McCain Tries To Grab the History Flag From Obama
| August 29, 2008
The first time I hear a woman has achieved something special, my automatic reaction is to cheer, to think “good, another of us has won.”
Then reality sets in and the questions start.
That is what happened this morning when the cable television news programs announced that John McCain had picked first term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, age 44, to be his vice-presidential running mate.
Watching her at a rally with John McCain standing by her side like a proud, protective grandfather, Palin was energetic, warm and reminded me of all those earnest young women we feminists have been recruiting into the women’s political movement since the early l970s.
Her path to power follows the pattern of many of those women that the Center for American Women in Politics has been studying for years. They are caring woman who get into politics to tackle local problems and move up to greater and greater responsibilities and power by grit, charm and aggressiveness.
Palin started in the PTA angered over local school conditions. Her small town of Wasilla—population nearly 8,000—elected her to its City Council on a plank of cutting taxes. At 32 years old, she became Wasilla’s mayor. A race for lieutenant governor against opponents with much more experience was lost but only by some 2,000 votes.
Next she challenged the Alaska GOP establishment and won a three-way primary in 2006 with 51 percent of the vote. She then defeated the Democrat Tony Knowles 48 to 41 percent, not a bad showing for a 42-year old woman with a modest public record.
On the surface, she appears to be a woman with political talent, but dig deeper and you wonder what is there to make McCain believe she would make a good president of the United States. Why her for the top political job in America?
If he wanted to grab some of the historic glory from Obama’s remarkable rise with his own first for the GOP, Texas U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutcheson was McCain’s logical choice. She’s been a senator since 1993, has sat on the Armed Services Committee for years and is acceptable to the social conservatives and economic conservatives that make up the base of the GOP. She is experienced enough to be a serious contender.
Others in the GOP field all have problems with the GOP voting base: Condi Rice is too tied to the Bush Administration, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are too moderate and Christine Todd Whitman is not popular with the White House. That leaves Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle who has not been sufficiently anti-tax for the GOP supply-siders and not sufficiently in tune with the religious GOP conservatives.
The reality of the McCain pick barely rests on Palin’s personal qualifications. McCain is attempting to present Palin as a symbol that the Republican Party supports women but her selection is not a major change—except by degree—for the GOP.
Republicans have been running women for a long time. This historic first is NOT a first for the country, just for the GOP.
McCain is caught on the horns of a dilemma. To beat Obama, he must hold onto the socially conservative base of the Republican Party. He must energize those who oppose abortion, rights for gays, gun control and stem cell research. He can’t run away from his 90 percent recent voting record favoring President Bush’s policies.
McCain hopes that by picking a woman he can show he’s open to doing things differently, but his selection is window dressing and insulting to anyone who knows that he opposes equal pay for equal work legislation and opposes a woman’s right to choose.
And this is just part of the list of issues of concern to women that he doesn’t champion.
Most importantly, McCain is not disentangling himself from the anti-woman backlash GOP strategy adopted many years ago to elect Reagan and then the two Bushes. One of his closest advisors, Charles Black, has for years been an enforcer of this strategy. This Republican War Against Women approach adopted first in 1980 is still very much in place. The strategy has nothing to do with running women for office. It has always been about the party’s antagonistic policies toward issues of specific concern to women.
To win the presidency, Reagan and the two Bushes played on the fear of women’s potential power. It is because of this strategy that women have been leaving the Republican party for years, and it is why more American woman are Democrats and vote Democratic.
This backlash strategy born in the passionate times of the 1970s, when many Americans were afraid of women’s power, will no longer work. How insulting to American women that the McCain camp thinks it can disguise it.
This campaign season America has seen a capable, competent woman nearly become the nominee of a major political party. Women are now governors, CEOs, members of Congress and presidents of many universities. And of course, Nancy Pelosi is by the Constitution third in line to be president of the United State as the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Upon hearing that Sarah Palin had been selected to be McCain’s running mate, Senator Hutcheson called her “a breath of fresh air.”
Unfortunately for the Republicans, Palin is not. She is a retread of the Republican backlash strategy that showcases women but insists they be attached to policies that hurt women.
John McCain may think he can seduce American voters by having Sarah Palin by his side, but when the majority of Americans learn the Republican platform does not bring health care to Americans, will not protect woman to make their own reproductive choices, does not bring legal protection for equal pay for equal work, Sarah Palin, the McCain Trojan filly, will not fool American women.