Ball's other surprising inspiration was Palin, youngish and pretty and up on stage with her family and baby at the 2008 Republican National Convention. (O'Neill also told me an anecdote about her 17-year-old daughter watching that moment and telling her mom that while she'd say different things than Palin up on that stage, she'd be saying them in the same fresh, punchy way.) That's what's actually most striking about Ball's lightning-rod candidacy and the feminist embrace of it: She's the closest thing the left's got right now to a Palin.
It's not just that Ball's young and attractive, plays up her traditional femininity (without styling herself as overtly sexy), and talks at every chance about how concern for her daughter's future is motivating her campaign. Or that her husband, like Todd Palin before him, is an active and supportive but unofficial campaign adviser. It's also her emphasis on fiscal responsibility. She's a CPA but also implies it's the housewifely role of balancing the family books that helps qualify her for reining in wasteful government spending. (Ball's first TV ad is particularly Grizzly-esque, as she herself pointed out to me, though she says it isn't so on purpose.) Or that, like so many of them, she's brand-new to politics but had the jet-propulsive self-confidence to run without waiting her turn.
She might be quick to distance herself from O'Donnell, et al., on the issues, but spoke warmly of their "ordinary person" ethic. And she shares with those candidates a capacity to embrace what others what call embarrassing moments. Take, for instance, Palin's recent comment that "'Mr. Obama, you're next, because now we can see 2012 from our house.'" Palin is not embarrassed by the famous "I can see Russia from my house" line, a Tina Fey joke about the former governor's foreign policy expertise.; she's made it a rallying cry. And while Ball probably won't make dildo jokes any time soon, she's not backing down. As Libby Copeland wrote in response to an informal e-mail poll I put to XXFactor contributors about Ball, "We are quite sensitive to any indication that women candidates are full of themselves. We're still surprised and miffed when they demonstrate gumption unleavened by humility." It's that enviable, admirable chutzpah that has had lefty feminists twisted into pretzels over whether these Mama Grizzlies are feminists; someone like Ball lets them champion the attitude without the complicating factor of conservative beliefs on women's issues.
There is the final question of whether women's sexuality belongs anywhere in a campaign, and where those lessons start. As my colleague Dahlia Lithwick wrote in an e-mail, "Everything we do to tell young women that their sexuality (and the public display of their sexuality) makes them serious and powerful strikes me as a losing game." But it seems to me that there's more of a difference in the way you understand the world, and how to be taken seriously in it, between 22 and 28 than there might be at, say, 32 vs. 38. So even if Dahlia is right about the larger point—and I think she probably is—I can't stop myself from cheering a little for Ball.
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