All hail the hockey mom -

All hail the hockey mom


That forest of “Hockey Moms 4 McCain” signs at the Republican National Convention last eve was a surreal and impressive sight. And I have to admit to reflexively wondering whether this was some sort of breakthrough for the game in the United States. Can the GOP do what Gary Bettman couldn’t? Will Sarah Palin and her sisterhood of puckheads usher in a new generation of Levi Johnstons—brushheaded right-wingers who set aside their ball gloves to crash, bang and give 110 per cent? 

Then I snapped out of it. Not only is wishing Americans would embrace our national sport lame, it misses the sheer cunning with which the GOP has deployed the “hockey mom” label. This, after all, isn’t about the popularity of a sport. This is identity politics at its subtlest—a dog-whistle slogan that seems folksy enough on the surface, yet carries an encrypted signal to Republican ears about who’s doing the talking, where she comes from and what she stands for.

That message, of course, riffs off the “soccer mom” archetype that served the Clinton Dems so well in the 1990s. A hockey mom is like a soccer mom, a colleague joked to me this morning. Except her kid fights. His little apercu nicely captures the sense of resolve and resilience Palin clearly wants to transmit: the game is tough, and so are the people who like it. Last night, she delivered a canned line about the difference between hockey moms and pitbulls (“pit bulls don’t wear lipstick;” heh), which summoned some unflattering images. But when coupled with her depictions of Barack Obama as a weak-kneed, appeasing leftist, it worked fairly well.

Underneath the overt message, meanwhile, is a big shout out to the Republican base, which had been floundering in the backwash of Obama-mania. And for this purpose, the limited interest in hockey south of the border actually helps. In the U.S., more so than Canada, hockey remains the sport of the blue-collar suburb or the small-town north, so claiming it as your own defines you in a way that declaring your devotion to football never could. And it’s all about impressions. If the soccer mom is the woman on the sidelines of a manicured sports pitch, wearing Geox trainers and sipping a venti soy latté, the hockey mom is the one dunkin’ her donut at a rink on the edge of town, or slipping outside for a smoke. The soccer mom spends her kid’s grad year prepping her youngster for college. The hockey mom spends hers prepping for a shotgun wedding.

If that seems harsh, consider what we witnessed last night: a regular family, in just such a position, feted by a party that has held White House for 20 of the last 28 years. How did that happen? I mean, it’s not like the Republicans don’t have their own élite. Yet here there were waving around “hand-written” hockey mom signs that looked suspiciously mass produced, for a woman they probably would have deemed unsuitable in previous elections. Answer: they caught an intoxicating whiff of voter defiance, which has been known to turn elections against all odds. Sarah Palin’s unapologetic celebration of what she is has allowed the GOP’s most loyal supporters to feel good again about who they are. Her status as an outsider offers a credible challenge to Barack Obama’s reform-based message, and her tint of hickishness provides a pleasing contrast to his pre-packaged perfection. More importantly, she has given the GOP a flag to rally around at a time when John McCain, for all his heroism and pretensions to being a maverick, wasn’t getting the job done. In this context, “hockey mom” isn’t an epithet, it’s a battle cry.

What a change. I remember a radio morning man in Toronto denigrating the suburb of Brampton, Ont. a few years back as a bleak landscape of housing developments and “hockey moms with broken hair.” Well, there’s nothing wrong with Sarah Palin’s hair. Whatever else is wrong with her appears to be just the fix the Republicans needed.


All hail the hockey mom

  1. Funnily enough when John Kerry was shown playing hockey four years ago that was used against him as a sign that he was outside the American mainstream and had something in common with (gasp) Canadians!

  2. Dear concerned citizens of America and mass media of the U.S.A.

    As a concerned disabled American Veteran and American citizen, I consider it my duty and responsibility to address the following critical issues facing the voters of our Greatgrand nation, the United States of America [USA].

    The citizens of the United States of America [USA] have the ultimate power and responsibility to elect the Right Ticket with the right joint “temperament, judgment, and statesmanship” to lead our nation as well as change our nation’s present and future moral, political, economic, educational, health care, energy, military, and foundational soul.
    In my firm professional, personal, and political opinion, the media should help the common voter to explore and discuss the following attributes of the present Republican and Democratic presidential slates:
    1. Does the joint ticket have a calm, cool, and collected ” temper and impulse” [Presidential Temperament]?
    2. Does each ticket have sound and sustained “Judgment and Caliber”?
    3. Does each ticket have a “presidential depth and degree” in regard to their purpose, policies, and positions?
    4. Does each ticket have adequate, “understanding and knowledge” of workings around Washington”?
    5. Does each ticket have enough “vigor, wisdom and Vision” for the future of our beloved Great-grand Nation?
    6. Does each ticket possess enough joint foreign policy experience and ex-poser based on “American Values, Virtues, Vastness, and strong soul”?
    7. Are their campaign talk, slogans, ads, plans, and programs based on facts and are they free of fear, fiction, frivolous labels, unfair attacks, negativity, and impulsivity?

    If your answer to a majority of the above questions is yes, I suggest you vote for that ticket. As a Independent registered voter I have decided to vote for Obama-Biden ticket. I am sure they will protect our national security, Strong’s, stamina and strong soul. Rebuild our nation from bottom up in all areas of need, OBAMA-BIDEN ticket will once again restore and rebuild our global standing with the use of maximum international humane diplomacy and minimal force if and when indicated.
    Yours sincerely,

    COL. A.M. Khajawall [Ret] MD., Forensic psychiatrist, Colonel, US-AR / MC Combat Stress Control[Ret], Disabled American Veteran and Iraq Freedom team.
    PS: This nation will not buy into kitchen sink approah. We are getting deeper into internal and external holes thru these attack and world is laughing on us and enjoying our kitchen sink gimmics. I am sure GOP.RNC, FOX, RUSH, And McCains his surrogates will fail to dupe, decieve, and deprive USA its deserved leadership.

  3. The one kicker to all this, though, is that hockey is still overwhelmingly a blue-state sport on America. In fact, if anything has really been demonstrated by Bettman’s quixotic campaign to grow the game south of the border, it’s that while hockey can remain comfy and familiar to Bostonians and Minnesotans and even Californians, it’s had a hell of time jumping the front lines of the culture wars.

    With the possible exception of the border tier of Montana, the Dakotas and of course Alaska, pretty much every living, breathing American hockey mom lives in a staunchly democratic state. To the sort of voters Palin is supposed to try and flip, or the Republican base she’s supposed to motivate to turn out, hockey is an alien sport from a faraway land that sometimes seem to inexplicably appear on ESPN 5 and interrupt NASCAR coverage.

    And yeah, those “hand-painted” signs at the convention last night sure looked dubiously spontaneous.

  4. The convention is in Minnesota so there would be plenty of hockey-moms around. I would have been more suspicious about the signs and the like if the convention was in Arizona or somewhere like that.

    “Sarah Palin’s unapologetic celebration of what she is has allowed the GOP’s most loyal supporters to feel good again about who they are.”

    I think this is slightly wrong. I think Palin supporters feel plenty good about themselves, they are just tired of being looked down upon by class snobs. It is refreshing to see an average person get a crack at one of the top jobs and I think that’s what they were celebrating.

  5. The convention is in Minnesota so there would be plenty of hockey-moms around. I would have been more suspicious about the signs and the like if the convention was in Arizona or somewhere like that.

    True, true. But do these Minnesotan hockey moms all have the same two pots of red and blue paint, and paint the letters in alternating colours on the same-sized white paper backgrounds?

  6. jwl:

    Class snobbery goes both ways.

  7. Hockey mom’s kid is pregnant at 17 years old. I wonder if this mom ever did talk to her own daughter about safe sex? She sure seems to want it out of the education system.

  8. ron – I don’t know if Palin ever talked to her kids about safe sex but there sure as hell is evidence she didn’t want it in the school system. google is your friend as I don’t want this post auto-queued by the mods for having a link.