The Sexism of the Palin Pick

Ann Friedman makes the case:

Palin’s addition to the ticket takes Republican faux-feminism to a whole new level. As Adam Serwer pointed out on TAPPED, this is in fact a condescending move by the GOP. It plays to the assumption that disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters did not care about her politics — only her gender. In picking Palin, Republicans are lending credence to the sexist assumption that women voters are too stupid to investigate or care about the issues, and merely want to vote for someone who looks like them. As Serwer noted, it’s akin to choosing Alan Keyes in an attempt to compete with Obama for votes from black Americans.

I can’t help but be, oh, a little bit skeptical of Republicans’ sudden interest in the glass ceiling. After all, this is the party that threw women like Lilly Ledbetter under the bus, in favor of businesses that practice wage discrimination. The party that stymied the Equal Rights Amendment. The party that not only wants to force women here and abroad to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, but also wants to deny them access to a range of contraception options.

Not to mention hypocrisy at play. Republicans directed an inexcusable amount of sexist vitriol at Hillary during the primary. As Michelle Malkin said on Fox News about Hillary, “If that’s the face of experience, I think it’s going to scare away a lot of those independent voters that are on the fence.” At National Review, Kathryn Jean Lopez blamed polling that said America isn’t ready for a woman president on the failure of Geena Davis’ TV show (in which she played a vice president who was elevated to commander in chief after the president’s death). And Kristol credited Hillary’s brief, misty-eyed moment for propelling her to victory in the New Hampshire primary: “It’s the tears. She pretended to cry, the women felt sorry for her, and she won.”

It’s clear that Republicans believe that what made Hillary Clinton such a good candidate was her gender, not her political experience or positions on the issues. And McCain’s decision to pick Palin shows he took this message to heart and chose to add her to the ticket primarily because of her gender. In so doing, McCain has turned the idea of the first woman in the White House from a true moment of change to an empty pander.

Back in ancient history, oh, a month or two ago, when it became apparent that Barack Obama would indeed win the Democratic primary, a number of Clinton supporters objected to the idea of Obama picking a woman other than Clinton for the ticket, derisively calling it the “any boobs will do” theory of picking a veep. I always thought this was a bit unfair to clearly qualified candidates for the vice presidential slot, like Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, D-Kan. But I understood the point, and it made sense — just picking a woman, any woman, solely because she was a woman, was unlikely to win over Clinton supporters. Indeed, it would be far more insulting than picking a qualified man, which is ultimately what Obama did. Clinton supporters, you see, supported her not solely because she was a woman (though of course, that was a part of it), but because they believed her to be a solid leader, to be a person who would be a good president. They backed Clinton not because of her ovaries, but because of her guts; not because of her breasts, but because of her mind.

Palin is the “any boobs will do” pick to the nth degree. Not only does Palin lack the qualifications of Clinton, but she lacks the ideological bent, as well. Clinton supporters might have objected to, say, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., on the ticket, given that McCaskill’s experience is not what Clinton’s is. But at least McCaskill’s pro-choice. She’s liberal on economic issues. She’s a feminist. She’s on Sen. Clinton’s side of the aisle.

Palin is a reactionary conservative, one comfortable with supporting Pat Buchanan. She’s opposed to abortion even in cases of rape and incest. She’s got absolutely no international experience, unless you want to count her trying to run an oil pipeline through part of Canada. And her experience pales compared to Clinton’s. Indeed, it pales compared to Dan Quayle’s in 1988. Even Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, D-N.Y., had been in the House for six years when Walter Mondale tapped her as his running mate, had served as chair of the DNC’s platform committee, and as secretary of the House Democratic Caucus.

Palin is the most cynical of picks, a woman selected because women just want to vote for women — a pick that fails to recognize that women actually believe things, that they vote on issues, that they care about having a woman in office not because any woman will do, but so that women advance in American society.

This isn’t to say Sarah Palin is stupid — you don’t rise from the PTA to the governor’s mansion if you are. But she lacks the experience of a Vice Presidential candidate. Not since Spiro T. Agnew has a major party placed such an inexperienced candidate on the ticket. And Agnew ended up being an unmitigated disaster. Then-President Richard Nixon considered ousting him before the 1972 race, and Agnew ended up becoming the second vice president to resign the office in 1973, ultimately pleading no contest to bribery and tax evasion charges.

That the candidates we compare Palin to are Quale and Agnew and, at best, Ferraro are not good signs for her. None of the three had distinguished careers; while Quayle and Agnew did win, they certainly did not acquit themselves well in office. Ferraro was on the wrong side of one of the worst electoral blowouts in American history, and while that wasn’t her fault, her historic pick certainly didn’t help Mondale avoid a shellacking. She followed that up by losing a race for Senate in New York and ultimately offending all of Barack Obama’s supporters and many of Hillary Clinton’s supporters by arguing that Obama faced no racism in the campaign. Agnew left politics in disgrace. Quayle became a national punchline and made an abortive attempt at the presidency in 2000, only to drop out before voting started. None of the three have had the careers of Al Gore or Walter Mondale or George H.W. Bush or, heck, even Tom Eagleton.

Palin isn’t ready for the vice presidency. And she wouldn’t have been selected if she was Steve Palin, radical anti-choice first-term governor of Alaska. Unlike Hillary Clinton or a dozen other Democratic women (or indeed, many other Republican women), she’s not remotely ready to assume the duties of president should John McCain die in office. In short, she’s not capable of carrying out the most important duty the vice president has. I’m glad that McCain picked a woman to serve on the ticket. But I wish she’d been one that was on the ticket because she was a strong, capable, prepared leader. Maybe, after a few more years and some more seasoning, Palin could be that leader — I’ve certainly seen nothing to indicate that she’s anything other than intelligent and capable of growing as a leader, and one would hope that she does. But she’s not ready yet. And because of that, her choice is an insult — to women, to men, to the American people. And to Palin herself — for she deserves better than to be picked for her reproductive organs, rather than her ability.

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2 Responses to The Sexism of the Palin Pick

  1. 1
    Renee says:

    After reading this post it occurs to me that alot of time has been spent focusing on why John McCain chose Palin rather than why she accepted. She is clearly not a stupid woman and when the offer was made to her she herself had to know why she had been given the nod. Knowing what she did as well as her level of experience she still accepted this position. What does this say about her as a person? She could have gracefully declined to be nominated and no one would have known that she had said no, but instead she accepted a chance at a position which is clearly unqualified for. This to me smacks of a woman that will put power before the best interest of the people which is not a good attribute for any leader to have. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a country that you love is say no and that is what Palin should have done.

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