Before the last balloon had even been removed from the Pepsi Center at Invesco Field for the Democratic National Convention, where Illinois Senator Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president, Republican presidential nominee, Arizona Senator John McCain deflated them all. Waiting until after Mr. Obama’s stirring speech, but before the euphoria and excitement it brought could even peak, Mr. McCain pulled a rather vague rabbit out of his electoral hat and plucked Alaska Governor Sarah Palin from the depths of Juneau to serve as his running-mate. This announcement has brought great excitement into a campaign that was thus far noted only for its continuation of the Republican tradition of nominating tired, rich, old white men for the highest offices in the land. But Mr. McCain, obviously reaching back to the failed 1984 campaign of Democratic candidate Walter Mondale, who selected New York Representative Geraldine Ferraro as his running-mate, decided to do something ‘new’ and choose a woman.
Perhaps Mr. McCain believes that Democrats who worked for, contributed to and fervently supported New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for president will now flock to the GOP ticket; after all, Mr. McCain, in his sexist way, may believe that one woman is as good as another. That may be true for him in marriage (although the ample purse of the current Mrs. McCain far exceeds that of her predecessor), but one would hope that most voters are more interested in policy and experience than in simply voting for a member of the ‘pantsuit sisterhood.’
Is Mrs. Palin a worthy alternative to Senator Clinton? Let us make a logical comparison of some pertinent facts about each woman in the context of their governmental experience.
Fact 1: International experience.
In her role as First Lady, Senator Clinton met with world leaders as she travelled the globe with her husband. She often involved herself in meetings with these leaders, and also spent time in many countries meeting with those countries’ citizens.
To date, no information about Mrs. Palin’s international travel and experience is readily available. She attended college in Idaho, but much as one stretches one’s imagination, that is still not ‘international.’
Fact 2: Governing experience
Senator Clinton was First Lady of Arkansas and for eight years prior to becoming First Lady of the U.S. During her years in Arkansas, she worked tirelessly to foster the political aspirations of her husband. Once she moved into the White House, she did not exactly fit the mold of the traditional First Lady, content to cut ribbons at the opening of day care centers and do little more than be an innocuous ornament beside the president. During those years, for better or for worse, she was an integral part of government. She worked with Congress, albeit unsuccessfully, for universal health care. Senator Clinton followed up her experience as First Lady by being elected senator from New York, one of the most populous states in the union (estimated population in 2007: 19,297,729; ranked third). Following her first term, she was re-elected.
Governor Palin served as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (population in 2000: 5,470) from 1992 – 1999. She has been governor of Alaska (estimated population in 2007: 683,478; ranked 47th) now for two years.
Fact 3: Campaigning
Senator Clinton has been involved in several state-wide campaigns when her husband was running for office in Arkansas. She then took a major role in his two successful presidential campaigns, and waged rigorous and successful campaigns of her own for U.S. senate. In addition, she went toe-to-toe with Mr. Obama during the primary season, garnering over 18,000,000 votes.
Governor Palin twice campaigned successfully for mayor of Wasilla. She ran unsuccessfully for Lieutenant Governor in 2002, and successfully for governor in 2006.
Fact 4: Issues
Environment: Governor Palin supports drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; she opposed the decision of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to list polar bears as endangered, saying it might hinder oil and gas development in Alaska. (It might be interesting to note that her husband was once employed by British Petroleum). She has also stated that the overwhelming evidence presented by nearly every reputable scientist on the topic of global warming is unreliable, and that it is not a man-made problem.
Guns: Governor Palin is proud of her long membership in the National Rifle Association.
Gay Rights: Opposed.
Senator Clinton, on the other hand, opposes drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, supports a woman’s right to choose and supports gay rights. She takes a more moderate position on guns than does the Governor.
Based on these few facts, one wonders if it is at all possible that Mr. McCain believes that any significant number of those 18,000,000 people who supported Mrs. Clinton in the primaries will flock en masse to the Republican ticket.
The next three months may prove interesting. Mr. McCain, who can barely string two words together in a coherent sentence, and who always sounds as if he’d rather not be speaking at all, will debate Mr. Obama, one of the most gifted orators of our generation. Mrs. Palin, with her limited experience in governing Alaska, will go toe-to-toe with the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, who has over 20 years experience in the senate and has served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has been a member of that committee for several years. Mr. McCain will endorse and encourage positions that even President George Bush has jettisoned, while Mr. Obama will continue to chant his attractive mantra of change. Mrs. Palin will compare her years as mayor of Wasilla to the needs of a nation of over 300,000,000. Mr. Biden will discuss his decades of legislating for the nation.
What, one wonders, will the voters buy this year? Will they vote for another rich, out-of-touch, elderly white male war-monger and his youthful, inexperienced, reactionary running-mate who support a continuation of the last disastrous eight years? Or will they prefer a youthful, relatively inexperienced (although with far more experience than Mrs. Palin) African-American and his vastly experienced running-mate who promise change? Will they select four more years of a deadly, costly unwinnable war, or a reasoned, safe and orderly end to it? Will they continue the era of job erosion, home ownership loss and soaring deficits, or change course to fiscal responsibility and economic recovery? Will they prefer to see the U.S. ridiculed, hated and feared by the rest of the world, or work to bring respect back to the nation?
In 2008, with the candidates who they are, there should be no question; polls which indicate a close race should predict a landslide victory for Messrs Obama and Biden. But the Republicans have long used fear to cause voters to vote against their own best interests, and this deceitful, dismal strategy may once again succeed. If it does, the tragedy will not be limited to the U.S., or the current generation. The effects will be felt globally and will reverberate for years.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.