Wow. John McCain has picked Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Sarah Palin? WTF??? That's pretty much what the media is saying, too. Palin is so obscure that the reporters on MSNBC admit they're reduced to consulting the Wikipedia's article on Palin, just like me. I was slightly shocked to see that Palin is a few months younger than me - talk about feeling old! - and amused to read that she's a former runner-up for Miss Alaska.
But I actually had heard of her once before this. What jogged my memory was the story of her giving birth to a baby with Down syndrome earlier this year. It was her fifth child. She knew the diagnosis in mid-pregnancy and chose to carry on anyway.
And this, I'm thinking cynically, is her main qualification. She has served as governor for just two years. We all know that lots of social conservatives dislike McCain. Palin is not just red meat for them, she's prime rib. She's a member of Feminists for Life, which mixes a little feminism with lots of "life." As a mother, she has lived her anti-abortion beliefs. (Gotta give her some grudging credit for not being hypocritical.) Oh, and she's a hunter who enjoys mooseburgers (the TV reporters are grooving on that tidbit).
I'm sure McCain is hoping Palin's XX chromosome will help him pick off some votes among centrist women - and maybe even bait a few of those near-mythical PUMAs into voting for a woman candidate. If so, they'd have to be just about delusional to think that Palin - a radical social conservative - is at all fungible with Hillary Clinton. As Debbie Wasserman Schultz just said on MSNBC: "I know Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin is no Hillary Clinton."
Palin may be a new, fresh face who made her name as a reformer, but her actual positions on the issues are hard to distinguish from the same old paleo-wingnuttery.
And my goodness, don't the Republicans have better-qualified women? Kay Bailey Hutchison? Christine Todd Whitman? Olympia Snowe? Debra Pryce? Even (shudder) Condi Rice? Oh, whoops! These gals have actual records that might get dragged into the election.
I would have had the same beef if Obama had picked, say, Evan Bayh. Sure, the vice presidential candidate should help corral votes, but they should also be prepared to lead should the president die or become seriously disabled - which in purely actuarial terms is not irrelevant when the president is 72 years old and counting.
The choice of Palin reminds me a little of Mondale selecting Geraldine Ferraro - mere tokenism. We all know how that turned out.
Finally, at the risk of sounding totally judgmental and anti-feminist: I do not think any parent of a four-month-old baby should sign onto a nationwide campaign, even if said baby is totally healthy. A baby that small is so damn needy. I can totally see how the temptation was irresistible; Palin won't be handed this chance again. I realize that if women are going to move up in politics, they can't wait until they're postmenopausal to launch their careers.
But caring for an infant can't be totally outsourced. I'm sure the baby will travel with Palin. They'll hire the best nannies. Even so, I think if you bring a child into the world, you need to be present for them when they're little. A child with special needs will need more than that, as Dan Conley argues eloquently at Open Salon.
For me, feminism also means caring for the weakest among us, and one corollary to that is that both parents need to be willing to reshuffle their priorities to ensure their children's needs are met. How can you do that with an infant while campaigning for the vice-presidency?
And how does that accord with anyone's "family values"?