The XX Factor

Who’s the Palin of the Left?

Anna Holmes and Rebecca Traister wrote a great op-ed in the New York Times this weekend taking on progressives for allowing Palin to run rampant. Both products of feminist Web sites (Jezebel and Salon respectively), they understand fully the power Palin has over the media. But they argue that the left is partly to blame. Progressives, they write, “have done little to address the obvious national appetite for female leadership.” They give the left’s treatment of Hillary as the obvious example, although that particular criticism of the left should always be qualified by Hillary’s own obvious reluctance to lead the revolution.

Now here’s the paradox inherent in their call for the third wave superstar. Palin, as we all know, came from nowhere. She then cannily stitched together a bunch of female archetypes that don’t always hang together and often clash but that feel like they add up to something new. Her own party-even the candidate who picked her-failed to support her and actively tried to tamp her down, but she steamed ahead anyway. So one important thing to consider is that the Palin of the left might succeed despite the progressive establishment. This was Hillary’s problem-too tested, too beholden, too cautious to embrace anything until the last moment. Carefully weaving between decades of obligation to this or that interest group.

Would progressives be able to accept someone who doesn’t check every box? Embrace a woman but not give her their full stamp of approval? Someone like, say, Dorothy Day, social organizer, bohemian, devoutly Catholic, and ambivalent about her own abortion . Or Elmina Drake Slenker , the preacher’s daughter who wrote for anarchist and even free love magazines but deplored a culture of “oversexing”?

Part of the reason Palin has gone so far is that she is rising in what is essentially a feminist vacuum. There are no landmines to step on, no correct, accepted way to be a pro-life, Glenn Beck-loving barracuda. So she just made one up. Her left equivalent doesn’t have that luxury. But maybe the left could give her-whoever she is-some breathing room.

Here is Holmes’ and Traister’s vision.

Imagine a Democrat willing to brag about breaking the glass ceiling at the explosive beginning, not the safe end, of her campaign. A liberal politician taking to Twitter to argue that big broods and a “culture of life” are completely compatible with reproductive freedom. A female candidate on the left who speaks as angrily and forcefully about her rivals’ shortcomings as Sarah Barracuda does about the Pelosis and Obamas of the world. A smart, unrelenting female, who, unlike Ms. Palin, wants to tear down, not reinforce, traditional ways of looking at women.

I like the idea of reclaiming the term “culture of life” and making it mean something different. That’s a start. Now what we need is the actual woman. If anyone has any nominations for who could be Palin of the Left, post them on the DoubleX Facebook page.