Sunday, September 07, 2008

All Bets Off

Las Vegas, NV

Two weeks ago you would have been hard-pressed to convince me that the Republicans in St. Paul could have topped Barack Obama's historical acceptance speech in front of 80,000 adoring fans at Invesco Field in Denver.

But no matter what the outcome in November, it's now clear that the most significant political moment over the last two weeks was Sarah Palin's appearance and speech at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

It not only fundamentally altered the dynamics of the presidential race, it re-injected the role of gender into our politics and reframed the argument about change. But in seeking instant reaction immediately following the speech, one woman very close to me wasn't sold.

"I don't like her," my mother typed in a text message to me. First, some background on mom. She's a Catholic, God-fearing, church-going, traditional conservative, public school teacher who this year is casting her ballot for Barack Obama. Mom's probably never voted for a Democrat in her life. (I still call to check in often if she's changed her mind about it, because I'm that shocked) But this year she's not only supporting Obama, she's donated to his campaign and even ordered a T-shirt (in part to annoy my father, who remains the conservative bedrock of the fam). For Mom, it's less about issues and more about Obama's freshness. But my mother remains a traditional woman. And when I asked her what her problem with Palin was, she quickly replied, "Who's going to raise those kids? Who's going to take care of that baby?"

Just imagine if a man said that. But for Mom, who decided to give up teaching to stay home and raise my brother and I, sees it as a completely fair and relevant question. "Those kids need a mother, especially that little baby." I thought this could just be my traditional mom, until I started hearing similar comments from other women of various political stripes over the age of 60.

Then, there was my friend Jamie. She's a 29-year-old married mom of a infant, who has Democratic leanings and resides in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. (Talk about the ultimate focus group voter!) Jamie is currently wrestling with staying at home with her baby Ally, and going back to her work as a teacher. She exemplifies the struggle that women confront every day, of balancing motherhood and family without losing their sense of purpose and independence professionally. Jamie was big for Hillary. She told me she wept the night Sen. Clinton spoke at the Democratic Convention. When I sought her reaction to Palin, she said, "I don't think I'll vote for her, but I sooo want to be like her."

I still think Palin needs to prove herself. The dismissal of questions about her experience by Republicans is just as laughable as the Democrats portrait of John McCain as a clone of President Bush. Palin has proved herself to be a tough popular anti-establishment Governor, who gives a powerful speech and can connect with regular people. But tough questions need to be asked and answered. And if Joe Biden is tough on her about issues on October 2nd in St. Louis, it shouldn't be portrayed as sexist. She'll be heartbeat away from the presidency, and while she's proved she can dish out biting critiques of Barack Obama, voters deserve to know her thoughts about Russian aggression, the future of America's entitlement programs and what her requirements would be for sending troops into battle.

Families of candidates should be off-limits in most cases, unless it involves policy. So when it was revealed that Palin's teenage daughter was pregnant, it became a relevant story because this is a candidate who supported abstinence only policies. Republicans cannot preach about family values and make them rally cries for their campaigns and expect their own to be off-limits if bad news creeps up. It's disingenuous.

Still, the Palin pick is a game-changer. But we should be careful about what we assume it means. We should be extremely careful to categorize people into boxes. People, like, my mother, for instance. "I think it is ridiculous that the media could question a male about his qualifications and look into his background, but if they do the same to a woman, they cry sexism," wrote Mom in an e-mail. "If a woman wants the job, she should accept everything that comes with it. Otherwise, this election could turn into a giant step backwards for women. If you listen to most of what's out there, women are perceived as not being capable of voting with their own brain. They say, they will vote for a woman, any woman, just because she's a female," observed Mom. "They insinuate that all the Hillary women will vote for Palin. How ridiculous! Those two have nothing in common except their sex," Mom wrote.

The more I observe people's reactions to Palin, the more I believe all bets are off this election. In downtown Springfield, the bar scene with young professionals in their 20s and 30s are abuzz about Palin. There are Palin jokes. Plans for Palin Halloween costumes. Sheer excitement about this Wonder Woman. That anecdotal. But the television ratings and polls now prove that Palin is a superstar that will give McCain a fighting chance.

This campaign is now wholly about change. For the Obama-Biden ticket, it's change about policy. For the McCain-Palin ticket, it's change about process. It can be argued that both McCain and Obama's pick undercut their overall message and acknowledge a weakness. Obama was about change, but he needed to be shored up on experience so he went with a lifelong, gray-haired foreign policy certified Senator. McCain was about experience, but needed to bolster his change message, so he picked a relatively new female Governor, with a maverick reputation to enhance his reformer image.

But with race, gender, age and history all swirling in the winds of election 2008, tensions are raw, sensitivities are heightened, but the conventional wisdom continues to confound us.

Remember my friend Jamie? As I write this, she sent a text to talk politics. This Hillary voter, who swore she couldn't vote for Palin just a few days ago, informed me that after seeing, reading and thinking a bit more, she was leaning towards McCain.

"He's done so much for so long that I feel I owe him my vote. I don't know. My opinion wavers," Jamie said.

Like my Mom has never voted for a Democrat, Jamie has never voted Republican. Both are heading in opposite directions this election for different unconventional reasons. If there's been any year when all bets have been off, the money's on this one.


Paul Seale said...

So when it was revealed that Palin's teenage daughter was pregnant, it became a relevant story because this is a candidate who supported abstinence only policies. Republicans cannot preach about family values and make them rally cries for their campaigns and expect their own to be off-limits if bad news creeps up. It's disingenuous.

Sorry Dave, what is "disingenuous is the double standard that you, and others in the media have regarding Republicans and Democrats. Had the shoe been on the other foot, Republicans would be ripped from limb to limb by the same media demanding a DNA test of Trip to prove he is Sarah's child.

You wanna question qualifications and discuss policy, thats fine and dandy.

However the way the media treated Bristol and Trip where completely wrong. No ifs, ands or buts. Sarah Overstreet gets it, you dont.

If there ever was any indication that you take your personal biases, which we all have, and incorperate it into your work and mark it up as "hard news" - then your statement proves the point. From what I see, it is a window into your soul and belief system.

That, in its self is not the problem. It is when you start grasping for reasons to print what is nothing more than utter garbage that it crosses a line.

David Catanese said...


Once again, it's not surprising you missed the point. I never condoned anything the left-wing blogs insinuated about the mother of the baby. That is garbage that is way over the line. The issue I focused on was solely policy and how it related to her own family. If it was one of Barack Obama's daughters, his statements on family values, abstinence and sex ed should get the same scrutiny. But if any politician believes their own "family values" should be off-limits, he or she should not run on or preach about the coarsening of the moral culture and blame the opposition party for it.

boyd said...

I don't remember anyone in the elite media discussing Al Gore's hypocisy on drug policy after his son was arrested for possession? The fact that big media is losing money and laying off people by the thousands shows how little people trust them. Many people are worried about the liberals promoting the so-called "fairness doctrine", however if it were to become law then half the staff at the News-Leader and NBC would have to be replaced by people more center-right.

Matt said...

"Families of candidates should be off-limits in most cases".

No, they should be off limits in all cases. What is disingenous is the treatment of Palin by the media writ large. This is an incredible double standard. When Obama gives a speech, it's moving, historical, and path-breaking. When Palin gives a speech, it's chalked up to that she can read a prompter.

I suppose also that sexism is sexism unless it's employed to advance the Democratic agenda. We are told that Palin being a woman should know her place; how dare she aspire to a high political office? Yet Barack Obama who has young children is cheered (literally cheered as I heard some of the loudest cheering at the DNC came from the press box in the Pepsi Center) by these same press types. Why not question whether he can be both president and father?

By and large the media has lost what credibility it had with its shameful treatment of Sarah Palin. They have left little doubt that they are coming after Palin, in part because they couldn't vet her beforehand, and in part because she's a conservative female.

Think about it. If Sarah Palin was Suzie Smith, a Democratic governor from a small western state with a young family who was otherwise a down-the-line liberal, she'd be cheered as a pioneer and not dismissed, denigrated, and assassinated in character by the media.

The game is up. We may be dumb conservatives, but we aren't stupid.

Green_Team said...

This is one of the best posts I've read summing up the election.
Thank you.