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Sarah Palin: A Critical Analysis

Posted by Anthony on September 9, 2008

By Anthony J. Aschettino

With both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions finally over, the race for the White House can finally begin in earnest. For the better part of the next two months, both parties will be doing their all to convince America that they have the solutions for our ills and thus deserve a vote in November. It will be a groundbreaking election no matter which way the votes go, since either an African-American or woman will, for the first time in our history, be part of a winning ticket. Since Americans are mostly informed about three of the major players in this race, I thought I’d focus on the one person who is a virtual unknown but is nevertheless perhaps the most critical for the election: Sarah Palin.

John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for his Vice President was, unless you happen to possess psychic skills, a complete shock to an overwhelming majority of people including those who earn their paychecks by analyzing such things.  The cynical observer would suggest that she was brought on board in order to try and woo frustrated Hilary Clinton supporters as well as appeal to women in general and middle class women in key swing states in particular. Not so, counters the GOP. According to Republican strategists she is a maverick along the lines of Senator McCain who represents the average American hockey/ soccer mom. She also appeals to the conservative base, who never really got over having Senator McCain forced on them, due to her support for the gun rights, a rigid pro-life stance, support for abstinence-only sexual education, and a disdain for the “liberal elites” who apparently run the country. Democrats counter that she is woefully inexperienced: before becoming governor for less than two years of one of the least populated states in the union, largely because the former governor was involved in some unsavory practices, she was the mayor of a small town. She has been accused of trying to enforce censorship by having some books banned as mayor of Wasilla, and has a running investigation known to the media as “trooper-gate” involving the firing of her public safety commissioner for not firing a state trooper who also happened to be her former brother-in-law. Topping things off, and despite Senator Obama’s stern comments that such a topic would be totally off limits for his campaign, she recently announced that her unmarried teenage daughter is pregnant in large part not only to break the story first but also to counter a growing internet rumor that it was in fact her daughter, and not she herself, who is the actual mother of her most recent child. So which side will prevail and be able to frame the candidate to their liking as the campaign unfolds? That, of course, remains to be seen. However there are a few aspects of her selection that will play out this November which we can take as grist for the mill.

First, on the issue of experience, the Republican Party has often attacked Senator Obama as being totally inexperienced and unprepared for his potential job as leader of the free world. It is true that he has much less experience than his opponent, Senator McCain, and a comparison of Senator Obama and Governor Palin is not entirely fair since she is not running for the top position. Yet being the Vice President means that you are expected to be able to fill in for the top spot at a moment’s notice, and sadly America has seen her share of Vice Presidents having to assume the role of Commander-in-Chief for one reason or another. The real question should be does Governor Palin have the necessary experience and character to be President if it should be required of her? As the Republicans are fond of quoting, the Presidency is not supposed to be a “learning on the job” position. On this point, being governor of Alaska hardly prepares one for the rigors of leading the United States of America; to wit, when George W. Bush ran for President in 2000 the Republicans found it necessary to put Dick Cheney on the ticket in order to present “experience” on the ticket. If Bush, who was governor of one of the larger states in the union for five years, was seen as needing help on the experience front, what can that say about Governor Palin’s situation?

Governor Palin’s desire, seconded by Senator Obama, to keep her child’s life out of the media is certainly warranted. In truth, it would be ideal if this particular family issue stayed within the confines of her family. Yet, sadly, she has chosen not to play it this way and has in fact made her daughter an unfortunate part of her platform. On the one hand, she is decrying the media’s fixation on her daughter’s personal life. On the other hand, she is touting her daughter’s decision to keep the baby as a result of the pro-life values instilled within the home, thus making her daughter’s pregnancy a political issue after all. Conservative Christian leaders have come out to offer their support in this case as well, holding it up as an example of family values even when mistakes are made. Yet as a supporter of abstinence-only education in schools, one can only assume that she preached this to her children as well. Apparently these lessons did not take as well. At the end of the day, Governor Palin truly wants to both have her cake and eat it too: she would like pro-life Americans to support her on the basis of her daughter’s decision not to have an abortion while at the same time lambasting those who would point out that her daughter is an excellent example of why abstinence-only education programs do not work, which is a nice segue into the final point about her candidacy.

One of the great hopes from selecting Governor Palin as a partner on the ticket was that as a woman she would bring over Clinton supporters who were dissatisfied with their candidates defeat in the Democratic Primaries and thus potentially tip the balance in several critical swing states. Yet the one over-arching theme countering this idea is the specter of her un-swerving anti-abortion stance. The next President will probably be responsible for appointing two, perhaps three Supreme Court Justices. It is no great secret that many in the GOP seek to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, and with a few extra conservative, anti-abortion justices, the feeling in their camp is that it might well be time to try and reverse that decision and once again outlaw abortion in the United States. Clinton supporters might be unhappy that Senator Clinton is not heading the ticket in November, but the vast majority of them are pro-choice and have far more in common with Senator Obama’s platform than with Senator McCain’s, and by proxy Governor Palin’s. Most current polls suggest that women will not cross over and vote for McCain just because he has a woman as his running mate if it means supporting an ideology that they find against their interests. As this goes to print, a coalition of feminist pro-choice organizations have announced they will spend a combined $30 million to counter Governor Palin’s anti-abortion stance by reaching out to the very women she hopes to capture for the Republicans this November and convincing them that Senator Obama and the Democratic ticket are the best hope for realizing their wants.

In the interests of full disclosure, the author is a registered Democrat who will be voting for Senator Obama this fall. Still, it is incumbent upon every American who plans on voting to avail themselves of every opportunity to learn about the candidates as an informed electorate is the best defense for democracy. Having said that, it is unlikely that the choice of Governor Palin will yield the desired fruit for which the Republicans are hoping. Her selection, while potentially appealing to women from many walks of life, is unlikely to overcome the extreme positions she has taken on issues such as gun rights and abortion. It will likely be a close election this November, and there were plenty of other candidates Senator McCain could have chosen who would have had a more general appeal to the American public rather than the specific appeal Governor Palin seems to have within the conservative base of the party. Only time will tell the results, but at this point it does not look terribly promising for the Republican dreams of keeping their party in the White House.


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