The liberal women I know--and most of the women I seem to know are liberal--loathe Sarah Palin. They don't merely dislike her, the way one tends to dislike politicians whose views are not one's own, they actively detest her. When her name comes up--and it is they who tend to bring it up--their complexions take on a slightly purplish tinge, their eyes cross in rage. "Moron" is their most frequently used noun, though "idiot" comes up a fair number of times; "that woman" is yet another choice. A wide variety of adjectives, differing only slightly in their violence, usually precede these epithets.
Liberal men don't show the same fervent distaste for Governor Palin. They are more likely to say she doesn't come close to being qualified for the job of vice president and is frightening to contemplate as president. They might add that his choice of Sarah Palin is a serious sign of John McCain's flawed judgment, or of his political opportunism. The standard phrase "a heartbeat away" may come up. But then they let it go. They don't take Sarah Palin so personally, so passionately, as their liberal female counterparts do; the element of anger isn't there.
During his presidential campaign Mike Huckabee expressed a set of opinions not strikingly different from Sarah Palin's, yet my guess is that if he were John McCain's running mate these same women would not despise him with the same vehemence they do Sarah Palin. Some of this is due to snobbery, some possibly to envy. Governor Palin is, after all, a good-looking woman with what appears to be a happy family life who has achieved a great deal in a relatively brief time. But above all Sarah Palin's opinions, because they are held by her, a woman, suggest betrayal.
One might think that liberal women would have some admiration for Governor Palin's appearing to have solved the working mother problem that bedevils most contemporary American women. She is very feminine yet doesn't regard herself as a victim, and seems to be entirely at ease with men. Here is a woman raising five children who is able not only to have an active hand in the life of her community but actually win the highest political office in her state. As the governor of Alaska, moreover, she took on the corrupt elements in her own party, which requires courage of a kind liberated women especially, one would think, might admire.
Perhaps Sarah Palin's having a pregnant teenage daughter permits these same women to feel that she hasn't really solved the working mother problem after all. Yet teenage pregnancy is something that anyone who has a daughter or a granddaughter lives in terror of, for it can happen, as they say, in the best of families. Yet Sarah Palin seems to be handling this, too, with a measure of dignified calm and tolerance that most of us, in similar circumstances, probably couldn't bring to it. But she gets no credit for this either, at least not from the women I know who so relentlessly contemn her.
Strongly liberal women get most agitated over the issue--though of course to them it is no issue but a long since resolved matter--of abortion. Abortion, to be sure, is the great third-rail subject in American politics. But when a male politician is against abortion, these women can write that off as the ignorance of a standard politician, if not himself a Christian fundamentalist, then another Republican cynically going after the fundamentalist vote. A woman not in favor of abortion is something quite different.
And it is all the more strikingly different when the same woman not only holds this opinion on abortion but acts on it and knowingly bears a child with Down syndrome, a child that most liberal women would have thought reason required aborting. What else, after all, is abortion for?
A few months ago Vanity Fair ran an article about the discovery that the playwright Arthur Miller, with his third wife, the photographer Inge Morath, 40 or so years ago had a Down syndrome son. Miller promptly clapped the boy into an institution--according to the article, not a first class one either--and never saw the child again. Most people would have taken this for a heartless act, one should have thought, especially on the part of a man known for excoriating the putative cruelties of capitalism and the endless barbarities of his own country's governments, whether Democratic or Republican. Yet, so far as one can tell, Arthur Miller's treatment of his own child has not put the least dent in his reputation, while Sarah Palin's having, keeping, and loving her Down syndrome child is somehow, by the standard of the liberal woman of our day, not so secretly thought the act of an obviously backward and ignorant woman, an affront to womanhood. "Her greatest hypocrisy," proclaimed Wendy Doniger, one of the leading feminist lights at the University of Chicago, "is her pretense that she is a woman."
The daughter of a dear friend of mine used to say of her mother, "I sense her rage." Of course when the daughter said this, my friend's rage would only increase. Suggesting that liberal women feel rage over Sarah Palin is, similarly, likely only to enrage them all the more. But rage in their reaction to Governor Palin is emphatically what I do sense on the part of liberal women--that and delight in any attempt to humiliate her. (Tina Fey, take a bow, and, hey, let's watch that Katie Couric YouTube interview one more time!) I wonder if the women who loathe Sarah Palin with such intensity oughtn't perhaps to reexamine the source of their strongly illiberal feelings.
Joseph Epstein, a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is the author most recently of Fred Astaire.