A historic choice

(Bumped up, cause yeah, we’re still talking about her!)

No, I’m not talking about Obama, but rather McCain’s VP selection, Sarah Palin. Not someone who particularly appeals to me politically; as a woman, I don’t see her selection causing my finger to hesitate in the voting booth. However, I notice that even the Washington punditry doesn’t seem to know why she was chosen — to shore up McCain’s base in the Western states, the states that are central to Obama’s election strategy.

The political culture of Republican women, particularly in the Western states, is poorly understood by most of the liberal bloggers and pundits. For them to laugh at Palin for beginning her political career as president of the PTA, or as “mayor of a town of 9,000,” does not seem a wise move if they don’t want to offend politically active GOP or independent women in the West. Town governments and state legislatures in the West are populated, if not in some cases controlled, by hundreds of Sarah Palins — although, it has to be said that Palin is more the image of that process than the substance. Part of this has to do with a pay vacuum: legislative jobs simply don’t pay as much as real-world jobs in many of these bodies, so GOP men with press-the-flesh talents often seek more lucrative employments outside of government (not a high-value career in the Republican view anyway). This leaves women to do the less-high-paying, caretaking work of running town governments and county legislatures (while the rich GOP guys who don’t hold office make the major decisions). At one point, back in the ’80s, the low-paid Colorado legislature was mostly women.

A lot of these GOP women get into politics out of strong conservative beliefs, but it’s not what fires all of them into public life. Democratic commentators have a dim grasp of the political motivations of Republican women, assuming it’s all about Bible-thumping. I have to think that for them, Palin’s selection is an exhilarating vindication. Snarks about small-town government and school boards are only going to energize the considerable kitchen-table organizations these women have toiled to create over the last 25 years. If the Obama campaign really wants to win the West, they’d best worry about their own “PUMA’s” (Party Unity My Ass folks) and give the Palin rattlesnake a wide berth. It’s not about her… it’s the very real and specific bloc she might appeal to.

11 thoughts on “A historic choice

  1. sean

    absolutely agreed. along with those points, you’ve written had what i believe are particularly insightful observations on the abortion debate before, and i would add that this decision has a touch of political brilliance on that most volatile question.

    my parents were disciples of frankin d. roosevelt – they were true believers in the power of enlightened government to lift people’s lives – yet they wound up voting republican in the 1970s. i’ll tell you what – particularly with my mother – it wasn’t crime or race that pushed her that way, despite all the accepted thinking nowadays about the shift in working class catholics. it was abortion, a question my mother thought about relentlessly.

    choosing palin represents a whole different strategy on that front, and i know her story would have appealed to my mother, a well-read and philosophically combative woman who also would have been drawn powerfully to obama. i think there’s an entire and similar constituency out there, who never show up because the whole idea of a ‘middle’ on abortion remains our great unspeakable and undebatable. if this election is razor close, who knows how that could swing it.


  2. Phil

    What about the Rockefeller Republicans of the northeast? Part of the inexorable drift of CNY from red to blue are the pro-choice Republican women who left the R’s in the 1990’s when their party became more doctrinaire on things like abortion. Sean, this is again an economic class issue. My middle class, Episcopalian mother never voted for a Democrat in her life, until the very last election before her death when she voted Clinton over Bush 1. Bush famously flip-flopped on abortion. My mother was outraged and would have red-faced shouting matches with my father over Bush’s perfidy. We’re also seeing this dynamic in the more libertarian states of the West, who don’t believe that the government should be policing people’s bedrooms. Palin’s staunch pro-life stance is in fact out of step with most folks in her region.

    In fact, I don’t think that abortion will be a major factor in the race at all. Abortion, pro or con isn’t on the top of most folk’s agendas anymore–only the activists on either side. Those folks have already made up their minds and have their votes set in concrete. Most people accept the current status quo and are more concerned with economic issues and the war.

  3. Ellen Post author

    Abortion is not at the top of most folks’ agendas, yet, both of you brought up the subject without prompting. Hmmmm…. :-)

    Anyhow, GOP operatives and Democratic “activist” bloggers alike are now gleefully making this election be all about some 17-year-old girl’s uterus, which means that we now have a culture war in progress — and the GOP never takes any quarter in a culture war, unless they’ve lost their nerve (though anything’s possible these days).

    At Verdun, the only heroes were the ones who stayed in their foxholes. Unfortunately not too many did.

  4. sean

    great line about verdun.

    phil, you may be right. maybe abortion won’t be a swing issue in this race. but remember how the 2004 vote played out: it was essentially a massive turnout, divided almost exactly by idealogy, and that was enough to give bush another term. it seems to me mccain had to make a choice: does he swing to the middle to bring in obama-reluctant moderates and maybe some bitter clintonites, hoping the right will have no choice but to come along with him, or does he try to fire up the same coalition that kept bush in for 8 years?

    yes, palin is a fresh face. but the power issue she brings to the table is abortion, and her own experience. i don’t think you can underplay it, and the democrats do so at their peril: everything changes when you mix personal experience with volatile issues (indeed, my great disappointment with kerry was that he never reacted with fuy to the ‘swiftboating,’ instead of taking it so stoically: it remains one of thee great political con jobs of our time that people who never went to vietnam, much less endured fire, could somehow tarnish the bravery of someone who did).


  5. Ellen Post author

    When we have Democratic critics openly criticizing an opposing female candidate for daring to have 5 kids and a political career at the same time — having just come off a bruising primary where a well qualified female candidate of their own party was twitted for shedding a few tears — “Houston, we have a problem” that’s a lot bigger than the abortion issue. I’m having trouble telling the conservative pundits apart from the “progressive” ones lately. Rather revealing.

  6. TourPro

    This election stuff sure is fun and interesting.

    I’m glad I didn’t find this post right away. Your early points seem to be right on.

    In terms of political chess, this move is simply brilliant. Even the “unknown” pregnancy thing may have been preplanned to screw with the media. Tonight’s speech will be so important in so many ways.

  7. Phil

    1) I brought up abortion cuz Sean did. I guess I would jump off a bridge if he did too.

    2) Culture wars will not be the battle ground in this election, the economy and the war have driven people away from the silliness of 2004. As Barack said in his acceptance speech–you can’t have a big election on little issues. This is a big, throw the bums out, realignment election and Obama will be swept into office by people with expectations of change.

    3) You’re absolutely right that the negative buzz around Palin is making the D’s look bad–but the buzz has mostly been by the media. Obamites have been wisely silent about Palin, focusing attention on McCains judgement on Iraq and his parroting Bush economic policies that hurt average Americans. People do not vote on the basis of veeps. Focus on the top of the ticket.

    4) http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/ has shown a consistent 5 point lead in total vote for Obama and projects a 307-230 electoral college win. Just like in the primaries, Obama wins because he understands the system and will win a much larger EC victory than the total vote victory.

  8. Robinia

    Hmm. I’d say that the media is taking lots of shallow, sexist jabs at Palen, very much as they did Clinton. Shallow is pretty”in” in media of late– I think the TV media go for looks not brains.

    That said: I’d think that any parent (male or female) who had five children, one of whom was about to become a teen mother and another of whom was a very young Down’s Syndrome child…. should put their own ambitions aside for a while and take care of their kids. Kids take time and attention, and there is no substitute for parental time and attention, although that of others can help, too. Each individual child needs some; disabled children and children in crisis (as per, pregnant teenager) need more. I’d think that if she (Palen) shared my political views, too. Both my brothers have 7 children…. too many, it was too hard, neither’s marriages survived it.

    That’s one of the reasons I believe in family planning; if Sarah Palen wanted to have an ambitious political career, she could and should have planned a smaller family. You can do a lot, but you really can’t do lots of everything all at once. And, no job is worth shortchanging a child. (Spoken as a person who also has developed day care centers– both society and parents owe our children the best).

  9. Ellen

    I tend to agree, although I don’t really know what Palin’s behind-the-scenes support system is. No mother ever takes care of her kids alone without some kind of support system (and often more than just the husband, if he’s even involved). She’d be a basket case. The idea that child care ever is, or was, just ultimately about the mother seems strange – is it true of any human society on the planet? – yet that is the assumption the media seems to be laboring under. Instead of asking “How does she do it?” (probable answer: it’s not just her), the media is saying “She can’t possibly do it.” I think the question is worth asking – even being governor of Alaska has to be time-consuming…

    It’s funny. In my parents’ generation – and blue-collar culture – the man wasn’t expected to be too terribly involved in childrearing. Breadwinning was very important, but there was a lot of wiggle room for the guy to not be involved in the day to day stuff if it didn’t suit him. But it was also expected that the mother’s family would be there to help, or neighbors or something. As Americans became more mobile, that arrangement got strained, and women were caught in the middle. The extended families weren’t living around each other any more. So pressure was put on the husband to be more involved, and that has sort of become the middle-class standard of behavior… except, when the husband really isn’t around, and it’s all fallen — ALL — on the mother, in the public ideal. Look at the way that errant or troubled or “unfit” mothers are vilified in the “public square” commentariat on your local newspaper comment board. It’s barbaric, if you ask me, and another sign of how far we’ve fallen as a society.

    As Hillary Clinton liked to quote, “It takes a village…” When the village is no longer there, maybe women are wise not to have children. And many women choose not to, in ways that don’t involve abortion (ie having fewer, or no children, or adopting someone else’s). Once they’re here, it’s imperative to take a minimum of loving care of them. But women have been evaluating conditions and make child-centered choices for thousands of years (and taking lots of abuse for that too)… “choice” is nothing new.

  10. KAZ

    It pains me that no one is saying of Obama, “He has a seven-year-old, why isn’t he staying at home?” We don’t need a village, apparently, if we have a power wife. The “five kids, one with Down’s” argument is excruciating when voiced by Democrats, because it explains why we’re more comfortable running an African-American man than a woman of any stripe. I wasn’t a Hillary fan for political reasons, but now I’m truly p.o.’d on her behalf.

    We need to focus on Palin’s extremist views and not on her updo, Fargo accent, or backstory. I wouldn’t be so sure we’re going to win. And we should think about what will happen in and to this country if we don’t. We’re not talking about a bunch of Gore supporters who will lie down and give up. I was in Denver; I felt the powerful emotion in those smoke-free rooms, and I can’t believe it’s going to recede quietly without a fight.

  11. Al Z

    I’m trying to see the Palin pick from the perspective of Rovian politics; I agree that the gender/family issues this raises lays a perfect trap for the democrats like this post indicates. But from the evangelical right-wing perspective, her gender is not the essential thing. If anything her gender is meant to disguise the fact that she is in essence “George Bush” – an anti-intellectual, evangelical, pro-life, creationist, red state Governor from an oil state. But more than that she didn’t go to Yale, wasn’t a cheerleader, doesn’t have elitist New England roots, and can actually and does actually hunt. It can be argued that Palin is more George Bush than George Bush is George Bush. I guess that explains all the hugs.

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