Palin Is NOT The Point
I WAS OUT AT Burning Man when Sarah Palin was chosen by John McCain (or his advisors) as the Republican Vice-Presidential Candidate. We don’t get much news out there on the Playa: there are no shops selling newspapers, there’s no TV reception and the only radio stations you can pick up (assuming you have a radio there, which I don’t) are the ones operating from within Black Rock City itself, all of which do their best to preserve the week-long sense of isolation. In fact, by the time the news about Palin filtered through to me, it was that McCain had chosen the female Governor from Maine to be his potential Vice-President, rather than the one from Alaska. So, when I heard the news and knowing nothing as yet about the personality of McCain’s choice, I remarked to one of my fellow campers, who’d already identified himself as a MoveOn member rather than a Democrat, that the choice seemed to be one of almost admirably cynical political opportunism: a way to draw those female Hillary Clinton supporters who, in the wake of Barack Obama’s nomination, had proclaimed themselves ready to jump the political fence and vote for John McCain as some of protest vote against the “sexism” they blamed for their beloved Hillary’s defeat in the Primaries. If these Clinton diehards were true to their threat, that would be up to 18 million votes ready to go the way of a potential female Vice President.
But My MoveOn friend was having none of it. “Those women won’t be voting for McCain,” he assured me. “Not when they stop to think about it.”
Well, if the choice of Palin had any positive effect on Democrats, it’s that it certainly brought those Hillary supporters back into the Obama camp. Rarely – perhaps, never – have I witnessed anything in American politics that has so united my many female leftist friends as their immediate, visceral, intense dislike – make that fearful hatred – of Sarah Palin, the woman who could become, potentially, America’s first ever female President. What started out as a surprise – like, is this the Republicans’ idea of a bad joke? (to which the answer remains, yes it is… but it’s also for real) – has turned into a collective riot of Palin-bashing missives that comes in the form of fake YouTube videos, speech corrections, animal rights petitions, forwarded newspaper articles, Planned Parenthood donation drives, and bad old urban myths (re: lists of books she supposedly tried to ban from the Wasilla library).
The anti-Palin panic comes in every shape and form. The new issue of the Woodstock Times is filled with letters from longstanding female residents listing all the many solid reasons that she’s a political liability for the nation as a whole. The Sep 22 New Yorker contained a Talk of the Town editorial, an investigative piece by Philip Gourevitch, and a comic take on her manner of speech. When I was in Prospect Park this last weekend, enjoying a short stay in my old neighborhood of Brownstone Brooklyn, my reverie was interrupted by a procession of Cavewomen For Palin, all dressed as per Wilma Flintstone (albeit with delightfully exposed tattoos), carrying banners stating “A woman’s place is in the cave,” while chanting “ugga-ugga-ugga.” (And no, I didn’t have my camera with me; you’ll just have to take my word on this one.) And the last 24 hours has brought FOUR different e-mails asking me to take part in a PBS online poll questioning Palin’s experience (or lack thereof) for the Vice-Presidential post, a poll that has apparently been hijacked by “the right wing” and which must therefore be reclaimed by us anti-Palinites as if her (non-) Presidency depends on it. It’s enough to make one reset their spam filter to ban anything with the word “Palin” in the headline – and for that matter, maybe the contents too.
Not, for a second, because I don’t share the same views as my female friends. Sarah Palin is anathema to any and every standard I hold personally important in a political candidate. It took but a few seconds of watching her speech at the Republican National Convention to confirm that one. (The seconds in question were the ones in which she derided Obama for being a “Community Organizer.” I like to speak highly of people when I can, but Sarah, fuck you! And if she took tips in delivering that cynical dismissal of Obama’s community service from multi-millionaire corporate businessman authoritarian Rudy Giuliani, well, fuck him too: all the people who wished he could have been their home city’s mayor for the way he handled 9/11 have always been welcome to him.) If I were a female Democrat, and suddenly presented with Palin as the Republicans’ personification of womens liberation – a heartbeat away from the Presidency – I’m sure I would be freaking out even more. And so I’m very grateful to the many friends who have forwarded me details about her political past and present, especially her call for increased aerial hunting of wolves. I’m equally grateful that there are still some journalists out there who take their job title seriously, and who have investigated her background, her religion, her decision-making process, her family values, her views on sexual education, on the environment, on global warming, on oil revenues – oh, and of course, her manner of tackling political and personal vendettas. And, I’m glad, I suppose, that her nomination may yet raise funds for Planned Parenthood, which has my support whether we’re in the midst of a Presidential campaign or not.
But people: enough is enough! The behind-the-scenes Republican powers encouraged McCain to nominate Sarah Palin for precisely this reason: because they knew she would be an immediate media sensation, drawing national coverage – and therefore the national conversation – away from Barack Obama’s positive campaign and back into the kind of firebrand stereotyping match which the Republicans are so adept at winning. These are the people, remember, who took John Kerry – a lousy Presidential candidate, perhaps, but a proven Vietnam war hero – and so besmirched his record with their SwiftBoat lies that average voters were persuaded that Kerry was a coward. Hell, they’ve already managed to convince 13% of registered voters that Obama is a Muslim.
The Democrats like to believe they’re above such political mudslinging and I’d like to believe it too – but in that case, let’s take back this election. It’s not about Sarah Palin. It’s about Barack Obama. Look, for the first time since I moved to this country, I thoroughly believe in the Democratic Presidential Candidate. I can not wait to cast my vote for him. Though Obama has showed signs of tiring towards the end of this incredibly (and unnecessarily) long campaign, and though he has played just a little too nice of late, my support for him remains solid. When he speaks on an issue, he’s usually already informed; this gives him the capacity to think on his feet. He demonstrates great intelligence but also deep compassion; he is an agent for much-needed change even as it’s becoming increasingly clear that he’s actually quite cautious. (And caution is not a bad thing, when you think about the speed at which our current President rushed this country to war.) The post-Palin bump in McCain’s polling numbers have had a lot of Democrats worried, but I admire Obama for not panicking; he’s trusting, I believe, that he can ride out the Palin surge by taking the moral high ground – and I just pray that tactic will work in such a cynical country.
So, my friends, let’s take a pause from sharing our disgust with Palin amongst our fellow non-Republicans, and resume the much harder part of the political campaign: getting the vote out for Barack Obama. Perhaps we need to be sending out e-mails listing the ten attributes that make Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, a better Vice-President than Palin – because, as yet, no-one has listed them for me, and in a nation that’s become enslaved to the 24-hour cable news cycle, “MILF” is certainly not one of them. Maybe those of us who live in areas that are divided between semi-urbanite progressives and rural conservatives need to engage in friendly conversations in the local diners and supermarkets, assuring our suspicious neighbors that having a well-traveled, intelligent, caring, (half)black family man (with a Harvard degree, and experience in the Senate, and yes, experience in the Community too) as President might actually be a good thing for this country. It would ssurely be more beneficial than another round of Palin-bashing e-mails and petitions sent to our close friends whom we already know wouldn’t vote for her if she were the last woman on earth. We have very little time left, and we need to reclaim the message. It’s not about her. It’s not about PBS online push-button polls. (Anyway, the “hijacking” of said poll might teach PBS a lesson and encourage it to concentrate on what it does best – responsible journalism.) It’s not even about Planned Parenthood. It’s about President Obama. Don’t you like the sound of that?