31 August, 2008

Palin and Sexism

One thing the Palin candidacy has illuminated is the degree to which there's still a great degree of sexism in our politics. Contrary to the view of pissed-off Hillary supporters and PUMAs, no one viewed her as a less qualified candidate because she was a woman. However, that's exactly what's happening with Palin.

Tim Kaine was on the shortlist to be Obama's veep pick. And his record looks a lot like Palin's. He's been governor of Virginia since 2006 and before that he was Lt. Governor for a few years and Mayor of Richmond. Now, he's run somewhat larger governments than Palin, but he still has very little in the way of national experience. But I don't think that if Kaine had been picked by Obama you'd be seeing pieces like this blog post from James Fallows, who is sure that Palin will make some gaffe related to her lack of preparation on national issues.

This sort of counterfactual thinking is basically speculation, but I'll take as hard evidence that I've noticed myself making exactly the same kinds of assumptions as Fallows (and Klein and Yglesias) have been making. Palin has a week to prepare--and all she'll really have to do is make stump speeches. Assuming she's an intelligent, driven, articulate person (and I have no reason to assume she isn't), she should have no problem getting ready in that amount of time. Yes, she hasn't been campaigning for the last 18 months but that's true of every vice-presidential candidate ever (except perhaps John Edwards in 2004).

As far as governance, I think the same argument I've used in the past to allay fears of Obama's own inexperience applies to Palin equally well. That is, the experience of the President doesn't matter too much because they have access to teams of experts, speechwriters and advisers to tell them what to do. So really what you should look for is a candidate that picks good advisers. Incidentally, this is one of the primary reasons I like Obama. Now, we don't know what kind of advisers Palin would pick, but there's really no reason to think she wouldn't pick good ones. (McCain on the other hand... .) So the "heartbeat away" argument doesn't really hold water unless there's some other reason that she wouldn't be able to make good decisions...like maybe she was a beauty queen and is a mother of five? Just sayin'...


Elliot said...

The difference between her and Kaine, or other politicians on the low end of executive experience is that she's from Alaska. This is an important point -- Alaskan politics are famously aloof from the rest of American politics. Kaine may not have much more experience per se, but he has had a lot more experience dealing day in and day out with the issues that will be talked about on the national stage, especially foreign policy.

I don't think its especially sexist to think that because Palin has been isolated from even the most rudimentary debate over foreign policy in a way other similar politicians are not, she is very likely to come across as much less informed on that issue particularly, and particularly in contrast to her VP rival.

Cassady said...

If I understand you right, Elliot, I'm in agreement. I don't think sexism has played any role thus far in assessing Palin as a candidate, other than speculations whether she will bring over Hillary-supporting women (tip of the hat to Guadalupe).

Now, I'm not saying that there's not sexism inherent in our politics, indeed it's there in everyday life. I equate the "woman" situation to the "black" situation with Obama. This is all happening on such a high level that no one will risk there neck to broach the issue.

It would be political and social suicide for anyone to openly admit that they wouldn't vote for either Palin or Obama specifically because she/he is a woman or black, respectively.

Elliot said it well around Bach-Par, "there's this giant freaking elephant in the corner that no one is talking about." I think that is exactly the point. People are being overly careful about how they approach anything with racial or sexual overtones--even Obama's campaign has to avoid playing the race card in reverse. We almost saw that explode a few weeks ago.

Now, the fact that there is this uber-careful attitude around the whole election represents the latent sexism/racism that actually does abound. Just by tip-toeing everywhere, we're openly admitting the rampant nature of these feelings.

What I like is the McCain campaign trying to create its own elephantitis by throwing "ageism" into the melee. Of course, he IS really, REALLY old...

At any rate, I look forward to lively discussions in the future concerning whether or not we're judging our candidates based on platforms or shall we say, "other" issues.

spencer said...

Elliot, point taken about Alaskan politics. Although I would say that the difference that you are getting at between Palin and Kaine probably has more to do with whether they had their own national aspirations than where their home states are located. She's isolated because she chose not to participate.

I think that is beside the point, though. All of these arguments are valid and correct. My point was that I do not think a male candidate with the same experience would be subject to the same degree of scrutiny with respect to her level of experience. I think our tendency would be to say "well, he should be able to catch up in a week or so." And maybe that is a standard that is too LOW, but I do think there is a difference.

I agree with Cassady that no one's explicitly saying that she can't be president because she's a woman, just as no one explicitly said that Obama couldn't be president because he was black. But I think we all agree that there were people who thought that and didn't say it or were unconsciously affected by their prejudices, even if they didn't admit it to themselves.