Normally in a political race, vice presidential nominees are compared to one another. So it was Dick Cheney v. John Edwards or, earlier, Cheney v. Joe Lieberman. But this year, even though there will be debates (assuming her name stays on the ticket) between the two veeps it doesn’t feel as though Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin‘s been picked as a contrast with Sen. Joe Biden.
Barely Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman is the contrast to Biden, on the important area of foreign affairs, it seems. Lieberman who can probably count on the Secretary of State job in the McCain administration, is a flatly pro-Israel hawk who approves of the Bush Administration’s Middle East policy. Biden, a bit more of a rationalist in these matters – and a mouthy one – and probably can’t be relied on to toe that same line. Nor can Obama who has all but suggested a Middle East policy that would reduce the influence of Israel and the Saudi Arabia.
No, it seems as though Sarah Palin is meant to provide a contrast to Michelle Obama. And that’s not a race thing. It’s a class thing.
With her demur designer dresses, her Princeton degree, her pearl chokers and her long, lean good looks, Michelle Obama looks pretty much like every other career woman you’d meet in any big city in the U.S. – the kind who make a lot of men, white and black, nervous. Two kids – well behaved and almost professional nurtured – a husband she ruefully admires who’s just as well-educated, a nice house and a couple of good jobs, Obama is clearly smart, focused and on-the-ball. And, oh yeah, you better do what she says ’cause she’s almost six-feet tall.
The more petite Palin with her cracks about breast pumps and tales of in-flight labor, her beauty pageant past and her sloppy parenting seems, by contrast, warm and wacky, a little bit like the Mom who makes you wonder – not always in a good way – how or why she does it. Which isn’t to say that Palin isn’t competent. It’s just that she’s someone with a lot of ragged edges. And there’s a sneaking temptation to think of the Palin family – and you can hear the kids shouting, the door slamming, the off-kilterness of it all – as what is described through clenched teeth by the residents of “better” neighborhoods – neighborhoods like the one where the Obamas live – as “those people down the street…..”, folks who don’t quite have it together because they’re just barely making it.
Palin’s lack of national political savvy makes her, in a word, girlish. And girlish, for a lot of men – men like John McCain – often means more game than prudent, a little rough around the edges. Fun. For some, that’s charm. For others – mostly the very voters McCain’s trying to attract – it’s sexist because it’s clear we don’t have to take Palin seriously. Unlike Michelle Obama.
Which is why Paln’s selection – if it lasts past this week – is a horrible miscalculation.
A lot of the right-of-center voices are suggesting that Palin’s candidacy is a way to draw Hillary Clinton supporters away from the Democrats. This is nonsense. Clinton’s supporters – those older women in their 60s – are going to take one look at Sarah Palin and sigh. This – this girl – is not qualified to answer HRC’s Senate office phone.
Others are suggesting that Palin’s youth will serve as a contrast to Barack Obama and therefore draw young (and by young they mean young male) voters to the Republican Party. The thinking here is that they’ll vote for Palin who is, as various gossip website observed, very attractive. But most of the young folks who are fired up about Obama are more interested in his cool, hipness. They want to be him; they don’t want to do him. And shotgun weddings like the one Palin’s daughter’s about to have are never hip for young men.
The professional women who have been on the fence between Obama and McCain see the desparation in this move, the miscalculation, the condescension to their particular point of view by getting a girl to do a woman’s job. It’s one thing to have a daughter you’re proud of, give her a job in your office and nurture her career – as, say Hugh Hefner did with his daughter, Christine. It’s something else again to have a pretty young thing with not much experience get the second slot in a White House run by a man with serious and chronic health problems. Even Hef took his time teaching daughter Christine the publishing business and these days, when he wants to hang out with young girls, he does it in L.A., not at corporate headquarters in Chicago.