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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Everywoman or Superwoman?

Led by McCain campaign chieftain Steve Schmidt, the whole GOP/conservative chattering class is in full whine today, trying to discredit any questions about or criticism of Sarah Palin as representing media sexism (conservatives being well-known, of course, for their deep sensitivity to gender bias). Among other things, this line of attack is clearly a big shout-out to the dwindling but still significant ranks of disgrunted Hillary Clinton supporters, who famously, and with considerable justification, made the same complaints about media coverage of HRC.
But the bigger question is whether Sarah Palin herself, in her acceptance speech tonight, does some tastefully delivered whining of her own. To put it another way, does she cast herself as Everywoman–a highly sympathetic “hockey mom” who’s being beat up on by elitist Democrats and media figures–or as Superwoman–a highly acccomplished executive whose slim resume disguises a deep knowledge of public affairs and a demonstrated commitment to “reform?”
I’ve heard some political observers privately predict that Palin will go pretty heavily into her “personal story” to bond with working-class and/or female voters, in a latter-day version of the famous Nixon “Checkers Speech.” (For those who haven’t read about it, this was the 1952 speech wherein an embattled Veep nominee accused of benefitting from a slush fund saved his career with a heartstring-tugging evocation of his modest roots and lifestyle, and his refusal to give up the gift to his daughter of a dog named “Checkers.”). But while we’ll definitely hear about her large family, her apparent lack of wealth, and such blue-collar pastimes as the slaying and consumption of moose, I suspect Palin will leave most of the victimization claims to the campaign and the right-wing media, and focus instead on dealing with real concerns about her preparation for the White House that can’t be dismissed as reflecting sexism.
The already-tedious comparisons of her years of public service to Obama’s will only get the McCain-Palin ticket so far, and could eventually, like Dan Quayle’s constant comparisons of his resume to JFK’s in 1988, even backfire. After all, Obama’s significantly reduced if not eliminated fears about his own level of preparation by speaking fluently on a vast array of issues in the national spotlight of a very long campaign. Palin (or more accurately, the McCain campaign’s speechwriters) can’t match that in a single speech. But realistically, so long as she’s good at reading a teleprompter, there’s no reason to expect that she won’t pass her first big test.
One thing you won’t hear about tonight are her extremist views on a variety of hot-button issues. Yes, she will almost certainly mention her recent decision to have a child with Down Syndrome, and perhaps her own daughter’s even more recent decision to carry to term a pre-marital pregnancy. But she probably won’t go out of her way to make it clear that she would deny a choice in such matters to every other woman in America. She certainly doesn’t need to pander to conservative activists tonight. Deep in their bones, they are convinced that she is “one of them” on a level rarely attained by politicians. So they’ll be happy to let her perform strictly for the benefit of swing voters in her acceptance speech, cheering her “maverick” paens to bipartisanship and reform and all that stuff they don’t actually believe in (monomaniacal oil drilling, of course, is another matter!).
But Sarah Palin, and McCain-Palin, are hardly going to be out of the woods when the convention ends. The predictably positive media reviews she’ll earn with a minimally credible performance tonight will, ironically, undermine all the whining about media bias, and enable continued scrutiny of her record and views. Maybe she’ll be able to kick the “Troopergate” can down the road past election day, but maybe not. Her cozy relationship with the loony Alaska Independence Party could be a ticking time bomb. The vice presidential debate could be perilous, as it was for Dan Quayle. And the Obama campaign’s showing an early willingness to go after her and McCain’s extremist position on abortion, threatening their appeal to pro-choice women.
Michael Crowley at TNR has a more detailed analysis of what we might expect from Palin tonight. I agree with his conclusion that she’s positioned to meet or exceed low expectations. A little bit of Everywoman, and a first effort to look like Superwoman, is all she needs for now. What happens later is another matter.

2 comments on “Everywoman or Superwoman?

  1. Ciccina on

    RE: Josh Marshall. He claims that there were no inappropriate charges “published” in the media (as opposed to blogs).
    He is wrong.
    Yesterday afternoon I saw Sally Quinn make the case to Bill O’Reilly that Palin is a bad mother for running for office while she has “two special needs” children. She admitted all her friends are working mothers, but said running for Vice President is different. Bill Maher referred to Palin as a “stewardess” – don’t remember which channel he’s on. I saw Mike Barnicle tell Norah O’Donnell on CNN that it is okay to hold female politicians to a different standard than male politicians because “women are different” – he was questioning Palin’s character for RWF with small children, and admitted he wouldn’t have the same concerns about a man. He also said the White House doesn’t have “mommy hours.”
    Three examples from less than 90 minutes of news-watching yesterday.

  2. Ciccina on

    That’s right, she’s just whining. Cause that’s what women do, whine whine whine.
    How does whining fit into the two alternatives you describe (“To put it another way, does she cast herself as Everywoman–a highly sympathetic “hockey mom” who’s being beat up on by elitist Democrats and media figures–or as Superwoman–a highly acccomplished executive whose slim resume disguises a deep knowledge of public affairs and a demonstrated commitment to “reform?””). Being a hockey mom is whining? Or being an executive is whining? Or perhaps just RWF (Running While Female) is whining?
    You may think the public discussion of the last few days is just trivial girl talk, but there have been plenty of completely inappropiate charges hurled around the media – that Palin can’t be a good mother and run for high office, that she should be too scandalized by having a pregnant daughter to even think of joining the ticket, and that she’s a bad person because of her own reproductive choices. Not to mention characterizing an elected Governor as a “joke” and a “stewardess” (Bill Maher).
    These are serious issues to women who want to succeed in politics and other spheres. Responding to them isn’t “whining,” regardless of whether the target is a Republican or a Democrat. It is important to address the use of stereotypes, constrictive gender roles and shaming as political tools against a female candidate.


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