Distilled to a slogan, politics of late goes something like this: “I’m more fertile than you are.”
It seems fecundity is emerging as the best argument for public office, policy or even citizenship. What was once an unconscious appraisal – Is this person strong, healthy and vital? – has morphed into the sort of explicit review one usually associates with an X rating.
While male politicians have always strutted their stuff as a demonstration of virility and strength, most women until recently have had no such comparable public measures. Managing a household wasn’t viewed as favorably as, say, the ability to pitch a ball over home plate.
Lately, a strange shift has occurred among female politicians as they have resorted to flexing their womb-manhood. Rather than try to out-man the men, women have begun to celebrate – or exploit in some cases – their higher purpose.
This brings us unavoidably to Sarah Palin, who reminded us recently that fertility is the ultimate trump card.
To be fair, Jeb Bush started it. He was attempting to explain the need for immigration reform as an economic argument. That is, we need an influx of immigrants – who tend to have larger families – to counter native-born Americans’ low birthrates. Our current rate isn’t sufficient to keep our nation’s economic engine running competitively.
This is a legitimate argument, most forcefully advanced by Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Republican economic adviser and former director of the Congressional Budget Office under George W. Bush. Alas, Jeb Bush inartfully said we need immigrants because they are more “fertile,” which sounds an awful lot like, “Hotahmighty, those people can’t tie their shoes without getting pregnant.”
One is permitted a certain number of verbal pratfalls in public life, a bit of latitude Palin should appreciate. But Mama Grizzly came roaring out at Bush during a speech at one of those confabs where faith-and-freedom lovers assemble to flex their moral superiority. She not only scolded the third Bush for speaking in such terms but reminded the audience of her own bona fides in the matter.
“I say this as someone who’s kind of fertile herself.”
As though anyone could forget.
In an earlier speech in May at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Palin drew applause with a quip about her marital virtuosity. For Christmas, she gave husband Todd a gun, and he gave her a gun case for the four-wheeler, and ...
“He’s got the rifle; I got the rack.”
Oh, chortle chortle.
Palin is nothing if not fertile. Or perhaps more accurately, she is nothing if she isn’t fertile.
The most flauntingly fecund female politician in American history, Palin made the most of men’s imaginations as John McCain’s running mate – even winning over the fantasies of the politically opposed. Most memorable of these was Christopher Hitchens, who, though no Palin fan, once confessed to me: “Even I have wondered what it would be like to change her expression.”
Hitchens knew how to be provocative and/or insulting while still seeming courtly, a gentleman’s art nearly lost with his passing.
Only the other Christopher – Buckley – does the same as well.
In this era of low art, one finds comfort at least in the knowledge that fertility passes, and so, one hopes, do those who insist on attention to their procreative histories. Which, I hasten to add, recently includes former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
When challenged about the difference between late-term abortion and the killing of babies who survived late-term abortions at the hands of the convicted murderer Dr. Kermit Gosnell, Pelosi hid behind the skirt of her own bassinet.
Rather than answer the question, she invoked her five children and declared any discussion of abortion “sacred ground” to her Catholic sensibilities.
Fecundity, apparently, triumphs over moral reasoning.
Most likely, Pelosi is deeply troubled by what her politics requires and what her Catholic mother-heart tells her is true. The real reason she avoided the question is because there is no good answer. The atrocity of late-term abortion and post-abortion murder is a matter of moments.
And though Palin’s pro-life position is more palatable in the harsh light of Gosnell’s killing chamber, her coquettish reminders that her field is still tillable diminishes her credibility as anything other than a one-liner comedienne.
Perhaps Palin recognizes this herself and is auditioning for her own show. She may have a fertile future as an entertainer, though Honey Boo Boo will give her a run for her money.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post and lives part-time in South Carolina. Email her at kathleenparkerwashpost.com.