Parsing the Palin phenomenon
September 12, 2008
Source: Seattle Times
Alaska. Gov. Sarah Palin appears on the cover of “Newsweek” this week, toting a shotgun, in an opus called “Palintology.” She stirs huge crowds of conservatives everywhere she and Sen. John McCain go. She, not he, is the talk of the 2008 presidential campaign. And polls show voters are charged up for once about the Republican ticket.
No wonder Barack Obama’s supporters are feeling a little verklempt, as in, out of sorts, clenched — OK, rattled.
Everybody expected a post-convention bounce for McCain, similar to one enjoyed by Obama after his knockout convention speech. But a legitimate worry is about female voters, a group Obama needs to win, and which has swung pretty dramatically in recent days from strongly pro-Obama to a narrower lead — if you believe the polls, and in some ways I don’t. (The swing is even bigger among white women voters.)
Much of the volatility among female voters stems from the fact that women feel tugged in a lot of different directions. Palin offers the chance to smash the glass ceiling, if smashing the glass ceiling is the most important thing.
Palin is the kind of brash, good-looking, in-your-face candidate who connects with working-class women. She’s more like everymoms than Obama. Yes, sure, he was raised by a single mother and grandparents, but in the end, he went to Harvard.
Somehow, an election supposedly about issues has devolved into a campaign about personal narrative, and that is how McCain wants it.
I suspect the Palin effect will fade in the days and weeks ahead. She is one deer-in-the-headlights answer away from scaring the very same people currently embracing her.
All the enthusiasm and rooting for this woman will give way to a realization that she has too much on her plate. She is being asked to manage a steep learning curve on national and international issues and still be a mom in a family with five kids, including a special-needs baby and a pregnant daughter.
Why won’t the McCain campaign let her answer normal press questions? If she wants to be vice president, one heartbeat away, shouldn’t the media and public have a chance to hear Sarah Unplugged? Isn’t it sexist to say Palin can’t answer questions right now because, well, give her a break.
Palin made a difficult decision when she learned she was carrying a Down syndrome baby. But by her politics, she would not allow the rest of us to make our own choice. Palin opposes abortion in all cases, including rape and incest, except to save the life of the mother.
I know most voters do not select politicians on one issue alone, especially choice, but here we have a tough-talking Westerner ready to shake up the government who would tell others how to live their lives. How does that resonate in the libertarian West?
Palin connects with women voters because they see a hardworking woman, with little pretense, managing it all from the governor’s mansion.
But there is an undercurrent of angst among other women voters, who may turn on her when they add up the available time for her to brush up on national and foreign affairs.
I respectfully disagree with feminists who say no one would ever ask such a question of Obama. He has two kids. Is it sexist not to wonder why he isn’t responsible for his children?
As a working mom with two kids, I can say five kids is a different equation than two. I know many amazing single dads and working dads who take beautiful care of their children, without their wives, or dads who are first-rate prime parents. Yes to all of that.
But there are plenty of women voters who know somewhere deep in their stomachs that some children — dare I say prematurely pregnant, 17-year-olds — need their mom if they can possibly have her.
The New York Times reported this week that Palin kept her latest pregnancy a secret from friends and part of her family for many months. She didn’t want critics to think she wasn’t doing her job.
My favorite senior citizen who was voting for McCain switched after the Palin pick. Poor judgment, she said. Palin does not have time to prep to be vice president or president.
But here we all go. The only way Obama can win is if he gets this campaign back to the issues. Eighty percent of the American public thinks the country is on the wrong track.
You can’t be on the right track with McCain — remember him? — who has voted so often with President Bush.
For the moment, McCain and Palin have turned the election into a campaign about personal narrative. I say the voters are smarter than that. If they really favor change, they will have to get over the illusory excitement about Sarah Palin.