By Ruth Conniff on August 18, 2010

Sarah Palin is a feminist. Ted Olson is a champion of gay rights. Yet we keep hearing about the demise of progressivism and the American Left.

Maybe the real problem is that the Right is co-opting progressivism for its own ends.

If God, Guns, and Gays were the Republicans’ rallying cries in the Culture War decades, this year the new, tea-party-inflected Rs feature gun-toting feminists and gay-marriage-loving libertarians.

Whether or not the Democrats take a drubbing at the polls in November, you can’t really argue that the country is beating a straight path to the right.

Is Sarah Palin’s feminism real? Her supporters seem to think so.

Like Phyllis Schlafly before her, Palin promotes a vision of true womanhood that works for her but is not exactly transferable to her less fortunate sisters.

Still, Palin’s “feminism” is not meaningless because it clearly means a lot to her base. It shows how conservative women’s image of themselves has evolved, and how ideas like working motherhood and fathers who help at home—along with a Title IX image of female strength—have completely transformed the culture.

We have also moved beyond dark warnings about “the Gay Agenda.” A whole generation is growing up in a world full of people who are openly gay. Even conservatives have been profoundly changed by gay liberation. Take a look at the pro-gay-marriage argument made by one of conservatism’s brightest legal minds in Perry v. Schwarzenegger.

What was most moving was the closing argument of Ted Olson, George W. Bush’s solicitor general and a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, whose compassion for his clients came through poignantly. Their love, he said, trumps government-imposed stigma.

Whatever happens in November, if Republicans win while co-opting the ideals of feminism and gay liberation, it may be a disaster for the Democrats, and even for the country, but it could also be viewed, in the long term, as a landmark of progressive social change.

This is an excerpt from Ruth Conniff’s article in the latest issue of The Progressive. To read the article in its entirety, and to subscribe to The Progressive for a year—all for just $14.97—simply click here.

Follow Ruth Conniff  @rconniff on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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