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Is Palin good for women? No

September 8, 2008

Cross-post from Ellen Bravo, in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Many pundits have labeled John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for the vice presidential slot on the Republican ticket as an off-message roll of the dice, based on a hasty vetting. In fact, it was probably the most calculated political move he’s made. McCain has a big problem: How does a die-hard conservative who’s championed every failed policy of the last eight years (tax cuts for the rich, the war in Iraq, the power of Big Oil) win the presidency against an inspiring proponent of change? He can’t win by relying solely on the conservative base, and yet he can’t win without them. He has to keep his mantle as a maverick while assuring the Big Boys he has no intention of bucking them. His only chance of victory is to appeal to women disappointed about Hillary Clinton’s loss, to white working class voters and to independents, without alienating conservative extremists. Former Hewlett Packard CEO and McCain finance chair Carly Fiorina might have sparked some women, but she’d antagonize the conservatives with her support for abortion rights and for requiring insurance policies that include Viagra to also cover birth control. The evangelicals would have had a similar reaction to Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge, both of whom are pro-choice. Mitt Romney appealed to the base but would have been a finger in the eye to women and white workers — another four houses to account for. Presto! Sarah Palin, a woman who uses the language of feminism while promoting a staunch evangelical conservative agenda: anti-abortion even in the case of rape and incest, pro-gun, pro-creationism, anti-gay rights, anti-sex education. A woman who introduces her husband as a proud member of the Steelworkers Union while working to open Alaska to Big Oil. A politician who claims to be an environmentalist while denying that global warming is “man-made.” Someone who thinks that the war in Iraq is “God’s task.” A mayor who threatened to fire a town librarian who refused to censor certain books. In the eyes of John McCain, Palin brings another big plus. The press has bought into the Republican talking points and cloaked her, too, in the maverick mode. Like McCain, she stood her ground on certain reform issues. But on all the big questions of the day, both Palin and McCain walk lockstep with George W. Bush and against the interests of women and working people in general. McCain is trying to pass off Palin as a career mom who knows the difficulties of balancing job and family — hoping women won’t notice the ticket’s opposition to every measure that would ease those difficulties, from expanding family leave to paid sick days to equal pay. The real question isn’t why McCain chose Palin, but why the media continues to give them both cover, pasting on the “maverick” and “moderate” labels as if listing these terms were equivalent to listing party affiliation and state. Recently, I conducted an informal poll among friends, all smart, politically aware people who keep up with the news. A dozen of the 15 people I asked had never seen the clip of a befuddled McCain stroking his chin when a reporter asked about his position on a proposal to require insurance companies that cover Viagra to cover contraceptive products, reminding him that he’d voted against it. “I certainly do not want to discuss that issue,” McCain replied. “I don’t know enough about it to give you an informed answer because I don’t recall the vote.” Had that clip — or any of numerous examples of McCain’s other extremist positions and slip-ups — been played more than 600 times in four days, as the “Dean scream” was, today’s polls would be very different. McCain is counting on women to be cheap and superficial about his selection. Even more, he’s counting on a docile media to be his ally as he tries to present Palin as a feisty hockey mom to distract attention from the pair’s extremist substance. It’s high time for the public to meet the real John McCain and the real Sarah Palin. Ellen Bravo is an author and longtime activist on working women’s issues. Her Web site is