Saturday, August 30, 2008

Is Sarah Palin Good For Women?

A commenter who can only be known as Anonymous 7:50 (choose names, people! it's half the fun of blogging!) asked yesterday on my Obama post, "So, given all that, what didja think of the Palin selection today? Another historic step in the advancement of
women?" I hope this person is one of my students, because it is one of the best questions I have been asked lately and the idea that I might encounter Anonymous 7:50 in the classroom sounds fun.

My answer, less direct than you might like, is: Yes. I Suppose. And No. Not Really. And -- Good For Her! Let's Crack Open A Cold One!

For details on Sarah Palin's career, you can go to this article in the Los Angeles Times. For her official bio, including pictures of her family and of the Governor holding a dead caribou by its rack, click here. For a checklist of why Palin strengthens the McCain ticket among conservatives, go to the ever-reliable and witty Historiann.

After quick research, I have a strong feeling that I would probably like Palin as a person. She's outdoorsy, and so am I. She seems real. While I don't hunt, I can imagine kicking back on the porch with her after cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, having a few laughs and a serious policy discussion that was intelligent and mutually respectful. I have firm roots in Idaho and the mountain West, and so am quite comfortable being friendly, intimate with, and interested in, people who cleave to beliefs and practices that the Northeastern intelligentsia sees as quite marginal or worrisome. For example, here are some things I like about her:

While I think guns are too dangerous for crazy people and untrained enthusiasts to own, I grew up around a lot of rifles and shotguns, and understand why rural people in particular value hunting and often have an economic need to hunt. I understand less well when they feel the need to own automatic weapons and rocket launchers, drill with the Michigan Militia, patrol the border looking for migrant workers, and collect seven years worth of canned food in the basement in preparation for the Last Days, but Palin doesn't do that. She buys a license and shoots her limit every year. That's all.

I'd really like to go to dinner at her house: I bet she makes a heck of a caribou roast.

I have no problem with creationists as long as they are not trying to institutionalize that knowledge as "the truth," and I have no problem with people who are morally opposed to abortion, as long as they don't interfere with the right of my nieces to choose not to give birth to an unwanted child, deny them knowledge about their own sexuality, and prevent them from having access to birth control. I think Palin's decision to carry a child she knew had Downs' Syndrome to term makes her particularly likable, since not everyone has the empathy and emotional strength to contemplate that. Downs' kids are more often than not really nice people, and I think it speaks well of Palin that she isn't eugenicist and doesn't need to have traditionally perfect children like so many of us do. On the other hand, as we admire her capacity to juggle family and (a very ambitious) career, and her willingness to raise a disabled child, let's take a look at the financial resources she has to do that and get those to other families too!

As an anti-war liberal, I respect it that Palin's eldest son is in the military, which is neither here nor there, except that so few proponents of the war seem to live in families where military service is valued over other ambitions. I hear he is deploying soon, and I hope that she gives McCain a good talking to about his failure to support preparedness in the military, his opposition to expanded veterans' benefits and his incredible current silence on the issue of torture.

Palin sounds ambitious, decent, honest and -- while I resent the political turn which has forced every candidate to talk about God as if She was House Majority Leader -- I have several good friends and colleagues who are people of strong, sometimes evangelical, faith, so I don't happen to have that particular liberal prejudice. Being religious may have something to do with what seems to be an ethical profile that one might argue is unusually good for politicians in Alaska.

So Palin's nomination may be a good one, and it seems to be consistent with the past three decades of Republican political positions. But is Palin's nomination good for women?

I think that is harder to say. One of the great contrasts between Republicans and Democrats is that the GOP doesn't really do women's politics, and hasn't since the Ford administration: they do what they call family politics, and strenuously resist the idea that there is such a thing as inequality, racism or sexism. Current Republican policies are based on the ideological position that identity is irrelevant to individual prosperity, and that the only differences between people are their relative level of virtue, which can be gauged by an individual's capacity to be disciplined and adhere to "values." Economic success, for example, is a subset of virtue; hence, the incredible concentration of poverty among women and minorities is usually ascribed to their lack of values. This is not unrelated to the importance of religion in Republican party politics after 1972. Christians, and particularly antinomian Protestants, have long believed that personal misfortune is an outcome of being at odds with the Lord, and that tracing the source of God's wrath to failures of virtue may be the only way to prevent misfortune in the future. General catastrophe, however, is a good thing, as it might be a harbinger of the Apocalypse and the Second Coming. It's a stretch, but if you understand this you will also understand why government not responding to AIDS and the Bush administration provoking the possibility of nuclear war in the Middle East would, in the end, be consistent with family values.

But I digress. The Palin nomination may be good for some women, particularly Republicans who have ambitions for higher office, but in the terms I am arguing, not good for most other women. It's hard to tell, and hard to care, because a Republican victory in November (which I think is unlikely) will be bad for the poor, and bad for those who are not poor -- including women -- who suffer from structural inequalities and have nowhere to go for help, given that there is now a pro-business majority on the Supreme Court. A United States without national health insurance will be bad for women; a prison system that is Hoovering up black men and warehousing them for generations can't be good for women; badly crippled and mentally traumatized veterans with no health insurance will be bad for women, particularly when they are women; schools that think they are making children more capable through rote learning and testing will be bad for girls who are becoming women; welfare policies that offer no route for improving yourself aside from getting married will be very bad for women; assuming that sex just works itself out after marriage, and that normal humans are content to wait for a committed monogamous relationship to have sex, has historically been bad for women; taking children away from mothers because they are lesbians is really bad for women; teenagers having babies they can't afford and don't know how to raise will be bad for girls and the women who are their mothers and grandmothers. And so on. Pick your issue: I can tell you why Republican policies are bad for most women. And Sarah Palin isn't going to change that.

I also think that the Republicans may get little effect from a move that is historic for them, since they have also come to the party too late. And it isn't just because Hillary Clinton ran a terrific campaign, and could have been President. It's that interest group politics, which flourished in the 1960's and began to break apart during the Ford and Carter administrations, are really over. They have been killed by the relative successes of 1960s social movements, and not sufficientIy sustained by the things the civil rights, gay rights and women's liberation movements failed to achieve. As a result, I don't think most people vote on sentiment or identity; I think they vote pragmatically, and attend to more than one identity when they do. I don't think there is a category empty of ideology and political content called "women" that a candidate can -- or cannot -- be good for. I don't think having "a woman" on the ticket is necessarily moving the cause of "women" ahead more generally, since women have moved towards a variety of forms of equality without a female chief executive or veep, even under conservative administrations. Note: in 1984, when Democrat Geraldine Ferrarro was chosen by Walter Mondale and the convention as the first woman Vice Presidential candidate, other women were in the mix -- Dianne Feinstein, the Mayor of San Francisco and Martha Layne Collins, the Governor of Kentucky. Since then, a quarter of a century ago, not only has a woman not been chosen or elected, but very few women have even been vetted for the position.

I think what is more important than whether the Palin nomination is good for women is that the Republican Party Platform, regardless of who is on the ticket, is not good for women. Women are more likely to be poor, homeless, uninsured, single parents, and caring for dependent relatives than men. As long as Republicans believe that they can campaign on "social issues" rather than "pocketbook issues" they can put the Virgin Mary on the ticket and "women," as well as "men," will vote Democrat in the fall.


dhawhee said...

An excellent post, and I admit that the last paragraph is why I blanche so quickly at the very idea of a republican woman. I posted on this at my site already, but I do think that McCain's choice of Palin (as opposed to so many other qualified women--my colleague who blogs as "oratorical animal" points to three--Kay Bailey Hutchinson, Elizabeth Dole, and Olympia Snowe--and I would add Condoleeza Rice, even though the thought makes my heart seize just a little bit) is potentially not so hot for women. Indeed, those glass ceiling cracks that Hillary Clinton helped make are there because she was uber qualified. Palin, by contrast, is not (or not yet).

Anonymous said...

If Palin is halfway decent on the stump and before the cameras, and avoids terrible gaffes, she'll be a great thing for McCain. I agree with you that she's not good for women and families because of her policy positions, but as you note, there are a heck of a lot of women who either don't identify as liberal feminists and/or do identify as Republicans who will be excited by her. McCain's announcement yesterday was brilliant politics--he's dominating the news going into a holiday weekend and the week of his own convention, thus extending 4 days of free publicity into 7, and wiping out any talk about Obama's speech or the Dem convention.

The biggest mistake the Dems could make would be to make fun of Palin and mock her experience. They will lose the experience argument, given the thinness of Obama's resume, and moreover they risk depressing their own women's vote (or even increasing McCain's).

Unknown said...

"I don't think there is a category empty of ideology and political content called "women" that a candidate can -- or cannot -- be good for."

Brilliantly put! So glad to have your commentary accompany this election.

evdebs said...

Nice post.

Hillary Clinton was cracking the glass ceiling for the presidency. Isn’t that considerably different than the glass ceiling for the vice presidency? A vote for McCain-Pailn leaves the glass ceiling perfectly intact with no more cracks than those generated by the Clinton campaign.

Anonymous said...

Tenured, this is anonymous again. Given that McCain has nominated Palin, don't you feel a little distressed by the fact that Obama did not even go through the motions to vet Hillary Clinton, even though she won about as many votes as he did and a ticket combining the two of them would have been well-nigh invincible? What did he do instead? He picked an old white guy. Isn't anybody going to ask Obama why he didn't pick Clinton? Yes, I am sure there was some bad blood, but he should have gotten over it, like mature folks do.

Sadly to say, I am not one of your students -- though I am sure it would be fun to be one!

Jarrod Hayes said...

A couple of points.

Drawing on points I've seen here and in other places, I would suggest that putting Palin in the ticket does nothing (well, very little) for women. Assuming McSame wins (shudder), it is unlikely Palin will have much policy sway. McCain isn't a GWB rube, and Palin isn't Cheney-evil-controller, so women's issues are unlikely to occupy much attention. Moreover, does putting a woman on the ticket who is clearly unqualified for national office really further the idea that women are just as deserving as men? Or does it emphasize the 'trophy' aspect of the female narrative in society. She wasn't named because she can help govern, or because she is capable of taking over if McCain kicks off, she was named for purely utilitarian purposes. Choosing her over a woman who could plausibly make a claim to being a qualified vice *President* (Christine Todd Whitman, a Westerner, comes to mind) simply reinforces the objectification inherent in prevalent female gender discourses. You could argue, I suppose, that all VP picks serve this role, but I wouldn't buy it. Look at Biden. Like him or hate him, he brings solid foreign policy experience to an Obama Administration. You know in a crisis, Biden will be in there advising President Obama. I don't see Palin doing anything remotely similar.

On Clinton, I realize as a man I'm playing with fire here. My wife loved Clinton and has vowed to vote for McCain (before the Palin announcement) over Obama (as an aside, can someone please provide me a good argument that I can use to convince her otherwise?). I do think Clinton got a raw deal in the media. BUT, that isn't primarily why she lost. Her campaign was mismanaged. She ran out of money-despite the fact that she had a generous war chest (the point here is that she had plenty of money...I'm trying to head off arguments that because the media dumped on her people didn't give money...they did give, it just wasn't managed well). Her 'ground game' lagged far behind Obama's. I'd read about how Obama had a dozen staffers on the ground weeks/months before a primary while the Clinton campaign managed to get three in four days before hand. This wasn't always the case, or maybe even most of the time, but in a close race, it can't happen at all.

Finally (whew), I thought I would add to this comment "schools that think they are making children more capable through rote learning and testing will be bad for girls who are becoming women"

It is also bad for women on another front...think of poor choice of significant other they face!


Anonymous said...

Jarrod, may I point out that as far as experience is concerned, Governor Palin has more executive experience than Barack Obama and Joe Biden put together.

Anonymous said...

You can always ask John Edwards what he thinks about this woman McCain chose.
The expert in judgment that he is.
News reports have it that he has now raised his speaking fee to $65,000 when he shows up to talk about "poverty".
Whew! We really dodged the bullet on that one.

Anonymous said...

She's not just evangelical, she's a dominionist. That's a pretty big difference

Bardiac said...

Hey TR, I just got back and read your last couple of posts, and while you're always good to read, these are really extraordinarily good. Thank you!

hypatia said...

I think you can make the argument that tenured radical makes in the last paragraph - voting for McCain/Palin is *not* like voting for Hillary. It's voting against everything Hillary stood for.
The fact that the Republicans think most women are stupid enough to not look past anatomy to policy is enough for me to write them off.

Anonymous said...

I just googled the following: Sarah Palin position unfunded mandates special education... and this blog was the first choice that came up. Does anyone know Sarah Palin's position on funding education, particularly special education? I think it's an interesting question, given the fact that she has a special needs child.

Anonymous said...

"If 18 million votes is not enough, what does it take in the Democratic party to get a woman on the ticket?"

Karen O'Connor, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, as quoted in the 8/31 New York Times

Mindy Goorchenko said...

On the other hand, as we admire her capacity to juggle family and (a very ambitious) career, and her willingness to raise a disabled child, let's take a look at the financial resources she has to do that and get those to other families too!

Anyone have any resources to share in this regard? I was not under the impression that she has a huge pot of finances at her disposal. Doesn't her husband work as a ground manager on the North Slope and also as a commercial fisherman? I have found laughable the argument that she is "literally in bed with the oil industry" because her husband works up there. That would be like me saying that I am in bed with the airline industry because my ramper husband works for Alaska Airlines. Wasilla is certainly not the bed of luxury here in on a lake in Alaska is not saying much, as there are something like 10,000,000 lakes here! I believe she has a rather humble two-storey home, quite in contrast to the McCain family. She walks to work when she stays in Juneau. Please clarify?? Are her children in private schools? I'm truly curious by what you meant by that. I'm pretty sure she hasn't published a book. :)

Tenured Radical said...

Dear mindyleigh,

Welcome from Alaska! I'm not suggesting Sarah is wealthy, and all evidence points to her *not* being in the pocket of Big Oil and Gas. My point is if she is a normal middle-class person, with a living family wage, health insurance (Down's children have significant health issues -- forget the other six members of the family!) and her own home that she can afford to heat and keep up the mortgage on -- those are exactly the resources every ordinary American needs and deserves. And in the last eight years, practically everything this government has done has undermined the possibility of that.



Mindy Goorchenko said...

Thank you for your clarification. I see what you mean now.

For the record, I view Palin as a fierce defender of the public good and doing as much as she can to funnel resources to Alaskans, be it through the pipeline (creating jobs, although that is certainly not her one and only intention) or the energy rebates that are happening this month. Of course you have all probably heard of the permanent fund dividends which come out annually, which have put many an Alaskan student through college and will put my own children through college. I think she brings a fresh perspective and experience from this microcosm.

Alaska has an interesting lack of sexism, in my opinion...young girls are taught right alongside boys to do all the Alaskan stuff that Alaskans do. I think Sarah next to the caribou speaks to what I mean by that, as distasteful as it may be to others. Thanks for referencing that particular bias in your blog. This AK pride in having the "hottest governor" may sound incredibly crass to many "more liberated" people but it is hard to explain why that is a loving term of endearment that has practically nothing to do with lust and everything to do with Alaska. I also haven't experienced her in her gubernatorial role as being particularly focused on the "moral" issues associated with the Republican party and she has actively opposed bringing them to the table.

Alaskans have an awareness of the impact of Bush's foreign policy in a way that many other places don't, and definitely not in a way that I had in California. If a Republican is in office, I want someone alongside who honestly understands the impact that war, and especially this war, has and has had on the community back home, both during and after. There is no way you can live here and not "get" that---the stress and pain of the extended deployments, the way entire villages have been emptied of (mostly but not only) men in an environment where hunting and fishing are the primary means of sustenance, and all the other ways it is so prevalent and obvious. I still do a double take when I see a woman soldier here in uniform with her kids walking with challenges me, and I consider myself an open-minded woman with not a lot of sexism in me I hope (in spite of my reveling in my position as homemaker to a big family :)

Bad Decision Maker said...

Yes to your last 3 paragraphs... thanks for clearly putting the real issues in focus. I would add to "a prison system that is Hoovering up black men and warehousing them for generations can't be good for women;" a prison system that has an rapidly growing business of building new women's prisons can't be good for women.

Azulao said...

I haven't read the other comments yet but *thank* you for such a moderate, honest, critically aware post.

Unknown said...

Palin has a swing and jumper in her office. Brings her youngest daughter and her baby to work.

Imagine her in the westwing, what that will do as example for the workplace, how to make it more women friendly.

She juggles and comes across the problems all woman that want to work come across.

Palin will do for women in the workplace what Rosevelt did for disabled in the workplace

Hillary could not do it. No juggling for her with her adult daughter.

Let's not pass this opportunity to get women's voices heard.