August 31st, 2008


Palin in comparison

So now that I've had a few days to think about John McCain's extraordinary choice of running mate, I find I have a few things to say about her.

My first reaction can pretty well be summed up in one word: "Buh?" I hadn't even heard that she was on the long short list. I knew nothing about her credentials, her background, her beliefs. I wasn't even sure how to pronounce her name. (For the record: it appears to be "pale-in", same as actor Michael Palin.)

This led directly into my second reaction, which was anger and irritation. Because the obvious conclusion to draw is that McCain wanted a running mate who was a woman, and it didn't really matter which woman it was. And Palin's own reference to the "18 million cracks in the glass ceiling" in her introductory speech seemed to confirm that this was a direct, and almost childishly transparent, play for Hillary Clinton's supporters. From The American Prospect:

The pick of Palin is dripping with transparent condescension, the notion that the enthusiasm behind Hillary was simply the result of her being a woman, that it had nothing to do with what she actually stood for, and in that sense it's equally sexist.... It's not very different from running Alan Keyes against Barack Obama in 2004.

But I am starting to see a little more logic to it now. Without even trying, I can name half a dozen Republican women who are more qualified to be vice president than Sarah Palin: Olympia Snowe, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Elizabeth Dole, Christine Todd Whitman, Condoleeza Rice... But none of those women is anywhere near as socially conservative as Palin (except maybe Hutchinson, but the rumor is that she's planning to run for governor in 2010). And if McCain has a weakness with the Republican base, it's that the Christian right isn't excited by him. The most likely explanation I can find for this pick is to fire up the evangelicals, and if you scroll down to the bottom of this transcript, John Kerry says pretty much the same thing. And unfortunately, there's a good chance that it'll work; James Dobson has already come out for the ticket, in a clear reversal of his former negative opinion of McCain, and I'm sure his cronies will follow.

Now, I can similarly think of half a dozen Republican men with conservative chops and better credentials than Palin, so criticism of the pick as blatant tokenism still stands. But it does make it seem a little less random, and a little more worrisome for the outcome in November.

The other concern I have about this choice: the return of in-your-face misogyny in the media, and in the "progressive" blogosphere. It's already begun -- the first post in Shakesville's "Sarah Palin Sexism Watch" appeared approximately an hour after McCain announced his choice, and it's already up to four entries -- and it will only get worse. And it makes me really sad and frustrated to know that the Republican mainstream will do a far better job of striking back on her behalf than the Democrats ever did for Hillary Clinton.

There are plenty of reasons to criticize Sarah Palin that don't come back to her gender: her social conservatism (anti-choice, anti-gay, thinks creationism should be taught in schools), her terrible record on environmental issues (doesn't believe in global warming, lobbied to get the polar bear removed from the endangered species list), her thin resume*. From Feministe:

Women are not stupid, even if John McCain thinks we are. And the progressives among us will not be voting for an anti-woman candidate just because she happens to be female. But hopefully, we also won’t be excusing sexism and misogyny directed at Sarah Palin just because we find her views abhorrent. And hopefully media elite and progressive writers will have the sense to attack Palin on the issues, and not on what’s in her pantsuits.

Let's hope.

*I think it is totally fair to go after Palin's lack of experience. Some people are saying that we can't criticize Palin's inexperience when Obama faces a similar issue, but I find the situations to be quite different, for several reasons: first, it seems clear to me that Obama has been preparing himself to take on the job of commander in chief for a long time now, at least a year and a half, and very probably longer, while as recently as this July, Palin didn't know what the vice president's job entails (hat tip to sepdet for the link). But more importantly, Obama just went through a grueling national primary, and during that process, several million people decided that he was ready to be president. So far, Sarah Palin's readiness for the job has been vetted by... John McCain. Who, we might note, is one of the people who has most questioned Obama's lack of experience.