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Pam Atherton

Pam Atherton

Posted: October 24, 2008 08:17 AM

Why Some Smart Women Think Palin is a Good Choice


I was at the dentist yesterday and the hygienist asked me what I thought of the upcoming election. I looked at this woman who had sharp objects in her hand and I thought it might be prudent to take the non-committal route.

"Wow! Sure is something, huh? Most exciting election in my lifetime," I said, eyeing those tools of doom carefully. "What do you think?" (Years of working in radio has taught me to turn the question back on the questioner.)

She told me that she didn't like Obama because he was "too slick, like a car salesman," but she showed disdain for John McCain's claim of 'I know how to do that.' She smirked at me "Well," she said "if you knew how to do it, why weren't you doing it? Why didn't you find bin Laden, and solve the financial mess?"

I nodded. (I couldn't really do much else). When she removed the buzz saw and pick axe from my mouth I said "What about Sarah Palin?"

"Oh, I like her."

Nowadays when people say that, I ask them why, largely because it is a concept that befuddles me.

"Well, she's gutsy. And I think she's probably dealt with the Russians, being as how they are right there."

We moved on to the economy with which EVERYone has a problem, so we were in safe territory, as least as far as my mouth and pain were concerned.

But the interchange brought forward something that had been niggling at the back of my brain. Why do some smart women think Sarah Palin is a good choice for Vice President? Why do some smart women like her?

This has been bothering me for some time. I have some very smart women friends and a few of them think Palin has what it takes. I don't get it. Why can't they see what I see and what many conservative pundits are falling all over themselves to say? Palin is not qualified.

I called my friend Betti Hoeppner, the therapist. She reminded me of a situation from over 10 years ago when I had worked for a man who was very smart about some things, but would not accept that he was a bad manager. Everyone told him he was a dreadful manager, and still he would not believe it. I was befuddled then, too.

In the course of our conversation she explained why. She told me that sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn't fit in with the core belief.

For example: You think you are an honest person. That is your core belief. But you cheat on your taxes. Cheating on your taxes goes against the idea of you being an honest person. This is a very uncomfortable feeling, the cognitive dissonance. You really want to continue believing that you are an honest person, so you may rationalize that the government "owes" you anyway.

But why do people hold the core belief that Palin is qualified in the first place? My friend Dr. Susan Bartell, the psychologist, was my next phone call.

"Think of it as a relationship," she told me. "Women are relationship-oriented, and many women feel that they are having one with the people they choose in the election. Some women say they could imagine themselves having coffee and pie with Palin around the dinner table."

All right. I get that. Not my thing, but I get that.

She told me that many women idealize their relationship partners. They see all the positive characteristics about that person and ignore the bad. This is especially true, Dr. Susan added, in the beginning of a relationship.

Okay. This I get. Who hasn't fallen in love with the "idea" that we have created of a person, instead of the actual person? And lots of really smart women have done that!

So for whatever reason they have chosen, some smart women have fallen in love with the "idea" of Sarah Palin. She's smart. She's gutsy. She's a woman. And she would be the first woman 'this close' to the Presidency.

And what happens when these smart women are presented with contradictory evidence? "Let's go back to the relationship analogy," Dr. Susan says. "When our eyes finally open to someone, we have choices. We can either get out of the relationship (divorce), or we stay and deal with the cognitive dissonance."

But Dr. Susan says that some women feel they don't have a choice. Their core belief is so strong that they don't believe they have an alternative. For example, perhaps they are strongly against pro-choice. Or they want a woman in the Executive Branch no matter what. Or they cannot subscribe to any of the democratic platform of ideas. At that point, they have no choice but to continue their idealization of Palin, thereby finding a way around their cognitive dissonance, albeit in an unhealthy way.

So in order to keep idealizing her, our smart friends either deny (that Alaskan report didn't find her guilty of doing anything unlawful), rationalize (and besides, they were partisan), or ignore (I never heard about any report. Besides, I just like her!).

The bottom line? When it comes to our smart women friends, we probably aren't going to be able to change their minds about Sarah Palin. They are either still idealizing her, or they have a core belief too strong to accept any alternatives. But at least now we know why these smart women are choosing to consider Palin qualified and will check the Republican box on the ballot. We just don't have to like it.