Judy Woodruff: Senator [Bentsen].
Vice Presidential Debate, October 5, 1988, Omaha Nebraska
Where is Lloyd Bentsen when we need him? The distinguished Texas Democratic Senator, who died two years ago, probably would be rolling over in his grave to see what’s happening now. More than actually rolling over, I imagine he’d be trying to find a way to tunnel himself out to settle another political-presumption score.
Someone needs to tell Alaska Governor Sarah Palin: we know Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is a friend of ours. And Governor, you’re no Hillary Clinton.
John McCain and Sarah Palin both evidently feel that all it takes is the mere possession of a vagina to win a woman’s vote. Maybe in a few cases that’s true. But it’s also insulting. I’ve been doing a little unscientific and highly unofficial polling of my own and finding that the McCain running-mate strategy may not necessarily be a slam dunk. In querying my women friends whether around my neighborhood or within my own “sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits,” and throughout the blogosphere – both those whom I know and those I’m reading about whom somebody else knows, this may not be “Signed, Sealed, and Delivered” for the GOP.
But it isn’t. Women aren’t a homogenous group who all march in lockstep. And if McCain really thought he was trying to appeal to Clinton supporters, why would he pick THIS woman – who stands staunchly against almost everything Clinton has been working for throughout her life as an activist. There is no blind gender loyalty. We aren’t wooed just because the prospect wears lipstick and high heels and dangle earrings and speaks with a voice in the upper registers. It doesn’t matter what kind of mom she is – hockey, soccer, cookie-baker or not. A Hillary Clinton voter wants a Hillary Clinton-style candidate with Hillary Clinton-style priorities. Such a prospect would have to honor and want to secure a woman’s fundamental right to have the last word over what happens to her body – particularly in its most intimate parts. Hillary’s agenda, like ours, features progressive issues like universal health care, family leave, equal pay for equal work, a solid defense of our delicate ecosystem and all its endangered creatures, and a determination to look beyond a simplistic knee-jerk quick-fix like drilling, drilling, and more drilling to solve our energy crisis. Sarah Palin offers none of this.
It speaks to an innate disrespect and lack of understanding of the complexity of the sisterhood that John McCain would pick such a woman as a running mate. It certainly betrays an audacity of conniving to spring this before the embers of the fireworks at Denver’s Invesco Field are completely cold. This wasn’t so much an attempt to make history as to try a schoolyard one-up. It feels as though McCain is far more concerned about merely stealing Obama’s spotlight and bigfooting the news cycle than it is about making a genuine leap forward for, and with, our country. This was sheer shameless pandering for the sake of pandering itself.
The night before, Obama had tried to make one thing very clear – that this election and the momentous longing for change wasn’t about him. He’d gazed across the stadium and declared that it was about US, Democrats, Republicans, independents, Americans all. Two nights previous, Hillary Clinton directly challenged her supporters to ask themselves if they were in it just for her or for the causes and issues about which she – and they too – care so deeply.
John McCain made it just as clear with his appointment of Sarah Palin that it’s not about us at all. It’s about him. He’ll give us the female candidate he wants us to have, not the one we prefer and with whom we’ve struggled shoulder-to-shoulder. He’ll offer us the unknown novice with spotty credentials and beauty pageant experience when what really won our hearts was the woman with years of laboring in many progressive and liberal vineyards and whose track record of credibility, authenticity and leadership on these issues has been forged in the trenches over decades of struggle. Our views and our wishes have nothing to do with it. He might as well have trotted out Dan Quayle in a dress. Sarah Palin may presume to climb the ladder that Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferarro built, but she’s not ready to carry their banner. In many respects, Palin hardly even speaks their language. And after having the number of encounters with McCain that you can count on the fingers of one hand, it’s questionable whether Palin speaks McCain’s language fluently, either. Does HE even know what he’s getting into?
As I study this Republican ticket fully revealed, I can see painfully well what we women, and we as Americans, will be getting into if the GOP prevails in November. The John McCain/Sarah Palin world isn’t a world in which there’s room for someone who thinks and feels as I do. I don’t care how girlie she is or how many children she’s had or how much multi-tasking she can do. She might as well be Rudy Giuliani – or even George W. Bush - in drag for all the common ground she shares with a voter like me, or with the women I know whose loyalty Hillary Clinton won the hard way. Palin is NO Clinton by even the most generous and elastic of definitions. If this is John McCain’s version of change, or a way to underscore the now trite and nearly meaningless label of “maverick,” it still amounts to little more than meeting the new boss who’s the same as the old boss. The only difference is – the new one’s wearing a skirt.