Black president. Female vice president. So what else is new?
Republican presidential nominee John McCain revealed first term Alaskan governor Sarah Palin as his running mate last Friday. My reaction? Interesting, obviously calculated, but not too surprising. The United States will see a woman on the presidential ticket for the first time, and as a woman, I honestly am not too excited by the prospect. That in itself is amazing.
Political analysis of Palin's conservative views and values, and curious lack of experience aside, this development is interesting for the very fact that we are now discussing the idea of a female vice president without the historical gravity that one would expect after more than 200 years of male presidential teams.
Strategically, it is definitely an out-of-the-box shakeup of the look and message of McCain's campaign. Of course this will be seen as a "bold" pick, but it is only bold because Palin is so obscure a political figure in comparison to speculated VP choices like Mitt Romney or Joe Lieberman. Only time, and a win in November, will determine if she is qualified for the position. But no political analyst or journalist in 2008 would say (out loud) that she would be unqualified because of her gender.
I'm not sure at what moment it happened, but at some point during the 2008 campaign, diversity became semi-acceptable in mainstream politics. The playing field has expanded from the standard, middle-aged, white haired (and faced) politician to reflect a more diverse spectrum of people and ideas. What a historical shift we are witnessing when women and minorities are suddenly being discussed as serious contenders for world leadership rather than being dreamed about in utopian visions of the future. Suddenly, films like Deep Impact and Air Force One seem less "Hollywood" in their political narration. This year, the dreams of Jesse Jackson and Shirley Chisholm became reality within the Democratic Party.
Sarah Palin's arrival, however, comes off as less exciting, and even a less noteworthy addition to this political season of change. Perhaps it is a sign of our rapidly evolving times. Or it may be the result of an increasingly observant, increasingly cynical public. In either case, the fact is that Sarah Palin's nomination as Republican vice president in 2008 does not have the same sense of importance as Obama's nomination and Sen. Clinton's success have. At best, it is the result of the swift and bold barrier breaking that the American public and media have been witness to in less than two years. At worst, it can be viewed as, frankly, a gimmicky piggybacking on the success of the Democratic nominees. That may not be the case, but that is how it looks right now, with Hillary's shadow still looming in the general election.
For the stagnant support base of McCain and the GOP, and for the Republicans who are now grasping tightly to their fading hold on Washington and facing their possible eviction from the White House, it makes perfect sense. This is McCain's strongest chance at pulling in significant votes in "purple" states and perhaps millions of additional votes from women, not because they know anything about Palin, but because she is a woman. A young woman. A young, relatively fresh-faced woman. Those on the fence about voting for the Washington senator of 3 decades over the unknown, inexperienced, insert-generic-nonspecific-criticism-of Barack Obama may be swayed by the very presence of Sarah Palin. Visually, she's as big a contrast to 72-year-old McCain as you can get.
As for this breakthrough in gender and politics, I'm actually somewhat disappointed, and some women may in fact be insulted, not because of Palin's politics, but because of the way she has been chosen. Palin's emergence from Alaska like the proverbial rabbit from the GOP's hat comes off as a transparent attempt at pandering to undecided and/or disappointed women who have observed the Democrats' various family feuds this year. Ultimately, McCain chose Palin not as a first option, but as a perceived desperate last resort.
Sarah Palin has become a part of history. Yet in the end, this historic first may be obscured for a number of reasons, namely these two: Hillary did it first. Barack did it on a larger scale. Palin's "late" arrival to the diversity party makes her look more like a pawn that a co-Maverick in a changing political landscape.