USA | Sarah Palin, ‘soccer mom’ at a new frontier

Would Palin have emerged as the first woman governor of a wilderness state, associated in popular imagination with masculine ideals of self-reliance, had it not been for soccer? In a prescient New York Times article in 1977, as Pelé completed three seasons with the Cosmos, Lowell Miller suggests that soccer might come to represent the emergence of women in sport as well as politics and business. But, regarding Palin’s presence on a national political ticket, not even soccer moms themselves are convinced. A woman from the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia, writes on Barack Obama’s website that she feels patronized by John McCain’s selection.

I am a soccer mom. I drive a mini-van. I grew up in a small town. I live in a suburb. I do not have a job outside my home. … John McCain picked a beauty queen from a state … that has a very small population, who has no significant experience, and apparently, based on my demographic, I am supposed to be excited about this woman. Instead, I am insulted. (Melissa Rogers, “I Have Been Patronized,” my.barackobama.com, Oct 2)

Obama Forever Blowing Bubbles

If it’s in the Sun, it must be true: The London tabloid on 28 Jan 08 runs the “exclusive” that Obama, influenced by his sister’s in-laws, backs the Hammers. (© 2008 News Group Newspapers Ltd.)

In the London Review of Books, Jonathan Raban links Palin’s appeal to that of French populist Pierre Poujade, leader of an anti-elitist, anti-urban agenda in the 1950s. Part of such raw populism in the American, and especially Alaskan, setting is connection to sport. Palin, a former basketball player and television sports presenter, left as a legacy of her mayoral service in Wasilla, Alaska, a $14.7 million ice rink now the subject of legal dispute. Palin plays politics by the rules of basketball, Raban says; she improvises, changing the plan as necessary. As point guard of the state champion Wasilla Warriors in 1982, Palin learned a sporting ethic, according to a former opponent, that contrasts with the neo-liberal associations of the 1990s-vintage soccer mom:

We didn’t play basketball to pad our college applications or fulfill some bureaucrat’s notion of “gender equity.” We played because the winters were long and cold and dark. There was nothing else to do. Maybe as a result, basketball was deadly serious business. Away games were played at the end of eight-hour bus rides or harrowing plane landings in frozen, remote villages. Our opponents were tough, and the fans were unforgiving. (Jessica Gavora, “Game Changer,” The Weekly Standard, Sept 15)

Ultimately, Obama’s soccer-mom credentials may prove stronger than Palin’s. London newspapers were agog earlier in the year with news that he supports West Ham United. Punters placed wagers on Obama taking over as West Ham manager. ABC filmed him in July at one of his daughter’s soccer games in Chicago. He toted the obligatory folding chair and at the interval tutored his daughter on her kicking form. According to one journalist’s count, he also yawned six times and periodically checked his Blackberry. But if portable soccer goals are installed on the White House lawn in 2009—400 years after the mixed-gender Powhatan football games—Obama will be the one to do it.

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