Sarah Palin was not present at the third annual Smart Girl Summit, which took place last Friday and Saturday at the Crowne Plaza downtown (not, as was reported by The Daily Beast, in Louisville). Neither was Michele Bachmann. Or even Ann Coulter.
It seemed almost ungracious for Bachmann and, especially, Palin to fail to make an appearance at a conference that was inspired directly by them. Their names were frequently invoked as inspiration for other women's political careers. Their images were admired on the big screen: Bachmann in Fire From the Heartland on Friday, Palin in The Undefeated on Saturday. (Fire From the Heartland is a straight-to-DVD project by Citizens United Productions, "America's premier conservative film production studio." The Undefeated recently flopped spectacularly at the box office and will be released on DVD and pay-per-view by the end of the month.) The 300 attendees even chose Bachmann as their Presidential candidate in a straw poll.
But in the absence of their actual leaders, the Smart Girls resorted to a celebration of political girlishness. The two closing speeches, the best spots on the speaking schedule, went to men -- internet publisher Andrew Breitbart on Friday, 2012 Presidential candidate Herman Cain on Saturday -- while the girls settled for supporting roles. After all, behind every great man is a great woman, right? Anyway, women have less time for running the country because they've got the most important job in the world: Staying at home with their children and grandbabies.
And yes, there was a smattering of pink suits in the grand ballroom.
The straw poll, a last-minute addition to the agenda, became the convention's biggest news hook. Jennifer DeJournett, cofounder and president of VOICES of Conservative Women and also chief pollster, pointed out that women outvote men at a rate of five percent. Her poll is the first of its kind: a chance to ask conservative women to select their favorite Presidential candidates (Republican only, it goes without saying) early in the election process -- more than six months before the start of primary season. On the back of each ballot, there was space for voters to offer advice to their favorite candidates.
Otherwise, the summit was a way for the conservative girls to promote their own special causes to a room of like-minded thinkers and to spend three hours receiving special training in "Fighting Like a Girl" for the 2012 campaign. (The training, naturally, came from a man, a representative from American Majority, a "political training institute.")
During the Friday afternoon session, Deneen Borelli, a Fox News commentator, congratulated her audience on not being ashamed to be called girls, and then jumped on her hobby horse attacking President Obama's energy plan. Former Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave spoke movingly of spending time cuddling her young "grandbabies" (the youngest of which is named Reagan; the crowd applauded) and then began stumping for the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion political action committee of which she is Project Director. A true sign that this was a political speech: a reference to "my dear friend, Mike Pence." (You may recall Mike Pence -- he's the guy behind the widely publicized Pence Amendment, which would have de-funded Planned Parenthood, if only it weren't a bit of political showmanship that got precisely nowhere in the U.S. Senate.)
And of course St. Louisan Phyllis Schlafly was there, delivering her own patented brand of anti-feminism, crediting wonderful, time-saving inventions such as the washing machine for improving the lot of the modern woman. (God bless the Kitchen Aid mixer.) Not that women were ever really oppressed. Schlafly can tell you! She was there! At both Washington University, where she got her undergrad degree, and at Harvard, where she received her Masters, she was fully able to "keep up the guys" even while working in a munitions plant. (She naturally forgot to mention that when she was going to school, in the early 1940s, there were no guys, because they were all off fighting World War II.)
Schlafly, by the way, delivered a perfect example of "fighting like a girl." The feminists, she said, don't like Sarah Palin because she's accomplished, because she's got beautiful children and a "cool husband" and, most of all, because she's pretty.
Though Schlafly received a warm reception, she's been doing this same schtick forever. The true showstopper of the afternoon was a newcomer: Natalie Nichols, county clerk of Bowie County, Texas.
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