Cake Casuistry and Sarah Palin

Eaten Cake Too

“Can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

For much of my life, I did not understand what that expression meant.  Oh, I understood its general import; I heard my grandmother sigh it with a sorry shake of her head often enough.

But I couldn’t understand how it actually worked.   Didn’t you have to have your cake in order to eat it?

Even when I finally did get the literal meaning of the words, (“have” as in “continuing to have”, “eat” as in, you know–), I still resisted their logic.  Why couldn’t you save half the cake and eat the other half?  Even if you did eat the whole piece, didn’t you still have it –in your stomach?  At least for a while?

Ultimately, I think my problem was not so much with the expression’s words as with its meaning, especially its meaning for women of my generation.   There were just so many cakes that we wanted to have and eat too—an engaging career and time to attentively raise children; a good paycheck and creative, non-corporate work; a husband who worked and was available to his family; a daily blog and adequate sleep–

So many secret little nibbles of cake, so many secret little hoardings of crumbs, so very many empty or half-empty mouthfuls.

The parceling out of cake, even talking about parceling it out, was simply very hard for some of us;  it continues to be hard for many younger women too.   (Many women, for example, still feel the burden of keeping quiet about a sick child, an aging parent, a wayward husband, simply to protect perceptions of their job performance.  Others find that the job performance problems created by these factors aren’t limited to perception—such non-work matters demand their energy, time, and decision-making on a dailybasis.)

The genuine complexity of these issues is, I think, one reason why some women find Sarah Palin so troublesome.  Although Palin has clearly had her own difficulties with choices of this kind, she glosses these over, trying to have her cake and eat it too in the very same (somewhat disjointed) sentence.

She purports, for example, to be both attentive mom of five and also hands-on executive, lover of the wild but also driller, generous-spirited but also vindictive enough to ward off challenge, winking Josephine Six-pack but also policy “wonk”, perky but contemptuous of the perky, Alaskan hunter of moose and nationwide hunter of bucks, quitter but also stay-the-courser, insulting, reductive and libelous, but quick to find insult, reduction and libel in others, a self-declared claimant of down-to-earth clarity who obfuscates and confuses.

As my family will groaningly testify, I have sometimes expressed a surprising sympathy for Palin (even when cringing on the opposite side of the fence.)   I don’t like to see any woman ridiculed; I understand how difficult it is for a woman to carve out an individual or powerful style in our culture.  But her glibness has lately introduced so many  quoted untruths into common parlance that it is hard for me to retain much sympathy;  these have not only lowered the debate but significantly damaged it, and, when added to Palin’s  pursuit of earnings in the millions, have lately brought another “cake” phrase to mind.  Not the old saying of my grandmother’s, but the, perhaps, older one of Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat….”

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3 Comments on “Cake Casuistry and Sarah Palin”

  1. David Feldman Says:

    In a representational democracy our national leaders represent us both symbolically and operationally. The potential symbolic representation catches us up emotionally – we desperately want to see our personal concept of the good, and equally our personal concept of America itself, embodied in the leaders we choose. And in a fragmented nation riff with inequality, these symbolic choices will have pragmatic consequences, at least in the long run.

    Nevertheless I believe in voting first and foremost for operational representation, voting for policies, not people. The entrenched powers understand this cake-and-eat-it-too dilemma all too well, and protect their narrow interests by turning elections into beauty contests lest the voters focus on real issues.

    For fifteen minutes Sarah Palin seemed very “real” and “fresh” and ready to steal our hearts and thus the election. Fortunately she couldn’t stay on script – but the competence she lacked would only have made her more dangerous. In Turkish they say “when the axe comes into the forest the trees say ‘the handle is one of us.'”

    So I believe voters must learn to erase a politician’s symbolic persona, and vote pragmatically for directions in which we should, or must, move. Of course symbolism got elected Obama elected – as the resounding choice of progressives even though he didn’t carry the most progressive message. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Obama describe himself as a liberal, or any recognizable cognate. Indeed these days, when we read the likes of Andrew Sullivan calling Obama a “true conservative,” it looks like we gave up a lot to eat the cake (or have it?).

    • manicddaily Says:

      I’m not sure Palin ever seemed all that real and fresh, but I did hate to see her ridiculed in ways that probably would not have been used on a male candidate.

      • David Feldman Says:

        As a fan of Dennis Kucinich, it looks to me like Sarah Palin got the red carpet treatment.

        And I remember for a week after the Republican convention, with the “country” seemingly in love with Palin, my Democratic friends in despair.


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