During the last two weeks, I heard an amazing range of speeches from both Democrats and Republicans. After the Democratic Convention, it was hard for me to imagine anything surpassing the showmanship and technical excellence of that gathering. Privileged to attend both conventions, I was able to observe the stark contrast of both style and content of the events. To my surprise the low tech, from-the-heart approach of Sarah Palin and John McCain may create a David-and-Goliath style comeback for the GOP. The Republican National Convention in Minneapolis was an historic moment. It’s historicity, however, is not just based on the gender of its vice president. The amazing shift in the GOP’s campaign focus and theme also strikes me as historic.
In retrospect it is easy to see that choosing an unknown Alaskan governor as his running mate was a stroke of genius by the 72-year old war hero. The genius lies in the energy that Sarah Palin has brought to the conservative ticket. For months, Tony Perkins (President of Family Research Council) and other leading evangelicals have expressed a fundamental concern that the enthusiasm factor for social conservatives has been missing thoroughout this election cycle.
The problem with the evangelical base has been political disillusionment. After the Ted Haggard, Folley, and Abramoff debacles, it is easy for all of us to question the sincerity of national leadership. These recent examples of conservative hypocrisy, teamed with Senator McCain’s early denunciation of widely known, evangelical pastors John Hagee and Rod Parsley made a huge number of evangelicals, both young and old, hesitant to enthusiastically support McCain.
The Palin selection, along with the Saddleback Church Compassion Forum, has instantly restored a huge amount of enthusiasm. In addition, it gave the Senator an opportunity to reassert his claims as a maverick and an agent of change. Despite Democratic attempts to paint McCain as George Bush III, he has never been a “company man.” It was just 12 months ago that leading fiscal and social conservatives were lifting up a politically ominous chorus that declared that McCain was too “moderate.” Palin’s selection gave his detractors a reason to unite around his radical “new vision” for his party.
The most shocking aspect of last week’s media feeding frenzy surrounding Sarah Palin was the number of women who passed judgment on Palin as a person. They questioned her conservative values, experience, motherhood, her daughter’s pregnancy, and commitment to faith. “Five children are too many for a woman in public life,” they quickly cried. They hypocritically ignored any mention of how Nancy Pelosi’s success ploughed new ground for women without sacrificing her five children on an altar of feminist success.
What was all this about? Why do some women, who have made a career out of being aggressive feminists, see Sarah Palin as such a threat? My conclusion is that feminists could not believe that Sarah Palin was a real person. They truly believe in their concepts of reproductive liberty, equal rights, and the right of a woman to refuse to be defined by a patriarchal society. Some pundits immediately concluded that Sarah Palin was just an out-of-touch “hick.” These would-be champions of women’s freedom believe that everyone should have rights - as long as they live according to their rules.
They assumed that this must be the most desperate political trick motivated by greed and energized by deception. The fact that some women actually love their husbands, struggle with the normal problems of life, and still have the heart to serve their community as genuine agents of change is outside of the realm of their imagination. I am appalled that strong feminists are threatened when a socially conservative woman emerges who is independent and assertive.
Perhaps Palin represents to them a throwback to the last century. Her temperament and views remind them of their grandmother’s generation. Her values and outlook are too “old school” to truly represent the woman of this generation. When Hillary Clinton was robbed of her chance to shatter the glass ceiling of the executive office, no one dared to believe that a conservative presidential candidate would have had the temerity to move so far outside of the box.
An unintended consequence of selecting Sarah Palin as a Vice-Presidential candidate is that it marks the end of an era of strident sexist politics. No, I am not saying that sexism is dead. I am, however, asserting that America is slowly overcoming both racial and gender prejudice. Ironically, the folks who should be most excited by the change are most threatened by it.