Welcome Back Culture Wars? Sarah Palin came out swinging last night in what's been argued as the biggest speech of her life. She delivered it well, but it was a "small speech," says Slate.com XX Factor blogger Dahlia Lithwick. Like Ann Coulter, Lithwick argues, Palin is cashing on the ability of pretty women to say mean things.
NPR logo

Welcome Back Culture Wars?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/94273484/94273468" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Welcome Back Culture Wars?

Welcome Back Culture Wars?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/94273484/94273468" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


OK. So, John McCain has the spotlight tonight, Alex, but really Sarah Palin is all anyone is talking about today.


And definitely the topic of conversation at the women's political blog at Slate.com. It's called the XX Factor. We spoke with a couple of the contributing writers Tuesday and called them back today.

BRAND: First, we go to Dahlia Lithwick. And Dahlia, when we spoke to you a few days ago, you were not that taken with Sarah Palin, not that enchanted by her. What did you think of her speech last night?

Ms. DAHLIA LITHWICK (Senior Editor, Slate.com): I thought she gave a great speech, Madeleine. I really thought that she proved herself to be eloquent and funny, and unassuming, and very charming, extremely confident - all the things that people did not expect. Let's remember she's got a history as a TV newscaster and she knows how to read a teleprompter. If this was somebody else's words, I thought she delivered it really well.

That said, I thought it was a very small speech on balance, not just small in that it was very inward-focused, focused on, I'm a small-town girl - all that matters is that I'm a hockey mom, it's enough that I was the mayor of a town of 6,000, anything else is big and grandiose and pompous - but also small in the sense of just a lot of ad hominem attacks, personal, gratuitous slams on Obama that I thought were sort of unseemly for someone seeking this high office, particularly because both Obama and Biden really avoided that kind of ad hominem last week. So, on balance, I guess I thought she did a really good job, and there's nothing quite that lifts up the base like sinking to the bottom.

BRAND: Yes, you liken her in one of your blog postings to Ann Coulter.

Ms. LITHWICK: Well, I think that there is a way in which she's cashing in on the ability of very, very, very pretty women to say very, very vicious things with a great big smile. I understand the vice president's supposed to be an attack dog. She compared herself very openly to a pit-bull with lipstick. By the time she got to what might have been the policy part of her speech, it was very, very clear that she's running as a hockey mom, and that's how she wants to be judged. I would have rather heard a very, very smart, thoughtful, rigorous policy speech, the way that Hillary Clinton used to give them, that proved to me that this is a woman who's so smart and thoughtful and really worthy of my respect.

BRAND: You know, we were talking about the speech here in the office earlier, and someone brought up the fact that, in one fell swoop, it seems like the culture wars are back, and hadn't they gone away?

Ms. LITHWICK: Oh, absolutely. I mean, abortion is back on the table, Madeleine. We haven't talked about that overtly in a long time. We haven't talked this overtly about our loathing of the liberal media and the elites. Listening to Rudy Giuliani yesterday, I really did think we were back in the sort of hissing, spitting age of Newt Gingrich. So, it seems to me that that's all back on the table. If you're from a big city or you went to an Ivy League school or, God forbid, you wrote a book, you are the enemy now.

BRAND: Slate.com's Dahlia Lithwick. Thanks, Dahlia.

Ms. LITHWICK: My pleasure, Madeleine.

CHADWICK: Rachael Larimore, also a contributing writer to the XX Factor at Slate.com, we spoke on Tuesday. Rachael, welcome back. You were supportive of Sarah Palin, not entirely sold. How about last night's speech?

Ms. RACHAEL LARIMORE (Copy Chief, Slate.com): I was, like you said, I was a supporter of Sarah Palin and I did have some doubts. I'm not going to pretend I have no concerns about her. She, you know, she is new to the political scene. She does lack experience, and it will be foolish to claim otherwise. But I think she's smart. I think she's tough. I think she's a quick learner. And given the week she had, and with all the attention on her, I was very anxious to see how her speech was, how she responded. And I thought that it was a very good speech, and I think we learned something else new that she brings to the campaign.

CHADWICK: Which is...?

Ms. LARIMORE: She's the attack dog.

CHADWICK: She's the attack dog.

Ms. LARIMORE: So, I think she has to step carefully, but she's smart, she's tough, and she's a quick learner. So, I'm confident that she's going to be an asset to the campaign.

CHADWICK: John had this observation that I thought was smart. She seemed to be having a good time, and you can't be a lightweight and have a good time in that kind of setting. But many of your colleagues at XX are writing about reigniting the culture wars, and saying this is not a good thing. We don't like this in this candidate. What is your take on that, the idea that this campaign is now going to be small-town versus globalism and small-town versus elites and media?

Ms. LARIMORE: Yes, I think that she's doing what she has to, to appeal to the Republicans, and I think that they're also trying to reach out to some of the people in middle America who, you know, who are moderates, who are Independents and who are waiting to be impressed by one candidate or the other. And if that ignites the culture wars I think that's unfortunate, but I don't think that she can pretend to be anyone who she's not.

She is from small-town America and right now, the party really likes that. One thing I've seen that's kind of struck me as intriguing, as humorous, perhaps, is that people are, you know, when people speak to her lack of experience, you know, they say that, well, my block in Manhattan has more people than the entire town that she was the mayor of, or you know, Staten Island has more people than Alaska. And that might be a fair critique, but as far as reaching out to voters, that's not necessarily what people from the small towns want to hear.

CHADWICK: You get the New York voters that way, but who knows about the rest?

Ms. LARIMORE: Right. You know, I hope that it doesn't ignite the culture wars, because I think that, you know, our country has more important issues that we have to confront. But I think Palin is just going to be who she is, and I think we're going to have to see where the chips fall on that.

CHADWICK: Rachael Larimore, with Dahlia Lithwick, contributing writers to the XX Factor at Slate.com. Rachael, thanks.

Ms. LARIMORE: Thank you very much, Alex.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.