Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin just advanced the cause of women's rights further than Hillary Clinton ever could have, even if she'd won the Democratic nomination. How? By unintentionally making gender irrelevant.
The selection of Governor Palin was an obvious play for the so-called "disaffected Hillary vote," which I believe is a politically insignificant bloc. The proudly defiant Hillary holdouts tout her 18 million primary votes as evidence of a deeply divided Democratic party, yet Barack Obama was made the nominee by unanimous acclamation, at the behest of Senator Clinton herself. Yes, Hillary came in a very close second and she has many passionate supporters, but the rumors of a sundered party have been greatly exaggerated by a media that seems to prefer that narrative to the one that plainly unfolded in front of them. (Or, behind them; how maddening to see the cable news talking heads bloviating and arguing with each other, flat-out ignoring the actual convention and, in one salient case, failing to air one of the best speeches of the week. Note to Keith Olbermann: I feel I need to see other people for a while. I will not watch your coverage of the GOP convention and will instead go back to PBS.) The media went chasing after Hillary supporters trying to keep their storyline alive, but failed to locate one single prominent Democrat or even any significant gathering of dissidents; when the PUMA's retire Hillary's debt or can get 75,000 people into a stadium, maybe I'll reconsider.
John McCain and Karl Rove may think they're picking up a crucial swing vote of angry feminists, but really they are only courting sexist women. The triumph of feminism will not be the first woman president, but rather the first election when we stop falling all over ourselves to discuss whether gender has any relevance to a person's qualifications for the job.
That seems to be where the Hillary die-hards went wrong; it's fine to prefer Hillary to Barack, but over on sites like No Quarter, you don't hear wonky discussions of the minute policy differences between the two; you hear gripes about the way Hillary was treated by the party that boasts the first female Speaker of the House and six women governors and, of course, baseless, frenzied slander about Michelle Obama's alleged secret radical agenda.
Awash in righteous umbrage over the Democratic Party's alleged machinations to deprive Senator Clinton of the nomination, they vow to teach the Dems a lesson by realigning themselves with John McCain, promptly misrepresenting his position on reproductive freedom in the process. But what is the lesson and who's getting schooled? Do they aim to teach us that gender trumps policy, competence and integrity? And do they propose to do that by electing a president who opposes equal pay for women? Are we seriously to believe that this is some kind of principled stance?
Enter Governor Palin, who by virtue of her gender has, instead of becoming a coup for the GOP ticket, completely neutralized the debate. Supporters of Hillary Clinton, who were understandably disappointed by the primary, now have another chance to put a woman into the White House. But should they?
Surely the media will hype this as a "dilemma" for women, just as they openly pondered just a few months ago whether black women would support Barack or Hillary, a blatantly sexist and racist question that reduced these voters to identity politics and glossed over the possibility that they might actually be considering the candidates on their respective merits. But it's not a dilemma, it's an opportunity.
"Were you in this campaign just for me?" asked Senator Clinton of her supporters this past week. Now with Sarah Palin on the ballot, Clinton voters have to accept Hillary's challenge to answer that question in a thoughtful manner. Because you could vote for McCain - Palin and have our nation's first woman vice president, but in order to do so, you'd have to support a litany of policies that are in direct opposition to everything Hillary Clinton believes and has worked so hard to achieve.