Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Baby Palins: Feminism, Republican Style
The eye-catching name of Regis Giles (see her photo above) first came to my attention via an article in Elle magazine. Called "The Best and the Rightist" by Nina Burleigh, it delineates a new, up-and-coming, voting demographic of conservative women, ages 18 to 35--in her article Burleigh refers to them as "Baby Palins"--who deride liberal-style feminism and have a real passion for guns. Regis Giles is 20 years old, owns a spear and a CZ 550 rifle, and already has acquired an impressive kill sheet: one white-tail deer, one black buck, one giant bear, one antelope, a behemoth buffalo, and the wild boar she regularly spears on the shores of Florida's Lake Okeechobee. In large part because of her extraordinary hunting prowess, Giles has emerged as the new face of conservative womanhood: "thousands of young women in cocktail dresses who profess their love for guns, low taxes, and red meat."
Many of these women were to be seen at the recent Conservative Political Action Committee Conference [CPAC], an annual gathering of 10,000 political activists, more than half of whom are college-age, and nearly all of whom are white. Giles was there and made a provocative speech in her distinctive nasal drawl. "I'm sick and tired of seeing defenseless girls being abducted in broad daylight. My company stands for those girls who've decided to arm themselves with a gun that will pump lead into an attacker at 1,200 feet per second." No kidding! Talking this way at conferences causes her audience to stomp, whistle, and cheer, and she usually, effortlessly, brings the house down.
Regis Giles claims to be at her happiest when she's hunting. "I'm driven to hunt by the love of the sport, the thrill of the kill--hunting rejuvenates my soul. It's an awesome experience," she states. But she isn't a Palin clone, having been trained since the age of 9 to hunt by her father, Doug Giles, a conservative radio talk-show host and pastor of his own "clash church," long before Palin ever emerged on the scene. And she frequently donates her kill to a local homeless shelter, where the meat is fed to the needy. This young, Republican, female political activist may look like she just stepped out of a pre-Raphaelite painting, but rest assured, she does not spend her time decorating with crepe paper or building miniature windmills.
"Regis' niche," according to Burleigh, "is as the ambassadress of the polished trigger finger." Her website, Girls Just Wanna Have Guns, currently offers a variety of t-shirts, buttons, and coffee mugs for sale. Next year, however, at 21, she will be eligible to get a federal license to sell guns. Thanks to the 'Palin effect,' female membership in the National Rifle Association has risen by 20 percent.
The same issue of Elle magazine also contains a contrasting article, profiling a Democratic activist named Louisa Kamps, from Wisconsin. Kamps describes her conversion into activism thusly: she was driving out of town when she heard on the radio that Wisconsin's new Republican governor, Scott Walker, had announced a surprise plan to strip unionized workers (primarily nurses and teachers) of their collective bargaining rights. Horrified and appalled, she turned the car around and came back home to join the battle lines of irate protesters converging in hordes around the capitol building. Kamps claims that although she never voted for Walker, she hadn't realized his sinister union-busting intentions, or how deeply he was in cahoots with anti-regulation conservatives like the Koch brothers, who are among his biggest financial backers. The realization changed her life dramatically; it wasn't long before she became a revolutionary.
"We have a long history," she states in Elle, "of looking out for each other here in Wisconsin, birthplace of the nation's largest public-sector union and the first state to create worker's compensation and unemployment insurance....I never dreamed a year ago I'd be where I am now....I'm up late at night writing Republicans to register how strongly I oppose cuts to services such as recycling, public transportation, and libraries....Over a brutal couple of weeks recently, the Republicans passed legislation that will make it harder for students and seniors, who typically lean Democratic, to vote, and they introduced bills to roll back child labor laws and make it simpler to carry concealed weapons." She thanks Walker for one thing, however. "He's taught me exactly what I don't want government to look like, and how fervently I must work as a citizen activist if I want to live in a place that reflects my values."
So I put these two contrasting profiles together, feeling they were significant, and wondering where I needed to take them next. What was the punch line here? Then I began reading more of James Gilligan's book, "Why Some Politicians Are Worse Than Others," [see my previous blog about how levels of violence rise significantly during Republican administrations], Chapter 6 of Gilligan's book maps out the radically different cultures between Red States and Blue States. These differences, Gilligan suggests, are not merely differences in political agendas, but reflect different personalities and attitudes in relation to core indices of violence--such as guns, militarism, torture, capital punishment--that differentiate Republican voters from Democratic ones.
Gun ownership, he asserts, is much more prevalent among Republican groups (especially social conservatives), citing a Pew Research Center study which claims that nearly 60 percent of Republican groups have guns in their homes, in contrast to 23 percent of Democratic ones. (Eighty percent of social conservatives have a favorable view of the NRA.) So, not only do Red states have statistically higher rates of violent behavior, but the gun is deployed by Republicans as a moral and culturally potent icon that serves to breed contempt for non-violence and to encourage punitiveness, like public support for lynchings, capital punishment, and the concealed carrying of weapons. It is why "civility" candidates like Jon Huntsman and Barack Obama are ultimately met with contempt by hard-core Republicans for their "stupid altruistic urges." (The phrase is Ayn Rand's.)
And then suddenly, the goose laid its golden egg: I had a positively golden insight into why Obama's presidency has not succeeded the way so many had hoped it would. (Of course there is the obvious reason, that Republicans, come hell or high water, will never let that happen.) But beyond the obvious, there is also something else, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Obama was elected in large part because he stood on tiptoe on the misty mountaintop and proclaimed there were no Red States or Blue States; there were only American states. We all hoped to god it was so, and In a note to himself, he vowed to become our first post-partisan president. Obama has failed to deliver on this, but not because of his personal inadequacies. He has failed because that core conviction has proven itself to be just plain WRONG. Not Obama, but Sarah Palin, was the one who got it right: there are really TWO Americas, and ne'er the twain shall meet. Sadly for us, the noble vibration of unity Obama so badly wanted and gallantly pursues, has not proved to be a winning hand in American politics. To believe there aren't Red States or Blue States at this point in time is a bit like driving through a plate glass window you didn't know was there--until it shatters, and there is broken glass everywhere.