She came out of nowhere, which is ironic considering the bridge she’s known for. And when Sarah Palin hit the national political stage, I confess that — despite being a hard-core Democrat — I was naturally predisposed to like her. That’s right: I was for the Governor from (Out Of) Nowhere before I was against her. The second woman ever to snag the VP nomination on a major ticket (a heartbreaking 24 years after the first)? The mother of five children, the vast majority of whom still live at home? A woman whose faith (conservative evangelicalism) is not exactly known for its promotion of female leadership? A frickin’ ex-PTA member? Holy crap, this was big. I’d been writing and commenting for the better part of a year on the importance of mothers participating in politics, and here straight out of the Alaskan blue was a candidate who looked like she could be my barely-older sister, like she might drive carpool with me (if I commuted, say, by sea plane). Like she could whip a Capri Sun out of her son’s diaper bag if John McCain started to look peckish.
I grew up in a Republican family, and I spent my twenties as a frustrated feminist evangelical, so I quickly grasped the massiveness of this miracle. Hillary Clinton’s presidential run had knocked those thousands of cracks into the proverbial glass ceiling; I knew that. But who would have guessed that the conservatives would try to beat the progressives by ripping a page from our playbook? Did they realize that in nominating a female VP candidate, they were being . . . well, progressive? I held my breath.
Then Sarah Palin opened her mouth. And she started . . . mocking.
Before that, she trotted out her maternal credentials, none of which were problematic, but hardly qualified her to deal with Moammar Khaddafi. City council? Okaaay. Governor (for less than two years) of the country’s least populated state? Sure. Small town mayor? Good for you. But what did she have to say about the issues? She’d sold a fancy, government-owned plane (though not on eBay, as she implied). But what had she actually done that had prepared her to go head-to-head with Kim Jong Il? I was interested in how she would defend her political positions. But first, I needed to hear what her political positions were. I waited. And . . . I waited.
Taking her cue from those fuzzy, cuddly teddy bears Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani (not to mention everyone’s favorite Care Bear, Joe Lieberman) she went for Obama’s jugular like a pit bull in lipstick. She sneered at Obama’s experience with community organizing (what?!), smugly patted herself on the back for her less-than-two-years experience as governor of Alaska. (Psst, Sarah: Remember, Jesus was a community organizer; Pontius Pilate was a governor.)
She followed the outright mockery with lies and misleading statements too plentiful to enumerate. I immediately thought of all the times I’ve heard conservatives and evangelicals call Hillary Clinton a “bitch.” I watched the crowd of Republicans crow and the Religious Right swoon as Palin made references to God and to working for the American people “with a servant’s heart” (keywords in evangelical vernacular). Though her snow machine-racing husband Todd stood meekly at her side, unlike during the Clinton campaigns of the 90s, no one appeared to be concerned about who was “wearing the pants in the family.” A big step, to be sure. But a step toward what? I didn’t have any clearer picture of her political positions at the end of her speech than I had at the start. But I did have a better feel for the lengths to which she might be willing to go. Memories of the affable, rainbows-and-unicorns Democratic National Convention — where John McCain was identified as a “friend” with “wrong” policies and views — seemed to be of a distant past. Was that lipstick or blood on Palin’s teeth?
I was struck by the parallels with the election of 2000, in which a former ball club-owner cum governor with little political experience charmed the masses with his aw-shucks, boy-howdy charm. Who needs smart guys in government? Let’s elect the guy you’d most like to have a beer with (his former DUI notwithstanding).
Eight years later, here we are again, this time with a former PTA member cum governor with little political experience, who calls herself “a gal” and her husband “my guy.” Awww. Now, if only she’d come out from seclusion and tell us where she actually stands on national and domestic issues, what she’s willing to do about healthcare reform, whether or not she’ll ban Harry Potter from libraries if she becomes vice president (or, God help us, president).
My big question is, when will the public demand answers (beyond the surface scratches we got courtesy of Charlie Gibson)? Surely the American people aren’t so simple minded as to pick the “fun,” spunky candidate again? (It worked out so well for us the last time.)
Yes, Sarah Palin’s nomination is historic, and the Republican National Committee and John McCain get credit for that. But a willingness to nominate someone with a vagina isn’t exactly noble; it’s what both parties should have been willing to do all along. And, besides, vaginas versus penises in office aren’t the point, and never have been. We need to know what the much-touted vagina owners and ubiquitous penis possessors plan to do if elected. It’s time to talk specifically and extensively about the economy (oh, Lord, the economy!), about healthcare reform, about paid family leave and, yes, about that pesky Bush Doctrine. It’s time to assess not our candidates’ charm (that John McCain falling-asleep-while-talking-about-being-a-vital-and-energetic-old-guy bit is hilarious!) but their intelligence, preparedness, and discernment. Will voters choose Palin/McCain (pardon me . . . McCain/Palin) largely because she’s “folksy”? Because she’s “sexy” (as reported by those “VPILF” buttons worn on the RNC floor — and they accuse Democrats of being sexist . . . ) Or will common sense (and actual wrestling with the issues) finally prevail?
In 1984, the announcement of Geraldine Ferraro as Democratic VP candidate gave a strong bump to presidential candidate Walter Mondale’s polling numbers. But the bump proved temporary, and controversy surrounding her tax records ultimately caused the ticket to sink. Today on the news channels, it’s all Sarah, all the time. But will Miss Congeniality’s popularity wane when her actual stands on the positions come to light?
Based on the meager information the RNC has provided so far, I am — despite my initial willingness to think favorably of her — saying a vociferous thanks, but no thanks, on the VP candidate from (seemingly) nowhere.
Maybe the RNC can put those VPILF buttons on eBay?