"Not again!" I thought to myself this morning, as news trickled out that John McCain was set to pick Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Not again, because too often women are promoted for the wrong reasons, and then blamed when things don't go right.
Don't get me wrong: what I know of Palin (which admittedly isn't much), I kind of like. I don't agree with her politics. But in her two years in Alaska's state house, she's shown herself to be a scrappy reformer, a no-nonsense manager, and a consistent conservative. She's also a mother of five, which in my book is a sterling test of leadership.
Since there are only eight women among our nation's fifty governor's, and only three of them are Republicans, she was certainly someone to watch, a potential comer on the national stage. At 44, she's young, a fresh face, and wildly popular in Alaska. And it was easy to see her appeal during today's Ohio rally, where McCain introduced her as his running mate. She showed herself to be an utterly down-to-earth hockey mom with an independent (one might say maverick) streak. And her shout-outs to Geraldine Ferraro and Hillary Clinton for their path-breaking campaigns added a genuine note of grace.
But is she ready to be commander-in-chief?
Unlike Barack Obama, whom McCain has so emphatically condemned as not-ready, Palin hasn't run for or served in the Senate. Nor has she run for president, which would have required her to think through and take positions on critical issues from the war in Iraq to the war on terror, from Iran's nuclear ambitions to the Russian incursion into Georgia, from the emerging power of China to the march of globalization. She hasn't debated tough opponents a dozen or so times or faced aggressive, often downright hostile reporters on a daily basis. Talk about untested. Her slim record undermines one of McCain's most effective arguments against Obama.
Clearly, McCain thinks Palin will help him among women, particularly those disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters who are having so much trouble "getting over it." It just shows how clueless the McCain camp actually is. Unlike Clinton and Ferraro, Palin hasn't been a strong national voice on women's issues. She hasn't been at the barricades, fighting for women's health, equal pay, economic security. And she certainly hasn't had anything to say about the national-security issues that are also important to women across the political spectrum. Does the McCain camp really expect pro-choice Democratic and independent women to be swayed by a sleight-of-gender?
McCain made the decision to double down on his credentials as a take-no-prisoners reformer. But he did so at the expense of the more important qualifications for a running mate.
It's not political to say that John McCain turns 72 today. That he's a cancer survivor. That he spent six years being tortured and abused in a Vietnamese prison camp. Those are the physical realities of his life, and pure and simple, they demanded that he chose a running mate who is ready, really ready. That he put country first. Today, he failed that test.
Worse, when Sarah Palin falls short--and I hope I'm wrong but I think in important ways, such as her debate with Joe Biden, she will--some people will conclude that women can't cut it. That's unfair to Sarah Palin--and it's certainly unfair to the rest of us.
This post originally appeared on vanityfair.com
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