Monday, September 8, 2008

the sexism at the heart of the Palin nomination

You'd think, if one nominee was by unanimous consensus one of the brightest foreign policy minds in the US Senate, a straight talker and extremely experienced and vetted political veteran, and his opponent had by anyone's measure a significant experience gap and a far less impressive resume, and had never faced a particularly difficult electoral challenge in her career--well, you'd think you wouldn't see so many stories about how the former would have an enormously difficult time defeating the latter. Why, you'd probably imagine the opposite!

Ah, but as Lithwick alludes to, the latter is a woman, and the former is a man, and the conventional wisdom is that the man has to lose, because if he wins, he's beating up on a girl. The notion, in it's essence, is the height of sexism, an appeal to the notion that women are incapable of actually being engaged on an intellectual level and that women need special protections because, you know, they're weak. This is a pretty stunning act of politics over governance-- part of the point of the debates, after all, is to all help reveal who is better equipped to actually hold executive office-- but also very shrewd politics. It's not like I expect the Republicans to give up this advantage, nor do I expect the Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys and Laura Ingrahams who dominate the conservative chattering class to point out this fact. They're shills for their cause, and there's nothing particularly wrong with that.

Palin's other supposed advantage, as a woman, is among women voters. Women, I guess the thinking goes, are so committed to the cause of women that they will choose supporting that cause over making the correct choice for their country. And, apparently, they don't think about policy or issues or the direction of the country any which way. They will apparently say "Forget about abortion, sex education, employee discrimination, the war in Iraq, the economy, and every other meaningful issue that is at stake for our country-- I'm voting for the chick!" This I find both sexist and wrong, and Republicans relying on a big bump in women voters for McCain (where Obama is dominant, incidentally) are expecting too much. But that's their narrative.

Again, I don't expect the Republicans to somehow give up this advantage or perceived advantage. Nor do I expect the average Republican or conservative to start to point out the bullshit inherent in this thinking. I do, though, expect some of the heterodox conservatives out there to say "Look, the idea that Palin shouldn't be attacked in the debates is partisan nonsense." Or, "It's flagrantly sexist to expect women to vote for McCain/Palin just because there's a woman on the ticket." Or, maybe most importantly, "The Republicans attacking the Democrats as sexist for criticizing a Vice Presidential candidate in an election season are doing neither the country nor women any favors."

I'm not seeing it yet. Here's hoping.


Anonymous said...

Freddie, I'd like to see you acknowledge that any woman, not just a woman on the Right, has this advantage. It's exactly why Lithwick brought up Rick Lazio.

Nevertheless, I'd expect that Biden will run circles around her.

This heterodox conservative also finds the idea that Clinton women voters will vote for Palin because she's a woman unlikely and yes, sexist. But the same populist women who supported Clinton may be tempted by Palin's rather shrill populism. True?

Anonymous said...

A8:04 is -K.

Freddie said...

Oh, for sure, no question about it. I'd just like acknowledgement from those supporting Palin that her candidacy is not an unambiguously feminist venture, but one which itself involves its own petty sexisms.

Also, it's not that I think no women will vote for Palin based on her gender, but that it won't be significant enough of a number to meaningfully move the electorate.

Ricky said...

Women I've talked to and have heard on the radio- even self-described Clinton supporters- seem to be saying that although they are offended by the very idea that they have to vote McCain because of a presence of a woman on the ticket, they are at the same time intrigued by THIS woman. They are saying, she did not make it so far "the old fashioned way" (marriage), but by her accomplishments and talents.

Now, it's true that she probably wouldn't be the VP nominee if she were not female- but I'm more interested in the sentiment itself. Is it a sort of "elevated sexism" to vote for a perceived accomplished woman specifically because she is so compelling, rather than because she is female? I think there is a difference here.

Stuart Buck said...

by unanimous consensus one of the brightest foreign policy minds in the US Senate

Who are you talking about here? Not Joe Biden, surely?:

QUOTE: At the [October 2001] meeting with committee staffers, Biden launches into a stream-of-consciousness monologue about what his committee should be doing, before he finally admits the obvious: "I'm groping here." Then he hits on an idea: America needs to show the Arab world that we're not bent on its destruction. "Seems to me this would be a good time to send, no strings attached, a check for $200 million to Iran," Biden declares. He surveys the table with raised eyebrows, a How do ya like that? look on his face.

The staffers sit in silence. Finally somebody ventures a response: "I think they'd send it back." Then another aide speaks up delicately: "The thing I would worry about is that it would almost look like a publicity stunt."

Art Deco said...


I suspect that the candidates (or certain technicians they employ) are aware of the quantitative research on the benefits to be accrued by the Vice Presidential candidate. William Schneider offered a short summary twenty years ago: an increment of 2% of the vote in the VP candidate's home state, on average. Some may do better and some (e.g. Thomas Eagleton and Geraldine Ferraro) turn into embarrassing distractions. He has selected another western Republican who hails from a state with three electoral votes. It is doubtful he is making the calculation you attribute to him. For the most part, ticket balancing has not been practiced in the last fifty years.

Art Deco said...


Sen. Biden has long had a reputation as a terrible buffoon, antedating the time he confounded his family history with that of Neil Kinnock.