TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Sarah Palin: Big Mother

Jean-Claude Paye’s Global War on Liberty, published by Telos Press, is available for purchase here.

The question is not whether McCain, thanks to the addition of Sarah Palin to the ticket, is going to win the election. That result depends on other variables and is secondary to what her candidacy reveals. Her candidacy is a symptom of a deep mutation in the symbolic order of society—that is, the emergence of a maternal figure to whom the power of the State is offered.

This image, constructed entirely by the media, replaces the paternal figure. This totalizing communication mode suppresses any distinction between inside and outside, between private and public. It sets up a fusional relationship between the individual and power. The change is not merely formal. It demonstrates a radical change in the social organization—the passage from a neurotic structure to a psychotic structure, or, in other words, the denial of social ties and the neutralization of conscience.

For the first time ever in an American election, interest in the vice-presidential candidate exceeds interest in the presidential candidate, even though the vice-presidency is generally a low-profile post. Who knows George W. Bush’s vice-president? But here, for several weeks, the Republican presidential candidate has been overshadowed by his running mate. He is now thought of only as the one who chose Sarah Palin. The American press has begun to insist on his age, his illness, the fact that he might not make it to the end of his term and could thus clear the way for the vice-president. It is becoming ever clearer that voting for McCain means creating the conditions that will allow Sarah Palin to serve out a presidential term.

The situation in which Sarah Palin finds herself is the exact opposite of the one in which Hillary Clinton was stuck. Unlike the latter, Palin did not fight for her post; it was given to her. Hillary Clinton stressed her competence and long experience. Sarah Palin can cite only the mayoralty of a small town and one term as governor of a very sparsely populated state. In opposing Obama, Hillary Clinton positioned herself as the champion of masculine values. This classic feminist stance—stronger than the men on their own turf—did not allow her to defeat her rival. On the contrary, her early lead in the polls was lost. What quality is perceived in the current vice-presidential candidate that replaces everything that until now was considered indispensable for occupying the presidential post?

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Unlike Clinton, Palin does not present herself as a woman in competition with men. She is seen through an image of the mother. She has no need of masculine attributes to be a woman. Men are always out of bounds. They appear as children and leave power in her hands. In her speech accepting McCain’s choice of her as vice-presidential candidate, she presented herself as an all-powerful femininity capable of giving both life and death. She is at once a mother who bears children, who drives the children to hockey practice, and an avenging angel, a “pit bull” wearing “lipstick” who destroys political adversaries and the so-called enemies of America.

The vice-presidential candidate has demonstrated firmness toward Russia, refusing to rule out the possibility of war. She has envisioned an intervention in Pakistan without that country’s government’s permission. Her discourse has been one not just of bellicosity but of unilateralism, giving an air of absoluteness to her positions. No room is left for negotiation, and nothing is discussed with allies. The Other does not exist.

Palin and Clinton can be differentiated based on their respective relationships with castration. The phallus is symbolically removed by the Law that orders the mother, through the intermediary of the child, not to give it to herself. Palin exalts the complete power of a mother who swallows her children and who effectuates a denial of the Law’s prevalence. Clinton, meanwhile, remains stuck in a stage that precedes the feminization of society. She wants to compete with men. She occupies a classic feminist position: She holds herself up as being worthier than a man to carry the phallic signifier. Her activity is limited to struggling for a place within the same structure. Palin, though, no longer imitates men. She carries out a post-feminist maneuver in which gender confrontation no longer exists—we are no longer fighting the war between the sexes. Sarah Palin effectuates a denial of the signifier. She does not seek to acquire the symbolic phallus; she is that phallus, thanks to images. All mediation disappears. Her pleasure is without limit. The maternal figure is henceforth constructed by the media as a phallus. Triumphant motherhood excludes women as much as men; it addresses only children.

The recently announced support of the leading American feminist organization for Obama demonstrates that the major rearguard battle against maternal all-powerfulness will be waged by women. As for men, they have long been placed out of bounds. Clinton was unable to capture the gains of the feminization of society. Palin will benefit from them, from the reversal of the Law of the Father. She represents an all-powerful mother who no longer introduces anything into language, into symbolism, but instead traps everything in image, in narcissism. She effectuates a denial of symbolic castration, a negation of absence, and substitutes an imaginary phallus that she appropriates to herself. No doubt reaches her; she is ready for anything. She is the everything that revels in itself, a total power untroubled by the Law. In this way Palin is the ideal political figure in a post-September 11 society in which, on the judicial plane, the role of the Law is inverted. The power that imposes the law is no longer subject to it. The law becomes an empty form. It is now merely a record of the total power of the administration.

This mutation of the symbolic order and denial of facts suppresses all break points, all externality, in favor of maternal power, which incarnates power itself. This is especially obvious in the transformation of the judicial order, which now suppresses all distinctions between inside and outside and all difference between war and peace. Criminal law and the law of war are conflated. The State imposes on its own population surveillance and imprisonment techniques that were once reserved for enemies.

Sarah Palin is the pure image of this social structure in which individuals are plunged into fear and give themselves over to a maternal State. They consent to the destruction of their freedoms and of the right to control their own lives; in return, the security State takes over, nullifying their rights.

Translated By Joe Fiorill.

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