Lopez: You write: “If American males were sometimes threatened by powerful women, Palin’s masterful presentation of her husband likely assuaged any such fears.” Was that a real concern? And if she was a “masterful” media strategist here, why not elsewhere?
Joseph: Absolutely. Older men adore Palin because she wields her power in a way that doesn’t threaten their masculinity, and I think they take their cues from Todd Palin. He is a unique American phenomenon in that he’s not the Denis Thatcher type, but a rugged man’s man, and yet he’s so confident in his masculinity that he’s not at all threatened by her. Men pick up on that. I don’t think that men in general fear leadership by women, they just dislike a certain kind of leadership that threatens their masculinity. So as I read through her speeches it became clear to me that she always went out of her way to affirm his masculinity whether describing some race he had won or his hard work in the oil industry or his various other manly exploits. It’s a very smart move on her part. It may not be a strategy at all — it may just be the way they’ve organized their relationship — that she leads in certain areas but also affirms him in his areas of strength and doesn’t challenge his overall masculinity. It’s actually a fascinating relationship that I don’t pretend to understand. But somebody should write about it because it may be the relationship of the future, as more women pursue higher education and men don’t.
Lopez: What does Sarah Palin tell us about feminism?
Joseph: That feminism wasn’t invented in 1969 but has been around for thousands of years in the form of strong women who have led men at various times — Deborah the judge from the Bible, Joan of Arc, Carrie Nation, Margaret Thatcher, and of course the Biblical ideal of the woman of Proverbs 31, who runs businesses and manages her husband’s estate while he hangs out at the city gate with the boys.
Lopez: How important is understanding Alaska to understanding Palin?
Joseph: Very important. She is a product of her environment. Her political instincts are wild and untamed. She’s a fighter, who eats what she can kill. I don’t think her loyalty is to people but to ideas. If people violate her ideals and philosophy they become expendable. She learned all of this from nature and the environment she grew up in.
Lopez: What kind of governor was she?
Joseph: She seemed to govern with a strong hand. She was surprisingly moderate on some issues — she didn’t ram through socially conservative policies, but was willing to compromise. And of course she was more than willing to tax oil companies at higher rates then before. She wasn’t loyal to her party or to people necessarily, but to her beliefs. She turned on mentors if they offended her sense of right and wrong.
Lopez: Many consider her a quitter, though. By the time she returned, was that impossible to avoid?
Joseph: I think quitting was a grave mistake. No matter which explanation you went with, it still looked bad. Reagan understood that leadership is often acting — that is, projecting strength. The message that came out of the resignation was that if you make her life miserable enough, she’ll quit. That is not the message one wants to send to opponents. I think she was ill-advised or perhaps she wasn’t advised. Her history is that she sees more interesting things along the path and heads toward them. She had a chance to become a national figure and it made governing Alaska look boring.
Lopez: Should she have said no to McCain, in retrospect?
Joseph: Yes. She should have turned him down and let the world know that she did because John McCain is everything she detests in a politician. She’d have been a hero to the conservative movement. That would have given her time to grow and mature as a politician and as a person. I’m not a fan of microwaved candidates whether of the Right or the Left. Leadership is learned over time, after one has held many positions of power and influence. The notion that people can go from serving parts of first terms as governor or senator to running the world, in this modern, complicated age, is a bit nuts. Reagan benefitted from running the Screen Actor’s Guild and then a huge state for eight years. If they were surgeons and I needed an operation, I would want someone with considerable experience.