By Francis Pennyworth, Jr.
In September of 2008, when Senator John McCain selected Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate on the Republican Ticket, my first blush reaction was that he had literally handed the Presidency to Obama on a silver platter. As it turned out the Palin choice actually was a colossal mistake for the Republicans. Moreover, the firestorm it triggered truly transcended the 2008 presidential campaign.
The Palin Family 2007
Governor Palin apparently engenders two, and only two, emotions among female voters – either fear and loathing (not necessarily in that order) or complete admiration. In the last half century, with the possible exception of Anita Bryant, I can’t recall a more polarizing female appearance on the national scene.
Before I get to the meat of the Palin controversy, it’s important to set the national stage and establish the context of the scene in which she appears. We need to recall that women in the United States have almost always been engaged in a continuous and sometimes furious running gun battle for “women’s rights” and everything that $2 phrase represents.
The women’s liberation movement, at least in a modern sense, returned to life in 1961 with the creation of the Commission on the Status of Women under President Kennedy. After a very short time this federal commission dissolved into an amorphous cloud of state level commissions.
Just as it was beginning to look as if the feminist issue had been relegated to a slow death in committee, the National Organization for Women was formed in 1966. NOW’s initial goals, enunciated at its 1967 convention, were passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the repeal of all abortion laws.
The abortion agenda was particularly aggressive since, by comparison, the AMA had only recently (in the same year) voted to support “therapeutic abortions” and then only under three very narrow circumstances. (1) The pregnancy represented a direct threat to the health either physical or mental of the mother, (2) The unborn fetus would be born with a mental and/or physical defect, or (3) The pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.
As we now know, ERA was doomed, but there was success with the abortion issue. In 1973, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Roe v. Wade, (1973) 410 U.S. 113 which overturned all state and federal anti-abortion laws inconsistent with it holdings. The details of the decision are a book in and of themselves. Suffice it to say that abortion suddenly became legal, at the woman’s choice, for any reason, up to the point where the fetus becomes “viable.” At the point of viability, conditions attach to the performance of the procedure. The abortion battle was protracted, and brutal, and continues to this day. Which is not surprising considering the involvement of organized religion.
In the 1970s and 1980s the concept of “equal pay for equal work” was expanded into the broader, more inclusive concept of “equal pay for work of equal value.” This new definition seems to have included within its ambit an attack on “glass ceilings”. Along with this new concept came a growing sense of feminine pride in achievement and a desire for professionalism in the workplace. Something I have tried to instill in both my daughter and my son.
The remainder of the 20th century and the first years of this century have been filled with a continuing struggle against glass ceilings and a resurgence of anti-abortion sentiment.
With the above context in mind, I find myself observing the explosive discourse surrounding Sarah Palin and wondering if the anger I’m hearing will rob women of their credibility and, as a result erode, their hard earned gains. It seems that Sarah Palin’s mere existence is perceived by many to be an insult.
The Alaskan Campaigne
The one organization which has ostensibly worked the hardest for women’s rights immediately turned its back on a woman who was attempting to achieve the second highest office in the land. Per, Kim Gandy, of the National Organization for Women, that organization announced it would endorse Obama and Biden. The basis of this rejection of Governor Palin was purportedly based on Ms. Palin’s personal belief in Right to Life.
The internet, as well as the “main stream” media immediately filled with vituperative comment on the Alaskan governor’s personal life, children, husband, and practically anything else even remotely related to her (i.e. her sister’s divorce, etc., ad nauseum).
Right to Life vs. Freedom of Choice
This is a purely religious controversy, laden with unfathomable and unprovable issues. If you believe that human life begins at conception, then an abortion is the intentional termination of a human life (i.e. murder). The language sounds strong, but (setting aside a state of intellectual denial) this is what it boils down to. A crystal clear case of either “yes” or “no.” The relevant question to ask a candidate is not so much, “which belief do you hold?” Rather, it’s “will you force others who disagree with you to conform to your belief?” The latter is a fair question which seeks to identify the ideologues.
Rather than ask the right question, or even listen to the answer (you can find the Governor Palin’s answer on the internet) a large number of women (including the NOW organization) basically called her a traitor.
The unintended consequence to this, is the inescapable conclusion that feminists are not as interested in women’s rights as they are in their own philosophical agenda. And, any woman who disagrees with them isn’t entitled to equal rights. (We sometimes see analogous behavior when those who demand freedom of speech refuse to let others talk.)
Governor Palin was even attacked for her decision to give birth to a special needs child with the resulting implication that the child should have been aborted. Of course, not all of this can be laid on the doorstep of the feminists. Much of the negative diatribe emanated from a left leaning press (there is of course also right-leaning press) as well as a left leaning entertainment industry (i.e. SNL).
Regardless, affirmative feminist support for the Governor was conspicuously absent.
From my outside point of view, NOW could have really racked up some points by publically defending the Governor’s right to her religious belief. It’s kind of like the ACLU defending the right of a neo Nazis to demonstrate. Equal rights actually does mean equal rights, whether you agree with the specific exercise or not.
Of course, an argument can be made that if Sarah Palin were to become President then she might have an opportunity to appoint a judge to the United States Supreme Court and shift the balance of the Court to the conservative side. That argument is a proper one, based on the information that the Governor is a conservative. Unfortunately, that argument is only being made to the extent it’s wrapped deeply within character assassination.
Contraceptives vs. Abstinence
Whether or not a women chooses to use a contraceptive or just plain abstinence is another fundamental question of religious belief. Moreover, there is a strong sentiment which suggests that the distribution of contraceptives to minors is tantamount to a societal endorsement of premarital sex. Again, the issue is intertwined with very intense religious beliefs.
Here again the law of unintended consequences lurks in the background. The fact that Governor Palin’s minor daughter was pregnant was used by female detractors as purported evidence that not only can’t the Governor control her own children, her preferred method of birth control is intrinsically flawed. These comments are totally irrelevant to the subject matter of the election and are not calculated to lead to the discovery of useful information upon which to base a vote.
The proper inquiry is – “will Palin attempt to subject others to her preferred method of birth control?” Rather than ask that question, female detractors chose to invade the privacy of a minor child and to suggest by innuendo that Palin’s beliefs are a fortiori dangerous and defective.
From the outside looking in, it appears that the objective of this criticism is character assassination rather than political discourse. For example, if the Governor’s intention was to let others find their own way on the issue, then her personal beliefs were never in issue.
As an aside, if Roe v. Wade were overturned this afternoon, abortion would not suddenly become illegal. The states would simply become free to pass their own laws on the subject.
Equal Pay For Work Of Equal Value
In order to be paid equally, for work of equal value, women must obtain a job of equal value. Interesting. This position is, at its most fundamental level, about glass ceilings. Governor Palin is a woman who has already shattered one glass ceiling, and with some help from her friends might shatter them all.
Unfortunately, the Governor’s accomplishments were buried under an avalanche of character attacks and outright falsehoods. Is it actually impossible to both applaud her for her success in the nomination and at the same time disagree with her politics? Don’t boxers (participants in a brutal full contact competition) shake hands, before they come out swinging? I don’t know about you, but whether or not I agree with her politics, I think Governor Palin’s selection as the Republican candidate for Vice President of the United States was a fabulous milestone for women.
Working Moms vs. Stay At Home (“Soccer”) Moms
One of the most deep seated prejudices against women’s liberation has quite frankly been the male perception that women belong at home with the children, and that a business investment in a woman is a waste of precious time and money, because when they get pregnant they will leave and never return. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed in many a management meeting, and it’s always said by men, with a straight face, and in complete sincerity.
We all know, the women’s movement has struggled against this virulent stereotype for decades. So guess what we heard about Governor Palin? – “She has five kids and doesn’t have time for a political career.” And, we heard that from women. We have never heard that about male candidates.
In fact, the criticism of Governor Palin descended to the level accusing her of being a poor mother because she isn’t at home caring for her family. Implicit in this tripe is the implication that Mr. Palin is ineffectual as a stay-at-home dad. How that statement could be made without any evidence boggles the mind.
Playing The Experience Card
The most interesting, and probably most one-sided attack on Governor Palin was the assertion that she had no relevant experience. Let’s take a look at that.
At both the state and federal levels, government in the United States is structured in three branches: (1) the Executive; (2) the Legislative; and (3) the Judicial. The Executive Branch runs the government just like a CEO runs a corporation. The Legislative Branch writes laws and oversees their efficacy (oversight). The legislature runs nothing. It is not responsible for the management of anything. It is not analogous to a CEO, CFO, COO, or any other management position. The judicial branch interprets and enforces the law written by the legislative branch and that’s all it does.
McCain, Obama, and Biden are all Senators in the Legislative Branch. They write laws (btw Senator Obama hadn’t even authored a bill) and engage in oversight. I repeat, they do not manage anything, they do not run a governmental organization, they are not responsible for operations. They are not, and none of them have ever been, in the executive branch of any government. They – have – no – executive branch – management – experience – whatsoever – period.
Governor Palin, on the other hand, did have executive branch experience at both the city and state levels (you’re right not a huge amount of it, but she does have it.). The office of the Presidency is the top office in the executive branch. The conclusion is actually inescapable! Governor Palin had more executive experience than all three of the male candidates!
Does this qualify Governor Palin to be Vice President of the United States? Not necessarily, but it does render the argument that she has no relevant governmental experience completely spurious. Women (including Hilary Clinton) should be universally enraged by what went on here. I certainly am and I’m not even of the female persuasion.
Setting The Flares For The Future
In the first paragraph of this hubpage, I suggested that the Sarah Palin issue transcends the 2008 presidential campaign. I don’t retreat from that statement and respectfully suggest that Sarah Palin represents a clash of honest competing female interests, points of views, desires, wants and needs, and just plain heart felt aspirations.
At the end of the day, it seems that the manner in which women handle the issue of Sarah Palin will in great part define how they, themselves, are treated in the future. This election gave us a rare opportunity to look behind the curtain of the feminist movement and what we see there was decided by the feminists themselves.
At another level, this election became a forum in which a new morality was allowed to run free. It was one in which people could and did say anything and do anything, so long as it served their agenda. It was not enough to disagree, it became necessary to destroy.
By Darwinian selection we are breeding an entire generation of politicians who don’t give a wit for the people they serve. They are, however, very, very good at innuendo, issue avoidance, responsibility avoidance, and of course, character assassination.
By our own complacency we have allowed “winning” to become the arbiter of morality. Wasn’t it Hitler who said, “The winners will decide what is right, and what is wrong.” This my friends is the beginning of fascism – a state where individuals with nonconforming points of view are destroyed.
By October 2, of 2008 the debate between Governor Palin and Senator Biden was over. The week preceding the debate was filled with some pretty intense press, accusing Governor Palin of outright ineptitude. She was accused of not being able to answer simple questions, and some of the right wing conservatives actually suggested she step down.
I was personally afraid for her to stand toe-to-toe with Senator Biden, a man with more than three decades of experience who had spent the previous 12 months on the campaign trail, giving speeches, town hall meetings, and participating in debates with the democratic Presidential candidates.
Moreover, I was concerned for the Governor’s ability to fend off Senator Biden’s well known ability to become sarcastic and abrasive. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Within a few minutes it became painfully obvious that Governor Palin was no pushover. In fact, throughout the debate the Governor emanated a quiet assurance, and a definite ability to both defend herself and to attack in an orderly and effective fashion.
At the end of the day it was clearly demonstrated that Governor Palin is no easy target and that Senator Biden was wise not to believe the press descriptions of her abilities. Prior to the debate, the Senator had said in more than one interview that he wasn’t taking the Governor lightly and that it was his intention to prepare as he would for any experienced opponent. And, in so doing Senator Biden showed Governor Palin more respect than the women’s rights organizations which should have supported her right to compete and to disagree with them.
At this point you might be asking yourself, “Why the history lesson?” The answer is simple, it’s now 2013 and the “new politics” have settled in like concrete. Winning is now accepted as sole arbiter of right and wrong. Ideology has become a powerful god worshipped by politicians and reporters alike. Innuendo and character assassination are the order of the day. I offer you the gridlocks of the national debt, sequestration, boarder control, and gun control as supporting evidence.
And Governor Palin? Well, she recently gave a speech at the annual CPAC convention and she still engenders the same reactions. If you are a twitter user you might find hashtag Palin an interesting collection of comments.