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Rose Ann DeMoro Headshot

The Heels Are on and the Gloves Are Off

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Now that she has passed the debate test, deemed a winner of sorts by the pundits because she managed to get through the night without falling off the stage or starting to speak in tongues, Sarah Palin has been unleashed to do her original job.

Freed from the annoyance, as she described it, of actual hard news interviews, Palin is now sliding into the role the McCain camp long envisioned. In a speech Saturday in Colorado, Palin lashed out at Barack Obama for allegedly choosing to "pal around with terrorists." In this case, serving on an educational charity board with a professor who had decades earlier been in the Weather Underground when Obama was eight.

Perhaps even more ominous was her exclamation point, "This is not a man who sees America as you and I do." He's the "other," she might have said, not one of us. Uttered to her, as usual, nearly all white crowd, the racial subtext is not hard to discern.

Sarah Palin's all-too-feeble grasp of domestic and international issues have been appallingly evident for weeks. In its own perverse way, it is sort of a macabre testimony to progress for women. Palin has proven beyond all doubts that a woman does not have to be brilliant, experienced or even coherent to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

In health care we've seen this movie all too often. Deskilling the delivery of care, and replacing doctors or nurses with lesser trained personnel who have neither the professional judgment, expertise or experience needed to protect patients.

In many ways, Palin bears a strong resemblance to the current President with her managed syntax, intellectual incuriosity, and abuse of her executive powers. But in other ways, infusion of her far right social views into public policy and her temperament, Palin goes beyond the low standards set by George Bush.

For most women, getting the promotion or recognition still means having to work longer and be smarter and more qualified, all while being careful that you are cautious, self effacing, subservient, nice. Maybe that's the real glass ceiling that Palin has obliterated.

That's the Palin who revels in her imagery as the barracuda or pit bull. It suggests the Palin we'll see ad nauseam for the next month, dripping nasty invective in campaign speeches while keeping far away from less adoring audiences or the discomfort of media who might ask tough questions.

A lot of male candidates fit that image. But women in office generally fill a different niche, in ways commonly associated with gender.

Perhaps it's the way we are socialized in a gender-stratified society. To work collaboratively, to favor conflict resolution over conflict ignition, to place societal advancement over ego gratification.

It's a reason why female politicians typically seem to emphasize issues like health care, environmental protections, and economic security rather than expanding the spy apparatus or writing checks for the next generation of war weaponry. (OK, there are exceptions, Margaret Thatcher probably had more testosterone than Winston Churchill.)

But Palin is ready to set a new standard. She recalls the impression of the mean girl in high school, creating her social clique who will ostracize and torment anyone who does not fawn at her feet. No slight is too petty to not reward with vindictive assault.

For Palin, add the searing ambition to trample over anyone who gets in her way, a trait she has readily demonstrated in Alaska, first as mayor and now as governor.

This is not an advance for women's equality in the public sphere, it's a slide into the tar pits for all of us.