Women are not fungible.
I don’t know if anyone sitting around with John McCain in the last few days has explained that to him; frankly, I don’t know if there even were any women sitting around with John McCain in the last few days. But, I think I understand a few things about Hillary’s base in the Democratic party, and why so many women have been so loyal to her, and if John McCain thinks that simply picking another person with similar anatomy is going to win their votes, he’s about to learn a very important lesson in gender politics.
Nothing again Sarah Palin. To be honest, I don’t know her. She is a newcomer to the national scene, new enough to make Barack Obama look like an old-timer.
She has been governor of Alaska for less than two years. Before that, she was mayor of a town in Alaska that is smaller than my immediate neighborhood. Sort of makes serving in the Illinois legislature look like secretary of state. She had the guts to take on the corrupt Republican establishment in her state, and she deserves credit for that.
She has executive experience, even if it is in a pretty small pond, and she deserves credit for that. Not much, but some. She is also mired in an investigation as to whether she tried to get her ex-brother-in-law fired which does not exactly fit with her image as an ethical reformer. Best as I can tell, she has absolutely no foreign policy or national security experience.
Can John McCain really say that he looked far and wide and she is the most qualified person in Ameerica to be his running mate? Would she have been selected had she not been a woman? She seems like a cool lady. Then again, Barack Obama certainly seems like a cool guy. Cool isn’t the issue.
The reason so many women supported Hillary Clinton, and the reason that number grew, as did the intensity of their support, as the campaign went along, is not because, or at least not solely because, she is a woman. If that was her only claim to the top seat, she would have lost straightaway.
It is because many of us saw her as the most qualified candidate in the race, without regard to race or gender, the one who had earned the job, was ready to do it, and instead of being respected for that, she was treated with scorn and condescension and outright sexism by so many in the media and even in the Obama camp itself (remember Samantha Power calling her a “monster?” I still cringe).
What woman above a certain age – women in their prime, I call them – has not been there and done that, could not identify with the woman who was fighting for a job she was more than qualified for, only to be demeaned for her clothes and her cackle and her cleavage, only to be mocked for her ambition even as a guy with far less experience was applauded for his.
Hillary tapped into something deep in the hearts of women across the country; not,as Nancy Peolosi wrongly described it, the politics of victimhood, but just the opposite, the unwillingness to be put down or dismissed, the courage to hang in and keep fighting and prove your mettle even when others doubt you. Her speech Tuesday night only reenforced all the reasons that those of us who admire and respect her do so. It was because she wasn’t a victim, and neither are we.
She paid her dues. She walked through fire. She survived. It’s hard to give that up, not only hard for her to give up the dream but also hard for the rest of us.
What does any of that have to do with Sarah Palin?
Sarah Palin is an anti-choice woman, an anti-environmental activist, a gutsy and independent woman, no doubt, but one who has almost nothing in common with Hillary Clinton. They don’t share the same ideology. They don’t have the same experience. I know Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton is a friend of mine. Does anyone really think Sarah Palin is a stand-in for Hillary Clinton? I think they’re about to find out otherwise.
McCain’s choice will reassure conservatives who were afraid he might choose a pro-choice partner; it will reassure those who were afraid he would pick a former Massachusetts liberal (Mitt Romney) with more houses than him, much less, or worse, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who has managed to become a man without a country, viewed as a conservative by liberals and a liberal by conservatives.
Frankly, I was afraid he would pick Colin Powell, whose stellar credentials and accomplishments would have given a feel of experience and solidity to the Republican ticket – and eliminated entirely the racism argument for not supporting Obama – that might have clinched this election.
But he didn’t.
Maybe Powell wasn’t available. Maybe the problem was that he was pro-choice. Whatever it was, while the selection of Palin will certainly change the conversation quickly, it only underscores the questions about experience that have been the core of McCain’s attack on Obama. Only this time, they will be asked of the Republican ticket.
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first female president of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "The Case for Hillary Clinton," "How to Get Into Law School," "Sex & Power," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women."
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the "Blue Streak" column for FOXNews.com.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission. A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership. Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.