Seeing the soft bigotry of low expectations

September 1st, 2008

With apologies to those who expected more or less of me.

There was once a supremely arrogant and idiotic man who mouthed this line of someone else’s melodic prose – “the soft bigotry of low expectations” – to decry the educational imprisonment of the underprivileged. Nevermind that by his every action he condemned these underprivileged to further generations of poverty, invisibility, exploitation and pain.

Now I see what those words mean.

When you blithely send your firstborn to war and call it foreign relations.
When you leave your three-day-old at home and call it working motherhood.
When you don a dimestore tiara and call it a star.
When you adamantly oppose sex education in public schools and silence comment on your daughter’s teenage pregnancy by calling it a private matter.
When you cynically manipulate the future of the world and call it a game.
When you ignore the rules of reason, experience, wisdom, truth, legitimacy, decency and public trust and call it a gamechanger.

I see what it means.

Call me a bigot. But do not expect me to take any more or make any less of this.

On a softer note, there’s always this week’s giveaway.


  1. Thank you for this, Karen.

    I’ve been seething. Trying to sit with this. Feeling sadness and empathy and rage for a 17 year old girl. Feeling contempt for her mother. Thinking of my daughter’s future. Wondering how any daughter’s parent could vote for this ticket, and then seeing on my television screen a frightening example of a woman, a mother of five (or four), who can without a second thought.

    Sometimes we must be still.

    Sometimes we must speak.

    And sometimes we must act.

    Again, thank you.

    I, for one, expect no more or less than what you give, and am grateful for it.

    Comment by bluelikethesky — September 2, 2008 @ 12:06 am

  2. May I link to this post?

    Comment by bluelikethesky — September 2, 2008 @ 12:07 am

  3. *standing up and applauding. loudly.*

    Comment by Chookooloonks — September 2, 2008 @ 12:12 am

  4. Well said.


    Comment by Jena Strong — September 2, 2008 @ 12:28 am

  5. I call you many things–mom, writer, buddhist, teacher, friend, daughter, visitor, explorer, student… bigot is not on the list.

    Comment by mapelba — September 2, 2008 @ 1:05 am

  6. well said.

    thank you for this.

    Comment by nikole — September 2, 2008 @ 2:36 am

  7. amazingamazingamazingamazing.
    thanks thanks thanks for saying it with such intelligence and grace.

    Comment by Holly — September 2, 2008 @ 3:27 am

  8. For the first time in many years (since before 1989 when the Berlin wall fell and nuclear annihilation was much on my young mind), I feel a chill of fear and foreboding for our country. If we elect McCain we are taking an enormous risk. Even Shrub’s missteps pale in comparison, at least for me. This woman was put on the ticket simply because of her gender. She lacks the experience and is an unproven entity, and her religious fundamentalism is even scarier to me. McCain is OLD and has had cancer more than once. I just do not like the odds. Thank you for articulating your position. It motivates me — toward what action, I don’t know yet.

    Comment by Kathryn — September 2, 2008 @ 4:06 am

  9. I too feel moved to action. If Karen doesn’t mind I would like to post a link to the police brutality that has been common at the RNC this week. Frightening. And totally lighting a fire under my ass.
    I too feel for this poor 17 year old.
    I’m sorry, but what a f-up for a mom. It’s not her mom’s fault she’s pregnant but what kind of message does it send that she is hitting the road when her baby is five months pregnant? I mean, who would leave their family at a time like this? I wouldn’t care if they said I could direct alongside the exhumed and revived Alfred Hitchcock I wouldn’t leave my babies in a time of crisis. Not for nothing. It’s a mama thing. It’s a no brainer. For a woman. What kind of woman is this?

    Comment by spielbee — September 2, 2008 @ 4:30 am

  10. I do not believe you to be a bigot, I cannot say I fully agree nor disagree with your observations. I am doing hard work trying to respect those I disagree with and then must face the reality of Ms. Palin-what a challenge. Especially after watching the coverage of Amy Goodman’s (Democracy Now) arrest at the RNC.

    Comment by Bridge — September 2, 2008 @ 4:32 am

  11. I have to add my sadness. I didn’t realize until now that Palin also has a four/five month old son with Down’s? Holy Christ. How can you be a VP and raise a special-needs child? It doesn’t seem right. And it doesn’t seem fair.
    And yes. the Amy Goodman arrest was one of those events. Seeing a woman pepper sprayed at close range for standing too close to passing riot police was horrifying too.

    Comment by spielbee — September 2, 2008 @ 4:38 am

  12. this reminds me of one of my favorite movie quotes of all time: “I’m a bigot, but for the left.” Woody Allen, Annie Hall.

    Comment by latisha — September 2, 2008 @ 4:40 am

  13. I’m pretty sure she was put on the ticket specifically to appease the anti-choice wing. Why else would James Dobson from Focus on the Family be doing interviews an hour after her selection saying that “now” he and his followers could support McCain?

    She will not lure Hillary supporters. She will bring the people who were seriously considering sitting this one out back in – the ones who considered McCain a moderate or a liberal.

    The choice is indeed terrifying on so many levels.

    And I am so very sad for her children.

    Comment by bluelikethesky — September 2, 2008 @ 5:08 am

  14. Thank you. I’m afraid to blog about it for looking like a bigot, but you took the risk and defused the potential by using the word yourself.

    I think the truth in my heart is that it makes sense for a man to run for office with an infant and four other kids (special needs or not), but not a mother. All a baby wants is to be attached to its mother’s body as many hours of the day as possible, right? I want to hear public discussion of her mothering, but at the same time I don’t think working mom’s mothering should be open to public criticism unless fathering gets the same treatment. Sigh.

    Comment by Jenell Paris — September 2, 2008 @ 11:27 am

  15. Thank you for your honesty. Much needed in the world today. Your bravery to ‘call it like you see it’ encourages and empowers those of us who are not strongly in touch with our true voices to step out and do the same.

    The time is now.

    Comment by Lisa — September 2, 2008 @ 11:38 am

  16. Bravo! Intelligently said with passion, not bigotry. As a call to action, why not send an email to Oprah?

    Comment by Kathleen — September 2, 2008 @ 12:57 pm

  17. I just hate to judge a mother, you know? We are all so quick to judge each other. It’s sad.

    I do respect Obama’s response to this though.


    Comment by Anonymous — September 2, 2008 @ 2:24 pm

  18. I feel the same way.

    I don’t like the misogyny I have seen boiling since McCain chose Palin, but that doesn’t mean I like the choice.

    It’s not about her hair, or her beauty queen status.

    It is about her anti choice stance, creationism, lack of foreign policy, and many other things.

    I do find myself divided about the motherhood issue, though. I think a woman should be able to follow her career and raise her children, but I wonder, realistically if a person can have SUCH a young special needs child and run for vice president.

    And then to have her oldest daughter pregnant? I am divided, yes I am. Is this an issue to discuss along with policies, or is it private? In my mind, it’s private, but her policies seem to make it part of her platform, which would make it a public issue.

    This is a very strange mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

    Comment by Rowena — September 2, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

  19. If you think that this criticism is about her as a mother, you’ve misread this. Palin is only the package for a product that is patently disingenuous. She is only proof, in her rather innocent ignorance, of how low her patriarchal party will stoop to pander for political gamesmanship. Certainly her family suffers. We will all suffer when our leaders are as shortsighted, hypocritical and self-serving as this choice reveals. I don’t want to take away any of her freedoms; I want to make this country free from the thieves of her kind.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — September 2, 2008 @ 2:53 pm

  20. Thanks for the clarification, Karen … deep down, does any mom feel like a good mom? Palin was a poor choice for the GOPs – thrown up to entice voters exactly like me – but it has backfired, because while they take claim on family values, it is clear they have NO idea what it means! To ask a woman in Palin’s situation to lay herself and her family on the political alter and sacrifice them all for America … makes me sick.

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — September 2, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

  21. amen.

    Comment by nyjlm — September 2, 2008 @ 3:55 pm

  22. Deep, powerful, rich, true, challenging. Who are we as a nation, as men and women, mothers and fathers, children and grandchildren? Thank you, Karen, for saying this and for pointing out how much disrespect some politicians have for us as a nation and for the people they are willing to sacrifice.

    This is truly sad.

    Comment by GailNHB — September 2, 2008 @ 4:11 pm

  23. Incredulous is the only word I have to attempt to describe how I feel about this whole thing. Your words, however, are brilliant and authentic and give my perspective some perspective.

    Comment by Robyn — September 2, 2008 @ 5:31 pm

  24. No apologies necessary.

    Comment by Kristin H. — September 2, 2008 @ 5:48 pm

  25. Hear, Hear!!!!!! Yep.

    Comment by denise — September 2, 2008 @ 6:18 pm

  26. I have been pretty much foaming at the mouth all weekend. I should have just read your blog.

    Thank you for the moment of clarity and wisdom.

    Comment by Baby Olivia — September 2, 2008 @ 8:43 pm

  27. Amen!

    Comment by Shalet — September 3, 2008 @ 12:15 am

  28. I’m feeling grateful tonight to be able to dip into this cool oasis (or is it a hot spring) of thoughtful responders.

    Comment by Jena Strong — September 3, 2008 @ 12:19 am

  29. Hi Karen, I don’t know how you found my blog, but I’m grateful for your presence there–and even more grateful that it led me back to a thoughtful discussion like this.

    Comment by Patry Francis — September 3, 2008 @ 6:11 pm

  30. Bowing deeply!

    Ditto, ditto, ditto! If one is going to talk the talk, one must walk the walk.

    Practice right speech… or shut up.

    LOVE your blog!

    Comment by TennZen — September 4, 2008 @ 8:32 pm

  31. Hmmm… perhaps she has a husband who is willing to put his career on hold and take a bigger role in caring for HIS children while his wife does other very important work? Hmmm…. He has already displayed a willingness to let his career take a back seat to her job.

    The problem I see is that liberals are having a *really* hard time swallowing their own medicine with regards to feminism. That I find entertaining.

    And if you think any mother blithely sends their child to war, you have a screw loose.

    Comment by Anonymous — September 5, 2008 @ 1:32 am

  32. thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Comment by elizabeth — September 5, 2008 @ 3:54 am

  33. My screws are certainly loose. Just not loose enough.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — September 5, 2008 @ 1:35 pm

  34. Karen, I found your blog linked from kirtsy. I am having a hard time with insults from the left about the inexperience of Sarah Palin. I agree that she does not have the many hard years put in by McCain, but your golden boy Obama also does not have much experience and he is running for president!

    I understand you disagreeing with Palin’s policy, I admit I do not agree with most of Obama’s, but I think you would take great offense if the same words you said were used on your candidate: “ We will all suffer when our leaders are as shortsighted, hypocritical and self-serving as this choice reveals. I don’t want to take away any of [his]her freedoms; I want to make this country free from the thieves of [his]her kind.” The same could be said of many, many of your kind by my side.

    Comment by Evie — September 5, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

  35. Let me be the first to say I’m sorry. You remind me that all feelings are mutual, and we must be on guard not to fall prey to fear and hate.

    It is certainly a good time to follow the lead of cooler heads.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — September 5, 2008 @ 3:28 pm

  36. Thank you for this.

    Dear Anonymous, I for one would have been thrilled for McCain to choose one of the *many* qualified women within the Republican party. Thrilled. I may not agree with everything they stand for, but I would have been proud that they were chosen. This is not a problem “swallowing our own medicine” as you put it. This is a problem with Governor Palin riding on the backs of all the women who have worked hard and fought hard to have a say and make a difference in our political system only to set us all back 80 years with one fell swoop. *That* is what is tough to swallow.

    Comment by joann — September 5, 2008 @ 4:13 pm

  37. thank you. for such a well-thought perspective.

    Comment by the sleepy pianist — September 5, 2008 @ 8:02 pm

  38. Thank you for your eloquent/refreshing words.

    If there are any young moms out there, check out this RNC performance by Rage Against the Machine:

    I hope artists like them can motivate young people to come out and vote.

    Comment by Anonymous — September 5, 2008 @ 8:41 pm

  39. Thank you for this post. First time here, found via Kirtsy. I’ll be back. Actually, just yesterday saw your book in Kinokuniya in SF’s Japantown. Irony of ironies or just the universe pointing me your way.

    Comment by gwen bell — September 6, 2008 @ 12:57 am

  40. I am thrilled that this post brought so many commenters here. These are the kinds of exchanges that are needed at this time in our nation (and our world!): speaking our opinions, openly, gently, but with conviction.

    Thanks, Karen, for your gentle and convicting responses. Yes, “both sides” must keep cool heads and be aware of what we do and say, but I must say that what saddens me most is that there seems to always be a move to “pick sides.” To nail “the other side” with the hypocrisy of “their” position without admitting to my own prejudices and shortcomings.

    I wonder how much of the venom that has been spewed publicly by these two political parties is what is truly meant and felt as opposed to being what we/they are supposed to do and say during campaigns and conventions.

    And I wonder when it will be possible for these types of misunderstandings and accusations and opinions to be discussed “out there” as they are here: with honesty, with integrity, and with a truly palpable sense of acceptance of the feelings and decisions of those with whom one does not agree.

    Thanks again, Karen, for speaking your mind – and inviting your readers to do the same.

    Comment by GailNHB — September 6, 2008 @ 7:13 pm

  41. Well said!!

    Comment by Shelli — September 7, 2008 @ 8:53 pm

  42. What planet are you from? First off, Palin is not sending her first born to war, no parent can. Her Son decided of his own free will to serve his country and that should be applauded for any young person who chooses to make that sacrifice. How dare you politicize that.

    Many Woman in the country go right back to work after giving birth; unfortunately for most it is the only way the family can survive financially. In Palin’s case she is running a state.

    in any political race family matters should be private, especially those of children. Who do you think you are to condemn her because her daughter made poor choices. have you ever made poor choices? Lets see how you feel when you daughter gets knocked up.

    So you must be supporting an ignorant person whos only platform is change… no shit? change? duh, change is inevitable, McCain will bring change, if Hillary would be running she would bring change. How long are the Democrats going to say the same old shit over and over? what are you going to change? more importantly how are you going to change? they are empty words without action. Coming from a man that has NO EXPERIENCE it doesn’t surprise me.

    I am all for disagreeing on political view points; I don’t find it necessary to disparage anyone’s family for political gain. You should be ashamed of yourself. Not what I would expect from a bleeding heart liberal. And just for the record I am an Independent – Was a Hillary supporter not am voting for McCain

    Comment by Anonymous — September 9, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

  43. Shows just what you know……

    “The leaders of a women’s political organization that launched earlier this year to support Hillary Clinton are speaking out against what they say are examples of media sexism toward Sarah Palin and urging members to tell the press corps “to back off.”

    WomenCount, a group co-founded by top Hillary fundraiser Susie Tompkins Buell, posted a lengthy item on their blog decrying questions over whether Palin can, as a mother of five, juggle her family responsibilities and still be vice president.

    “The very notion that Sarah Palin should not have accepted this nomination because she is a mother with demanding challenges underscores just how far we have to go,” wrote Rosemary Camposano, the group’s communications director.

    Comment by Anonymous — September 9, 2008 @ 5:44 pm

  44. You’re right. We do not live on the same planet.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — September 9, 2008 @ 7:46 pm

  45. Someone mentioned cool heads, and I feel like I have a pretty “cool head” on this one. I’ve always considered myself a moderate politically (and otherwise…the truth being in the middle and all that.) But my intuition is buzzing big time on this one.

    Wow. Bless her.

    Also, as a moderate, I never vote straight ticket, so I pay pretty close attention. And here’s what I’ve seen.

    1. Regarding the experience argument someone made: Debating who has more experience feels like debating which shade of green is more appealing. The point is, we’ve had the opportunity to watch one of those shades deepen though 18+ months of intense scrutiny, campaigning, debates, interviews, white papers, etc. The other we were introduced to a few weeks and one weird interview ago. There is no comparison.

    2. Senator Obama could have picked Hillary Clinton to run with him as his VP, but he didn’t because he believed he could work better with someone else. So he risked big numbers and a surer win to partner with someone he felt he could work with to get things accomplished if he actually did win. It seems Senator McCain did the opposite. In the small company where I work, I wouldn’t hire someone in an entry-level position without more than one interview. Sen McCain did. For his stand-in. For Vice President. Of America. It’s strange to say the least. The selection was such a completely irresponsible move on the McCain camp’s part. Bizarro. It showed spectacularly questionable leadership. And it sealed the deal for me.

    Also, the plot line of all of this feels like something I’d pick up at Half Priced Books. This is real? Really? Where did all the grown ups go?

    My head is clear. But it’s super confused. (But I’m not confused at all about whom I’m supporting whole heartedly.)

    Comment by Girl con Queso — October 2, 2008 @ 3:23 am

  46. Great post. These are most definitely scary times.

    Part of what saddens me about this is that it should be exciting to have a woman running for such a high office. But not this woman. This woman does not represent women well. And I’m afraid she’s setting us back rather than propelling us forward.

    Comment by Mary — October 2, 2008 @ 2:08 pm

  47. I too was saddened… that after all the work women have done over the years in order to be taken seriously, this is who people will remember.

    I can hear them now saying, ” This is what happens when you take a chance on a woman.” Or worse, you’ll hear comments like, ” Come on now, don’t pull a Palin on me.”

    Uggg! It’s just an awful state of affairs all around.

    Comment by Elizabeth Harper — October 12, 2008 @ 8:55 am

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