Much like the rest of you, I spent much of Friday in confusion. That maverick John McCain really threw us for a maverick loop with his maverick choice (did I mention John McCain is a maverick?) for VP. Like the rest of you, I had no clue who the hell Sarah Palin was, and, before I could even start to wrap my head around her bio, my boy TRF (a Republican staffer working on the Hill) sent me a triumphal email over the pick. We traded our usual, faux-combative emails where I warned him, though not knowing why, that the GOP was going to live to regret this one.
At the time I couldn’t figure out McCain’s logic. I’m thinking that most Hillary Clinton supporters are middle-aged, pro-choice feminists. Especially with Roe v. Wade in the 5-4 balance and Ruth Bader Ginsburg stunt-doubling for the Crypt Keeper, how would they find the NRA, pro-life governor at all appealing?
Just because she’s a woman?
And why would McCain negate his most effective argument against Obama—his lack of experience—by nominating someone with arguably less experience to be a “heartbeat away” from the Presidency? Sure, I’ll admit that she has roughly two years of executive experience. But it’s Alaska, for godsakes—one of the smallest, most homogenous states of the Union which gets the most federal funds of any other and every citizen gets an annual welfare check from the oil companies just for living there. How hard could it be to govern that place? Even W. couldn’t mess that one up!
And now, with every day revealing a new surprise about the woman, I’m even more baffled. The abstinence-only advocate has a pregnant teenage daughter (note: many conservatives are claiming this reportage unfair, that family should be off-limits, but Palin’s been the one touting her own “hockey mom” credentials, her military-bound son, and her Down’s syndrome baby as reasons to vote for her; if it was fair to scrutinize Kerry’s military record since he brought it up, why isn’t Palin’s motherhood fair game—after all, only 2.2% of teens get pregnant in this country which makes her situation extremely rare and Palin advocates abstinence-only, which clearly isn’t working in her own family). The maverick Palin hired a Washington lobbyist to get $27 million in earmarks for her town of 9,000 when she was mayor—the same amount Boise, ID, population 100,000, got—wrote a letter to Ted Stevens requesting $200 million in earmarks for the state while governor, and was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. She’s also apparently a supporter and/or member of an Alaskan secessionist party. The Pentacostal governor, like our President, also believes she’s doing God’s work—even when trying to get a $30 billion natural gas pipeline built through Alaska. “I think God’s will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built, so pray for that.”
While I definitely don’t understand McCain’s logic in choosing her, I see why he would choose a woman. The Republican brand is rusted, and demographic studies show that it will continue to erode. In less than 40 years, there will be no majority race in the United States. Any party that wants to survive has to reach out to women and minorities.
The GOP, however, has a lot of recent history to overcome. They were the “party of Lincoln,” as they often claim, but those Radical Republican days are long gone. Black folks stayed Republican until 1960 when JFK made that famous phone call to Coretta Scott King while MLK was in jail. After his loss to Kennedy, the card-carrying NAACP member, Richard Milhouse Nixon devised his Southern Strategy, exploiting whites’ anxieties and racism to electoral victory. Those anti-segregation former Dixiecrats also jumped to the GOP ship, and ever since we have had “Welfare Queens,” “reverse racism,” and Willie Horton ads. Blacks now feel quite alienated by the GOP and feel that that party exploits prejudice to blacks’ detriment and their gain. Most black folks can’t help but feel suspect to any overtures made by Republicans, still smarting over past slights.
I don’t think Latinos feel much better about the party. After all, it’s the GOP that drives 187-like, heavily-racialized anti-immigration crusades, often claiming that “those people” can never truly become American, how they ruin American culture, you know the drill.
Much to their defense, it was also the Republicans who first advocated for the Equal Rights Amendment. It was an official part of their platform from WWII until the 1970s—when Phyllis Schafly had it expunged. Ever since, they have been notorious in excoriating “Feminazis,” being anti-choice, and generally deriding most feminist causes.
This is the legacy current Republicans have to overcome if they truly want to reach out to women and minorities. And they will have to run female and minority candidates. But running those candidates isn’t the point. It is not simply a matter of throwing up a black, Latino, Asian, or woman. A black candidate can be just as racist as any Klansman, and many of the (to quote a friend) “self-loathing Negroes” the GOP throws up makes you wonder. And Phyllis Schafly has proven that a woman can be just as sexist as any male chauvinist pig.
I don’t know if Sarah Palin’s a sexist, or not. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. I see that she has definitely energized the conservative base. But I don’t see how her views and her record will appeal to liberal or moderate women—self-described feminists or not. I also don’t see why, if McCain were compelled to choose a female running mate, why he wouldn’t pick someone with more of a proven track record, a Christine Todd Whitman, Kay Bailey Hutchison, or Condoleeza Rice, a woman who one might not agree with but one who has earned her place at the table. When you compare Palin to these women or Hillary Clinton, she is most definitely lacking.
In fact, the Palin pick smells a bit like the choice of Clarence Thomas. The only thing that qualified that man for the Supreme Court was that he was black and conservative. It was the condescending tokenism of his choice that had outraged blacks. So far, it seems the same, tragic logic was used for Sarah Palin. With her spotty, short record, it is hard to fathom what qualifies her to be veep except that she’s young, conservative, and, to quote a leering Orrin Hatch on Charlie Rose last night, “quite feminine.”
I don’t know if feminists will ultimately end up as resentful over her choice as blacks are over Thomas. I do have a feeling, though, that they aren’t going to fall for the okey-doke nor vote for McCain just because he’s picking a woman to be second-in-command. The Republicans do need to reach out, but nobody’s looking for that type of tokenism. The next time they decide to pick a female for a prominent position, they need to make sure that that candidate truly and sincerely addresses female issues—such as equal pay for equal work, health care, education, maternity and paternity leave. The same holds true for minority issues. Until they do that, no amount of tokenism will erase their legacy, and they will forever be the party of Phyllis Schafly and the Southern Strategy—and will probably be relegated to the dust bin of history.