Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain's Palin-eolithic VP Pick

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"?


Carla said...

sg ... I, too, thought about the baby right away, so don't feel bad. I would imagine a DS baby would be tough at any age, but I didn't realize we were talking 4 m.o.! I don't see any inconsistency at all between being a feminist and having that reaction. I can't imagine signing on to that kind of commitment, and then immediately eclipsing it with a new one. But then maybe she sees her work on the political stage as extended parenting--you know, shaping the future that her little one will inherit ... cue violins. All I know is that the La Leche league better TOTALLY start working on their security clearance. But in all seriousness, it sounds like the 'pubs have got a real doozy on their hands. (I was doing the math like gangbusters. She's 9 months older than I!!!)

Sungold said...

Hi Carla! I'm just about 5 months older than her. Would I be ready to lead on day one? I'm sure I'd do a heckuva job.

Seriously, though, she's clearly been picked for her ability to energize the 'wingers, not for her qualifications. And I don't think that's hypocritical for me to say as an Obama supporter. While he too is relatively young and "inexperienced," he has at least shown the ability to capture the nomination, which I've heard described as a pretty good test of readiness to assume the presidency. (I don't remember who said that, and of course in the case of GWB the argument didn't hold up.)

As for the baby: I'd make the same argument about a man who's got a four-month-old infant. So if I'm being regressive, I'm at least equal-opportunity about it.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I agree with everything you say, but as someone who blogs about disability rights, the line about "choosing to carry a Downs baby anyway" is rather insensitive.

Sungold said...

Hi Heather,

I agree that it's an insensitive way to frame it. This is the narrative as the press has consistently reported it. (I'm sick on the couch with a fever today, so I've watched too much TV!) I should've made clearer that this is the media's frame, not my own; coming from the history of childbirth, I'm pretty aware of the issues around prenatal diagnosis and selective abortion.

I'm assuming this frame is how Palin wants it to be perceived - as a noble choice that shows just how devoted she is to "life." I could be wrong about this. If I'm not, there's a certain irony (as some commenters have pointed out at Salon) that Palin would use the framing of "choice" to highlight her anti-abortion bona fides. There's also no reason to assume that a liberal woman would automatically choose abortion in a similar situation.

It's gonna be interesting to see how the Republicans try to sell this part of her story. Her "just-a-mom" introduction in Dayton - which aired after my post went up - was risky, I thought. If they push the hockey-mom meme too hard, how will she gain the foreign policy cred she so obviously needs?

Laura said...

It's messed up. I agree with your sentiments, and I don't think it's anti-feminist. But I will say: McCain may be on the verge of reclaiming his "maverick" cred.

Word of mouth at watercooler: he's nuts.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Sungold said...

Laura, you raise a good question: where's the line between "maverick" and "batshit crazy"?

Maybe we're about to find out.

hesperia said...

I can't imagine going back to work three days after giving birth to a premature child, with Down's Syndrome or not. However, I'm not going to judge Palin for doing it. I don't read you as doing that either, but rather, as asking some good questions and referring to what you believe your own reaction would be. Truth is, I feel sorry for Malia and Sascha Obama every time I see them and wonder how this political circus they're living through will affect them. And it has to. They will also live without close contact with their father for huge periods of time and, though I think they are assured of their mother's attention, she will surely often be distracted for the next few months as well, and for a long time after if Obama's campaign is successful. The children of activists, politicians and other public figures often express huge amounts of bitterness and resentment when they become old enough to do so. I've got no idea how their parents can avoid that, short of moving to a chateau in France like Pitt and Jolie. And even that is hardly a "normal" situation, though they are more protected from the press there than they would be in America. It seems that the choice to be a publicly recognized person in America has HUGE downsides. Adults make choices. Children don't. What to make of parents putting them in that position?

Sugarmag said...

My sentiments exactly, Sungold! The whole thing of acting like it's so noble to carry a down's baby to term bothers me. I am pro choice and if my pregnancy was a wanted one, I would carry a down's baby to term, I think most mothers would and yes, it would be harder, blah blah blah but I just don't like the way it's pushed as being so damn noble. Also, I agree that running for VP with a four month old is not reflective of family values and yeah, you're right, I would say the same thing about a father with a four month old. It annoys me the way conservatives use family values and pretend that they are the only ones who have them.

Sungold said...

Hesperia, I too have wondered about Obama's children. They are lovely girls - and old enough (at least in Malia's case) to have some inkling of what the fuss is about. I get the impression that Barack tries to see them as often as possible. But I'm sure it's not enough.

One thing I really admired about Hillary Clinton was the ferocity with which she shielded Chelsea. Yes, you still heard awful comments sometimes - like when John McCain infamously made a crack about Janet Reno being Chelsea's father - but Hillary did her best to protect her. By all accounts, Chelsea has grown into a lovely person.

Let's hope Michelle Obama will be able to do the same for her daughters.

Sungold said...

Sugarmag - Thanks for understanding where I'm coming from. I do think I'm judging to some degree, but mostly on the hypocrisy I see. And I would definitely hold a male candidate to a similar standard. I've privately thought the same thing about male acquaintances of mine who travel all the time despite having new babies. It's not fair to anyone involved; the baby and the father should be bonding, too, and the mother should not carry the burden alone. Of course I've kept those thoughts to myself, because people understandably react allergically if you tell 'em how to live their lives. :-)