The McCain campaign has kept Sara Palin under wraps since the surprise announcement she would be the 72-year-old-cancer-survivor’s pick to succeed him as President. She has been allowed to speak only at scripted appearances before Republican rallies. They would not allow her to take questions from the press because they didn't trust what she would say. However, this politician whose only leadership experience has been as governor of the fourth smallest state in the country for less than two years and as mayor for two years of a town of 5000 people, is virtually unknown in the lower 48 states. There has been a quite reasonable outcry for the McCain organization to allow her to answer questions about her knowledge, positions and judgments.
They finally conceded to a controlled Barbara-Walters-type interview by Charlie Gibson of ABC. She was clueless about the Bush Doctrine (the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes against other nations), threatened war against Russia (the only other country in the world with a vast and eminently deliverable nuclear arsenal) over a hypothetical situation, and so on. Otherwise, she survived the “don’t drool” test. Gibson asked her about hubris in her acceptance of McCain’s offer to be his running mate. Her reply was that she never blinked. As Andrew Sullivan put it, “Never blink, never think, just go with your gut. Pure ambition. Minimal thought.” In other words, George W. Palin.
So why did McCain pick her, whom he had only met once months before, over qualified candidates. His campaign was in trouble. He needed to shake up the dynamics of the race so he put his interests ahead of his country’s best interest and picked the little known Palin. Her record was thin but thoroughly rightwing. But more importantly she was a woman who in a year when issues of race and gender weaved in and out of the Democratic race. He knew there were a handful of very vocal Clinton supporters who complained the New York Senator did not win the Democratic nomination. Surely, McCain must have thought, if he picks a woman all of Clinton’s unhappy female supporters would rush to his ticket.
So far, it’s unclear if the novelty factor of Palin is a boost or a crutch for the McCain campaign. Regardless of how this impacts the race by Election Day, the selection is clearly a cynical calculation based upon identity politics. In other words, qualifications or positions don’t matter – women are expected to vote for McCain because his running mate is a woman. Anyone who points out her many shortcomings can be accused of being a sexist.
So is this a feminist dream come true? Are feminists the new power brokers?
Jessica Valenti doesn’t think so. Here are her thoughts in today’s Guardian:
The New York Post calls her "a feminist dream". National Public Radio asks if she's the "new face of feminism". And the Wall Street Journal, ever subtle, calls it "Sarah Palin Feminism". I call it well-spun garbage. (Yes, I'd even call it a pig in lipstick.) It seems you can't open a newspaper or turn on the television without running across a piece about how the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, is not just a feminist, but the feminist - a sign that all is right in the US when it comes to gender equality. (Turn in those Birkenstocks and picket signs, gals!)
Palin's conservative cohorts are claiming her candidacy as a win for women and proof that it's Republicans who are the real agents of change. After all, what more could American women want in a vice-presidential candidate than a well-coiffed "hockey mom"?
Never mind that Palin talks about her teen daughter's decision to keep her child while awaiting the chance to take that choice away from American women. Don't worry about how Palin cut funding for a transitional home for teenage mothers. And forget that, under Palin's mayoralty, women in Wasilla, Alaska, were forced to pay for their own rape kits to the tune of up to $1,200.
We're not supposed to care about these issues because - say Republicans - we should just be happy that there's a woman on the ticket. The McCain campaign is cynically trying to recreate the excitement that surrounded Hillary Clinton's candidacy, believing that all women want is ... another woman.
Ann Friedman, deputy editor of the American Prospect, wrote: "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 ... McCain has turned the idea of the first woman in the White House from a true moment of change to an empty pander."
What's worse is conservatives can't understand why women aren't lining up to thank them. In fact, the same people who moaned that women - those darn feminists, especially - were only supporting Hillary because of her gender are now screaming to the rafters because they're not supporting Palin for the same reason. That's what makes Republicans pulling the feminist card that much more insulting - the stunning hypocrisy. The McCain touting himself as the person who will put a woman in the White House is the same man who joked that Chelsea Clinton is "so ugly" because "her father is Janet Reno".
And despite the talk about being the party of change, appropriating feminist symbols - such as at a Pennsylvania rally, where people held up signs of Rosie the Riveter with Palin's face - and propping up anti-feminist women as trailblazers is typical of the Republicans.
Organisations such as the Independent Women's Forum and Concerned Women for America, who call themselves the "real" feminists while fighting against things such as equal pay and legislation to combat violence against women, have been around (and funded by conservatives) for years. Their brand of feminism means benefiting from the gains of the women's movement while striving to keep other women down - all for a patriarchal pat on the head. Sound familiar?
As the feminist writer Rebecca Traister says: "Palin's femininity is one that is recognisable to most women: she's the kind of broad who speaks on behalf of other broads but appears not to like them very much ... It's like some dystopian future ... feminism without any feminists."
The good news is, this twisted homage to feminism means conservatives must recognise it as a force in American politics - why spend so much time framing Palin as feminist if we're all just a bunch of hairy man-haters? The bad news, however, trumps all. If this campaign is successful, American women will suffer. We'll be under the thumb of yet another administration that thinks nothing of rolling back women's rights.
No matter how many times feminists point out the hypocrisy of Republicans pulling the F-card, however, the bigger truth is that it's not Palin's anti-feminist bona fides alone that matter. While Palin is bad for women's rights, she's terrible for America. In addition to being investigated by her own legislature for abuse of power, she is also reported to have asked a librarian about the process for banning books in Wasilla, doesn't support sex education, and has made lying about her record unusually central to her candidacy - even for a politician. These are big warning signs that cut across gender lines.
So while the McCain campaign holds Palin up as a shining example of feminism in action, let's not forget the truth about who's doing the spinning and what they're selling. Because the last thing America needs is another corrupt and lying politician - man or woman.