With “Palinmania” continuing to grow at every stop on the campaign trail, John McCain and his advisors are suddenly faced with a most unique and troubling problem; his Vice Presidential pick is much more popular than he and will almost certainly draw bigger crowds than the presumptive presidential nominee once she goes out and campaigns on her own. This will no doubt be pointed out by the press and the Obama campaign (is there a difference at this point?) and might serve to underscore McCain’s relative weakness and the tepid level of enthusiasm he generates even among party faithful.
The campaign is vamping a bit, extending the scheduled 3 day joint tour of the two for a few days, no doubt to both take advantage of Palin’s extraordinary popularity and to try and come up with a solution – or at least a decent response – to questions that will arise about McCain’s drawing power. Frankly, I’m not sure there is anything they can do. The press is going to be counting noses at the separate events for the two and will try to spin the difference as detrimental to McCain no matter what the campaign does or says about it. It is probably best that McCain simply ride the wave of Palin’s celebrity as far as it will take him. And if she gets millions to the polls who might have stayed home otherwise, it may give him the presidency.
Sarah Palin is something new in conservative politics; a figure actually adored by millions of ordinary Americans, many of whom are not Republicans. To say that this turns the idea of celebrity on its head is an understatement. Conservatives are not supposed to be pop culture icons in that traditionalists are what popular culture seeks to rebel against. But many of the same mothers who take their daughters to Miley Cyrus concerts (and probably took their older sisters to Britney Spears events) would have no trouble taking both to an appearance by Palin.
That’s because Palin has transcended what she stands for as a politician and is admired for who she is; a mother of 5 kids, a wife of 20 years to a working class hero kind of guy, and a woman with a career who tries to balance it all while looking like a million dollars. She is what millions of middle class women aspire to be and recognize as a kindred spirit.
I have a feeling that the women quoted here are representative of a new group of swing voter;
“She’s a real woman, she’s a real feminist but she’s not strident — she’s like us,” said Hauswirth, a middle-aged mother who didn’t offer her age. “She’s strong, powerful and opinionated, all the things a women should be, while still retaining her femininity, her womanhood.”
[ . . . ]
But for the many who showed up to see the newly minted Republican team, it wasn’t any issue or political posture that had brought them out.
It was just a woman that they saw a lot of themselves in. Or, as one homemade sign put it, “Pro-Life Hockey Moms 4 Palin.”
“She’s got a real family with real troubles, just like the rest of us,” said Melody Halstrom, a middle-aged women from River Hills, Wis., who came over to the Cedarburg rally. “You know, she’s got teenagers,” Halstrom said, alluding to without actually bringing up the well-publicized pregnancy of Palin’s unwed 17-year-old daughter.
(HT: Right Wing Prof)
These are traditional women playing non-traditional roles who see the 44 year old Alaskan governor through the prism of their own life experiences and can identify with her choices. Her struggles are their struggles. Her crisis are theirs.
How many of them are out there? I am not speaking of the millions of GOP partisans who admire Palin for her stand on abortion or any of the social wedge issues. The women of whom I am thinking more than likely voted for Hillary Clinton or are independents who would have supported her in the general election. There may be enough of them in Ohio to secure that state for McCain. And they might even help McCain in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan if this Palin boom continues through the election.
Unfortunately, this may not occur simply because it is unthinkable that the campaign will allow the nominee’s running mate to upstage him from now through November 4. It is a situation unique in American politics even though there has been a woman on a major party ticket prior to Palin’s ascension. Geraldine Ferraro may have been the first woman nominated as Vice President on either the Republican or Democratic slate. But it is safe to say that despite being a smart, capable person, Ferraro never generated even half the excitement Palin is creating out on the hustings.
The easy answer to that is that Ferraro was a dyed in the wool feminist and a liberal to boot. But that ignores the more important cultural ramifications of Palin’s candidacy. Ferraro, I’m sure, was a good mother and loving wife but there was never a sense of the modern balancing act women with careers have to perform on a daily basis with kids, and hockey practice, and family problems, and the whole slew of issues middle class women have to deal with in order to keep the family happy and close knit.
Most women work because they have to in order to make ends meet or give the family those vital little extras not to mention the fulfillment many women get from the feeling of independence and pride that having a job brings. Politicians have tried for years to address these women directly with varying degrees of success. Democrats have offered child care, family leave, job protections for pregnant women, and the child health insurance program S-CHIP among other programs. Republicans haven’t ignored these women but have not offered much government assistance, preferring tax credits to ease the financial burden on the family.
Palin is the first Republican politician with which these women can truly identify. She speaks their language. She sounds like them. Her family looks like their family. And when she speaks of the mixing of her career and family, she can look directly at the camera and give them a knowing smile of solidarity – as if they were neighbors casually talking over the backyard fence.
It is true many of these white, working women are socially much more liberal than Palin. But one might note that in their appearances together, McCain and Palin eschew the normal panders to the right wing social conservatives and talk about issues of national concern instead. I find this highly significant because one of the ostensible reasons McCain chose Palin was as a sop to the evangelicals. And yet I note in both their acceptance speeches, abortion and gay marriage were never mentioned (Palin referred elliptically to her “choice” of having a child with Downs Syndrome).
I celebrate that change from past conventions because it welcomes into the Republican party millions of women who are marginally pro-choice but who are troubled by the moral implications of unlimited and unfettered abortion. Say what you will about the Clinton’s but they triangulated the issue of abortion beautifully by supporting choice but saying that we should work to make abortion the least performed operation in the country. Not that McCain-Palin would ever go so far as that but the idea of dialing down the rhetoric and pushing abortion down the list of agenda items for a GOP administration can only help with independent voters.
With Palin set to steal the show from McCain in the coming weeks, the campaign will no doubt let the press and the Democrats draw their own conclusions. And why not? The immense assistance that the press has already given to Palin’s popularity by going after her so viciously may be augmented by trying to paint John McCain as a mere appendage of Palin’s celebrity. Every time the press tries to belittle Palin, the Republican base rallies to her and independent women resent the attacks.
It must be driving some of them stark, raving mad to realize their smears are having the exact opposite effect that they intend.