A good friend of mine who has ovarian cancer got up from her sick bed a couple of days after her most recent chemo treatment to go to the Rensselaer train station, where the “Good Morning America” train with Diane Sawyer was stopping — not to see the television celebrities — but because Sen. Hillary Clinton promised to make an appearance there.
She was rewarded with not just a handshake but with a photograph taken with Hillary. I asked why she’d made this heroic effort and she replied that it was an opportunity to demonstrate her admiration for a “great” woman, one who she thinks would be “perfectly capable of leading the free world.” Those are her words.
Think, then, of how the nomination of Sarah Palin strikes all of us who agree with her. Was it only older white women who fiercely supported Hillary? Not at all. My daughter called me from work on her lunch hour the day the Palin appointment was announced to express her amazement and chagrin. At that point, she worried about all the women who might switch to McCain, so deeply did they want a woman on the ticket. “Never,” I said, “these two women are poles (excuse the pun) apart.”
Yes, Sarah Palin, an attractive, energetic woman added a much-needed spark to the dull gray, almost moribund McCain GOP. It was as if the Republican presidential candidate had received a blast of hydrogen — so inflated became his spirits. But even if we have to wait another four years for a woman in the White House, those of us who supported Hillary can’t contemplate electing someone who is in favor of drilling for oil in the ANWR, who is anti-abortion, pro-NRA, evangelical, and who has zero experience in international relations.
On Sept. 21, my fellow op-ed writer Ed Reilly gave us the sobering odds in favor of her becoming president some day either by being elected in her own right or following the death of the president from natural causes or by assassination.
I view McCain’s surprise appointment of Palin as one of the most cynical, self-serving moves by a politician in my lifetime. Here was a man who could have selected his vice president from a large pool of well-qualified men and women and that chosen person would have been pleased and flattered, would “never have blinked,” even as Sarah never blinked when offered this prize. Who could blame her?
Following the triumphant convention, we saw little of Sarah and knew that she was closeted with her “handlers,” many of them senior advisers in the Bush White House. She was learning her lines, getting a crash course in all those areas where Sen. Clinton and many other men and women were vastly better informed. Her few early awkward appearances showed a woman far less confident, more scripted and less spontaneous than the woman we saw introduced at the convention.
At one joint appearance, at a loss for more superlatives to describe Sarah, McCain asked us to look at her husband, Todd, who, in temperatures of 40 degrees below zero, drives his snowmobile across Alaska. “And he won the race four years in a row,” McCain boasted. Not a word about how he might have pitched in with the housework or child care, a far greater accomplishment, in my opinion.
For many days after the appointment, the Gazette carried a preponderance of Sarah-related letters to the editor. Every syndicated national columnist — pro and con — has weighed in on the subject. The pundits and talking heads have had a field day. Mark Shields, offering commentary on the Lehrer NewsHour, asked his colleagues if they had noticed how even women have reversed themselves in the wake of this startling development.
“The feminists are complaining because Sarah isn’t at home caring for her five children,” he said, “and the stay-at-home moms are supporting and applauding Sarah for going out into the political arena to work for change.” He offered no statistics for these positions and I suspect these were isolated incidents.
It required tremendous commitment, energy and time to finally see a woman as close to the Oval Office as Hillary was. It would be a grievous mistake now to settle for someone as poorly qualified as Sarah Palin. Any failure to perform on her part will raise questions of gender and the perils hidden therein. It matters very little what part of the country she is from, what her religious beliefs are, or how many children she has, if she lacks the education, experience and skills to lead our country. We have waited too long to be represented in the highest office in the land to squander our votes in 2008.
Ruth Peterson lives in Niskayuna. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.