Saturday, August 30, 2008

Take the Gloves Off, Boys

(New York Times photo of Governor Sarah Palin sitting on a bear skin)

Last night I had dinner with an old friend who is a very active Democrat. He has worked in politics, both on the Hill and as a volunteer for a number of campaigns, including Obama. He is very enthusiastic about the ticket he will vote for in November. We are friends, and there is an awful lot we can agree on, but I was surprised by two things:

First, I was surprised by how quickly my saying I was excited about Palin's nomination turned the conversation ugly. His first response was, condescendingly, "would you seriously feel comfortable with her becoming president?" Now, this is a question that we should always ask about the Vice President, but I think there is also going to be an implication coming that McCain is old, and therefore more likely to die in office than other candidates. I think Palin is young and that inexperience may be the main tack that the Democrats have to take against her, especially compared with Biden's long career in the Senate, but it is a tough line of reasoning when Obama is offering a ticket with no executive experience. Senator McCain has been forthright about his health, which is basically, good, and he is tough as nails, so it strikes me that while no one knows for whom the bell tolls, it is reasonable to expect that the man will be competently able to serve for four years. More surprisingly, this first response is the sort of knee jerk negative reaction that is not based at all on policy items and is much more representative of the Washington "politics as usual" then it is of the Obama message of Hope and Change.

Many people may choose not to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket because they will disagree on the issues, or even because they feel personally moved by Mr. Obamas way of speaking, background, intelligence and vigor. I hope that all of these people will still acknowledge that Palin's nomination is also a sign of hope and change for our country. In her acceptance speech, Palin said the following:

And it's fitting that this trust has been given to me 88 years almost to the day after the women of America first gained the right to vote.
I think -- I think as well today of two other women who came before me in national elections.
I can't begin this great effort without honoring the achievements of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984...
... and of course Senator Hillary Clinton, who showed such determination and grace in her presidential campaign.

It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America...... but it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.

That statement moved me to tears.

My own mother, a woman of Mrs. Clinton's generation, was excited and moved by Clinton's candidacy. It happened that she liked a lot of Clinton's politics, but I think it was also important to her to know that someone who was like her, a woman of her generation, a woman who had been loyal to her family and worked hard to raise her child, a woman who had balanced a career and family life and made many sacrifices, could acheive so much in a national election. Regardless of our politics, her candidacy is symbol of hope for our country.

Many people may feel the same way about Barack Obama. In some way, because of his race, his upbringing, his struggles, he is "like them" more than any candidate has been before, and that means something about their own place in this great country. My grandmother, who is 85 years old, is so excited when she talks about Obama. Having lived through almost all of the 20th century, to her it is wonderful that a man who is nothing like her can make a real run for President of the United States. Regardless of our politics, his candidacy is a symbol of hope for our country.

Palin was so right to acknowledge this moment in history. Someone had to be first, and Ms. Ferraro went as far as she could at a time when women were just beginning to put themselves out there. What Mrs. Clinton has accomplished through hard work and perseverance is significant. So, here comes Sarah Palin and she is not the first woman to be nominated for the office of vice president. Palin's nomination represents a next step, that women are and will continue to be in the mix here, and her candidacy is a symbol of hope for our country.

Back to dinner among friends: there was a moment when I almost threw my water in this old boy's face. When he said, and my husband quite agreed, that it would be hard to be Biden in the debate because Biden is fairly aggressive and that to take that sort of tone with a woman might create some ugly sound bites or bad spin, I was outraged.

To that I say, bring it on. Senator Biden should debate the issues at stake for our country to the best of our ability. If he believes that Senator McCain will not move our country forward, if he believes that Governor Palin does not have what it takes to fill the position of Vice President, if he differs with them on how we can best help the working class, how to accomplish social justice, how to keep our country safe from Islamic extremists, how to reduce our foreign energy dependence, cut wasteful government, reach across the aisle to get things done, ensure that our children will be educated for the future, provide for our elderly, handle the mortgage crisis, Senator Biden should articulate all of his candidates ideas and he should fight hard for what he believes. There is no doubt in my mind that Sarah Palin can take it. Her record as a politician shows this, her experience as a mother shows it. In particular, as a mother of a child with Down Syndrome, she is fighting everyday on behalf of her child.

This is what mothers do. To our kids, when they need it, we are mom with a cookie and a glass of milk after school, tell us your troubles with the teacher or the playground bully and we will dry your tears. To our husbands, when they need it, we are just the same, we are warm, safe, love to come home to, we make the place that is your shelter from the cold hard world. This is an important part of our job, but at the same time we are fighting. Women were not given the rights that men have had in this country, women fought for them. When the men went off to war, women rolled up their sleeves and worked in the factories while still keeping the home fires burning. All around this country, on PTA's, town councils and school boards the women of America are fighting for the future.

The next Vice President of the United States is going to be a heartbeat away from being President. I would imagine that for a woman or a man the White House situation room is a fairly scary place when our security is being threatened. In the primary, there were ads that asked us who we would want answering the phone in the middle of the night if something happened. So, I say, you had better debate this woman, because someday she just might be answering that phone, and in order to get there, she must be able to stand up to whatever Joe Biden has to throw at her.

I think that "I am not going to be a physically threatening or a total jerk" would be a good campaign strategy for man or woman, that "getting in some one's face" is not well received on the national stage whomever you are debating, so I do hope that all candidates will conduct themselves with dignity, self respect and respect for their opponent. I think that we have seen this from both Senators McCain and Obama so far, and I hope that they will set a tone of civility for the remainder of the election. We all want to move this country forward, we all care about what will be left for our grandchildren, and we all want to be safe and secure today. We differ on how to accomplish this, so the candidates need to mobilize those who agree with them and convince those who are on the fence. Good debates can clarify a lot of these issues.

Softening your debate strategy because you are speaking to a woman? That scares me, that sort of attitude can seal up those cracks in the glass ceiling. A real debate centered around issues? That would be a sign of great hope and change for this country!


Kate said...

Thank you, MA, for this posting. I find Palin's candidacy to be extremely exciting and moving, though I won't be voting for her. But I am also so upset that the de facto analysis of her candidacy seems to be comparison with other women, and not of politics or executive capacity, but of "woman-ness" if you know what I mean. Does Sarah Palin love her children more than Nancy Pelosi? Is Sarah Palin a better mother than Hillary Clinton? None of these conversations are helpful or frankly even relevant to the issues at hand. Sarah Palin owes a huge debt (which I think she has very wonderfully acknowledged), to the generations of women before us who made it possible for women to go to work and breastfeed, or attend work events with babies in slings, or even just take a somewhat decent maternity leave! As women, we should honor all their contributions, even when we have fundamental disagreements with their political decisions.

Again, I appreciated the tenor of this posting and hope that the continued coverage of politics can maintain this degree of consideration and respect.

clara said...

yes to what kate said.

but i also want to point out that considering John McCain's advanced age is not irrelevant. He will have an impossible job, with an impossibly difficult schedule that would turn a very young man or woman's hair grey! He will be allowed very little sleep, rest, or quiet. He will be on the road a lot and is at an age where these things are much, much more difficult to do. Is he therefore going to be more susceptible to illness or injury than a younger candidate? Absolutely.

Bethany said...

Is there something wrong with me?

While I acknowledge an achievement of sorts by having the first black presidential candidate (I am not black) as well as a woman vice-presidential candidate, with what I admit is a good shot at the vice-presidency (I am a woman), I do not find myself feeling any sort of extra pride in these achievements; in particular that of Palin's nomination. The same of me could be said of Hillary Clinton in the primary campaign.

I acknowledge the struggles overcome and still enduring by both categories(intentional) of people, but, while historic this election will be... I don't care. It's not that I don't care who will be president or vice-president. But what I mean is that, while the struggles that they have individually and as a race/sex have overcome are admirable, they are people. Everyone has crosses that they bear every day: white, black, female, male, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Latino, rich, impoverished... etc...etc... I do not feel personally connected to Sarah Palin because she's a woman vice-presidential candidate and I'm a woman too. Nor did I connect with Hillary Clinton because she was running for the presidency and a woman. Sarah Palin is Sarah Palin with her own unique personal story, Hillary Clinton is Hillary Clinton with her own unique personal story. Being a woman while important in what they have done and what they do, is, to me, a small part of the equation.

I know I'm rambling now. I apologize. I feel bad that I feel this way, especially when so many others seem to understand how important these struggles are and how wonderful this all is. My husband says I'm probably not alone. That our generation has not grown up with that type of struggle and being removed from it can make you apathetic. I think it's more than that. Is anyone else having this dilemma? Or am I alone in this thinking?

tdunbar said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tdunbar said...

There's a great youtube collage of still photos called America's Future which has an interesting subplot of Palin as polar bear - cute but ferocious.

Kat said...

Bethany, I know what you mean, I felt similarly when Hillary Clinto was running for democratic nominee...While I acknowledged the historicity of her candidacy, I felt that it would be foolish to make a decision about political office based on gender.

I have been suprised by how moved I am by Palin's candidacy for VP, and after your comments I was reflecting about why I am feeling this way. I realized that it's more than the fact that Palin is a woman, a mother, a wife, like all of us. It's that I believe that she really gets it! She understands the lives of ordinary, hard-working families. She is down-to-earth and when she speaks, it is not in the same polished, canned way that so many politicians speak. She speaks with conviction and from experience. You can tell that her faith drives her values, but you also get the sense that she has thought very carefully through what she believes and that she's ready and willing to give an answer whenever she is pressed.

In terms of her ability to be a mother and a VP, I say that she can do it! Several saints were mothers and career-women, St. Gianna comes to mind - she was a doctor and a wonderful mother who essentially gave her life to save her last child. We are not all called to be mothers and career women, and for most of us the question of how to balance family responsibilities with outside commitments will be a life-long struggle...But it seems that Sarah Palin has been called to be a mother and a politician, and I say, where there's a will, there's a way. Yes, she'll have to work long hours in the White House, but I believe that this woman has the gumption to speak up for the needs of her baby and that she will keep him close by as often as possible!

AWOL Mommy said...

I have an issue I would like to sound off on here - what about our (women's) emotional side? Is there room for this in the split-second-decision-making world that is politics? I witnessed this a lot as a female officer in the Army and it came up again when Hillary Clinton was moved to tears during the primaries. Do our emotions make us more or less equipped to handle the situations that will hold our nation's safety in the balance? I remember so many soldiers telling me that they would much prefer to have a male commander because he would be more "rational" and "level-headed" when making disciplinary decisions. While I wanted to recoil at such generalizations, I knew from personal experience that this is often the case. I often had a hard time punishing poorly performing soldiers because I knew that making them stand extra duty or garnishing their wages would affect their wife and three children more than the soldier himself. MA, I agree, as mothers we do have to fight and comfort and wear the dual hats, but how does this emotional balance beam within us look in the public sphere? Is it bad that Hillary Clinton was moved to tears and what is going to happen the first time that happens to Governor Palin? Are men experiencing the same degree of emotion with each decision but concealing it from public view? I think so. And whereas this may not be healthy for one's personal well-being, maybe the vibrato and pseudo-composure of men in the public sphere is important when the whole world is watching?

Mary Alice said...

AWOL, I can only respond to say that I have known plenty of men with sharp, unjust tempers, and I think that men are as prone to have decision making clouded by emotion, it just comes out in different ways.

AWOL Mommy said...

touch'e, MA, touch'e.

Athelstane said...

Back to dinner among friends: there was a moment when I almost threw my water in this old boy's face. When he said, and my husband quite agreed, that it would be hard to be Biden in the debate because Biden is fairly aggressive and that to take that sort of tone with a woman might create some ugly sound bites or bad spin, I was outraged.

In fairness, what your friend probably had in mind was the "Lazio Effect" - when Rick Lazio made a show of approaching Hillary Clinton's podium to urge her to sign a campaign pledge on soft money during one of their debates in the 2000 New York Senate campaign. Polls immediately showed a major hit to Lazio's favorability, largely by women voters who were offended by what they say as Lazio's bullying.

All of which you may know, of course. And it might also be argued, as perhaps you are doing, that what Lazio did was ill-advised against any candidate. Nonetheless, because of this incident (and some lesser known ones) that it is now received wisdom in the political class that male candidates have to be extra careful in their body language and demeanor in debating women candidates.

And if that's good wisdom, it might be because a lot of women voters don't have the same expectations or perceptions that you do - unfortunately.

I say "unfortunately" because I really do agree with your point - that's the way it should be. But I understand why your friend thinks the way he does.

Anonymous said...

AWOL - good point

Apparently, we've just learned that Palin's 17 year old is 5 months pregnant. Maybe she's not as good at balancing family and career as we thought???

Juris Mater said...

MaryAlice, I really enjoyed this post. Thank you!

AWOL, I have no response, I only want to acknowledge the good points you made. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity talks about the differences in decision-making in men versus women. Something like what you said: women are guided more by emotion and empathy, men tend to be more level-headed and arms-length. This is a generalization, but I think there's something to this... but I really like Palin!

Anonymous said...

though it's unclear how supportive she really is of teen mothers other than her own daughter--