Here's something funny that I read in the New Yorker this week. It's writer Louis Menand's appraisal of what feminism was really all about:
(The point of the women's movement) was to create a society in which the life chances of a mediocre woman are no different then the life chances of a mediocre man.It's curious that Menand (and his editors at the New Yorker) think that's the "point" of this particular world-historical battle for civil rights. I've never seen any of the other modern struggles for civil rights summed up in exactly that way -- "this battle is all about creating a society where mediocre black people have the same life chances as mediocre white people, where mediocre gay people have the same life chances as mediocre straight people..."
Perhaps in a future issue of New Yorker Menand will identify "the point" of democracy and civil liberties as "empowerment of the mediocre." (I admit I don't understand Menand's analysis, but I can envision him arguing that the truly exceptional members of humanity usually managed to thrive with or without all that democracy/civil liberties jazz.)
So let's analyze Menand's claim in light of the success of two truly exceptional women: Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin. Now it is true that both of these women have been widely identified as mediocre; worse than mediocre. And both of them are considered "over;" spent as a political force. Yet (for a time) both of them attained far more influence and political impact than women of superior intellect, integrity and achievement. And for a time, both Bachmann and Palin enjoyed far more societal impact than the vast herds of mediocre men roaming across the North American continent.
I don't know what Menand's take on the temporary success of Palin and Bachmann would be, in light of his theories about the point of the women's movement and enhancement of opportunities for mediocrities. But I do know that many Palin and Bachmann types will continue to be active in making public policy. I know that, because a lot of them are already in office doing that, and because the ultra-right has figured out a way to make their presence in government tolerable for too many Americans.
The majority of these "less famous Palin and Bachmann types" aren't women. But for a long time, conservatives have been wise to the fact that many voters will find a right wing political agenda more acceptable if it's presented by a woman, preferably a mom.
Preferably an obscure mom. Very few of these less famous incarnations of Palin and Bachmann will ever become as high profile as Sarah or Michele. We know the names of Bachmann and Palin (and Cruz and Gohmert and maybe a dozen others) very well because it's natural that we focus on the 'high-profile' right wing knuckleheads. They are deliberately brought into our circle of attention, via the media and activism platforms that spotlight their latest idiocies or hatin'-on-ya rhetoric.
But their more obscure colleagues continue to be more effective. That's probably because there are so many of them. The introduction of ultraright kooks into government began with the rise of conservative talk radio in the late eighties and nineties. Kooks' stock as media-credible candidates and activists shot up during the ascendance of Palin and Bachmann and the Tea Party. The very fact of their rise brought many other paranoids into election politics at all levels. (These political types had previously considered their own right wing views so marginal and unpopular that working for like-minded candidates or running for office hardly seemed worth the trouble.)
But the success of Bachmann in particular was demonstrable evidence that -- for the first time in decades -- right wing kooks could be elected even if they gave voice to their nuthouse beliefs, campaigning on them rather than concealing them! ("Good times, good times," says the Tea Party guy who believes the President's a Muslim and Pat Robertson's 'a godly man.')
Professional political media didn't necessarily drum them out of contention any more. (They used to drum such candidates and politicians out of serious contention by stressing reliable evidence indicating they were conspiracy nuts, liars of record, ultra-right radicals.) On the contrary, conservative corporate media actually welcomed such "minds" to mainstream politics, and conferred hero status on many of them.
It's true that those "good times" for out-of-the-closet ultra-right wingers rhetoric may be on the way out. But candidates grown in the hothouse of the nuthouse right can continue to exercise power, beat saner candidates, and shape public policy...
...simply by shutting up about "the nut stuff" and attempting to sound like comparatively moderate conservative Republicans.
Or by trying to sound like cutting edge of Republican female empowerment! It's the new way! Look at this news story about a particular group's efforts to 'introduce more women candidates' to the electorate:
...The same week that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the state’s domestic partnership registry brought by a group of social conservatives, an organization dedicated to electing women based on fiscal issues – and not social issues – sets up shop in Wisconsin.("Social conservatives" is journalese for "right wing Christian." They want to be identified in the press as "social conservatives" instead of "right wing Christian," and the press indulges them.)
Voices of Conservative Women, a Minnesota-based group, has been training women to run for office in the Gopher State for three years now and just announced plans to open an affiliate here. So far the group credits itself with helping to elect 10 Republican women to the Minnesota Legislature, as well as a number of local elected officials.(But the Voices of Conservative Women PAC does not want these conservative-Republican-women-candidates-in-training talking about "social conservative issues." No way are we gonna do that gay, abortion schtick, says the executive director.)
(The reporter then points out that the leader of this PAC's new Wisconsin operation will be a veteran GOP fundraiser who displays a right wing evangelical Family Research Council slogan as "her Facebook profile picture.")
(The PAC's executive director Jennifer DeJournett) declined to offer an opinion about Minnesota's most prominent female politician, Michele Bachmann, saying instead that she doesn't think it's useful to focus on "one particular leader."http://host.madison.com/...
That's funny, that the executive director didn't want to express an opinion on Michele Bachmann's contribution to the conservative Republican cause. There's a list of women politicians on their web page. I don't know the back story of every politician on that list, but at least two of them started out as Michele Bachmann supporters. Their voting records indicate that they're fans of Bachmann's ideology and political agenda. And I know that one of them is a local elected official who entered local politics as a volunteer for Michele Bachmann.
It's also ironic that the director declines to speak about Bachmann because: Bachmann began her meteoric career in politics by presenting herself to the press and public in the very same way that the Voices of Conservative Women PAC hopes to present its future candidates. At the outset of her career Bachmann sold herself to the local press and majority of voters as a conservative Republican in the tradition of Ronald Reagan; as a female candidate whose views were no more 'extreme' than the highly-electable Reagan's.
That was never the case. From the very outset -- and long before she became a political candidate -- Bachmann was a true believer in a right wing theocratic political agenda, a believer in international and domestic (and cosmic!) conspiracy theories. But it was the "stealth" approach (shutting up about her most fervent beliefs at election time) that first got her elected.
And I think that's what's going on with this conservative women PAC and its "cheery executive director's" "no social issues mantra." The director's telling aspiring female ultra-right candidates that times have changed; the nut stuff doesn't fly like it used to with GOP voters. Any ultra-right candidate who wants to even stand a chance of getting the Republican nomination: has to come into politics agreeing to shut up about "social issues" (code for the anti-choice, anti-gay, pro-evangelical right agenda.) And she also has to agree to shut up about that "federal government is conspiring against America" theory she really does believe in.
The director's agenda amounts to telling ultra-right candidates to do what Michele did to get into office: to run as a mainstream, "not an anti-government extremist, not the Christian right" conservative... as a sort of lovable Reagan in a dress.
It will probably work in too many elections. Movement conservatives certainly have an interest in making it work. Because even when their short list of high-profile demagogues fails spectacularly: the much longer list of obscure Bachmann/Palin fans in office represent an uninterrupted presence for a kook agenda in our politics. The presence of the kook agenda in our government can paralyze that government, can poison budgets, can limit the parameters of legislation and debate, can work to make American government fail...
...or 'to create a society in which the life chances of a mediocre woman are no different then the life chances of a mediocre man.' (Because I don't care what the fucking New Yorker says, that is not the point of the women's movement.)