No Pandering to This Mom

Marybeth Hicks

10/27/2010 10:25:43 AM - Marybeth Hicks

Ask any man, "Tell me about yourself," and he'll describe what he does for a living. Ask a woman, and she'll tell you about her relationships.

It's a little quirk in our hard-wiring that all women will acknowledge. To wit: Michelle Obama refers to herself as America's "Mom in Chief."

It's likely that the instinct that prompts women to define ourselves by our roles — wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend — actually was at the heart of what has become a controversial issue in the Oklahoma governor's race between a married mother and an unmarried professional woman.

Last week during a gubernatorial debate, Republican candidate and current U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin was asked to define the biggest difference between her and her opponent, Democrat and current Lt. Gov. Jari Askins.

Mrs. Fallin, who is twice married and the mother of two children by her first husband and stepmother to her current husband's four children, noted her experience as a mother raising a large family.

Miss Askins has never been married or had children. Ouch.

After the debate, during which her comment reportedly drew "groans" from audience members, Mrs. Fallin was quoted as saying, "I was just explaining that these things give me a good perspective on the challenges Oklahomans face, and hopefully voters can relate to that."

Miss Askins, meanwhile, said she never planned to stay single but that marriage and a family simply never happened for her. "Rather than sit back and worry about it, I devoted my life to trying to serve all the children of Oklahoma," she reportedly said.

This episode, as well as last week's efforts on the part of President Obama to woo women back to the voting booth in the midterm elections, reminds me how much I loathe identity politics.

Pandering to targeted demographic groups is such a poor substitute for statesmanship.

Rather than focus on the stark and legitimate differences between conservative and liberal solutions to Oklahoma's political and economic issues, Mrs. Fallin lobbed a softball question into foul territory by contrasting her marital and maternal status with that of her opponent, while transparently pressing the "vote for another mom" button.

Frankly, as any good mom will tell you, this strategy falls under the heading, "If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?" Conformity and critical thinking are not one and the same.

Resisting the instinct to define herself by her relationships, and better yet, eschewing the intellectually lazy habit of identity politics, Mrs. Fallin ought to have simply stated why Oklahomans would be better off if she is governor. She seeks smaller state government, a pro-business climate, school choice and strong enforcement of immigration laws, to name just a few reasons.

If I were voting in Oklahoma, I'd absolutely cast my ballot for Mary Fallin, but not because she's a mother.

I'd do so because of her understanding of the role of government that is best for all Oklahomans, whether or not they are married with children.

I'd do so not out of my own self-interested commonality with her, but out of my shared vision of a state that reflects my belief in liberty, personal freedom and responsible citizenship.

It's time politicians stop carving us into bite-sized chunks of self-interested voters, pitting the anxiety of one group against the fears of another.

On Election Day, we're much more than black or white, male or female, married, unmarried, gay, straight, Christian, Jew, parents or childless.

We're Americans who care about the strength and stability of the greatest nation on earth, and we're looking for leaders who define themselves by the principles that made us so.