doesn’t like this country, nor does he posses good values.

          Yep, that would be never.

  21. Great title.

  22. “That was the purpose behind calling John Edwards the “Breck Girl” and MoDo’s “practically lactating” comment about Al Gore – to “feminize” the candidates.”

    Quite true. And until we end sexism and misogyny we are depriving ourselves of the best this country has to offer. Women for sure, who are so poorly represented, but also all those male candidates who had tremendous talents but got shoved out because the “feminize them” model is so effective.

    I like Palin. More importantly, I think liberals especially should scratch beneath the Republican label and take a good look at some of the work she’s done. She’s done many things that liberals traditionally like, taxing the oil companies and giving the money to the people for example. Increasing funding for education and childrens’ health care. Appointing a pro-choice judge to the Alaska supreme court.

    • So true!

      I remember how thrilled I was when Sarah Palin was nominated – but not that it surprised me, there had been enough talk that led in that direction.

      But the reaction from the media and the left! It not only surprised me, it baffled me. Without knowing anything about her … everybody none the less seemed to know exactly what her policies were! Huh?

      Noone needed to study up on her: She is a Republican, and that’s apparently all one needs to know. Huh?

      And then I was told (by men mostly!) that I should feel ashamed because of her being nominated! That she was an insult to women! Huh?

      And despite her very first speach (Yeah! Great woman!), where she effortless praised both Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton, and ever since was very respectful towards Hillary, I was supposed to believe that she demeaned her. Huh?

  23. Hillary had no problem demonstrating her toughness. Sorry, but Palin has no advantages over Hillary.

  24. Loved it!

  25. “Hillary had no problem demonstrating her toughness. Sorry, but Palin has no advantages over Hillary.”
    Both Hillary and Palin are great women. I could have voted for any of them. There were many lies spread about both, but the permisiveness on mysoginism was won on Palin.

    Sara did show her toughness…nobody can deny that, and she still does.

    One advantage Sara has over Hillary, she confronted her own party and the old boys network and won the governorship of her party.

  26. I’ve never handled any media, and I couldn’t run a PR campaign for Jesus Christ, so my opinion is probably a good contrary indicator.

    What I think Sarah Palin should do is go on the attack, and stay there. And that the attack should consist of poking fun at anyone who was so inadequate they didn’t have it in them to treat half the human race with respect. She could even add, “Not like real men,” to isolate the frattie boyz some more.

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