NPR logo RNC Days 1-2: Getting Beyond the Palin Distraction

Conventional Wisdom

RNC Days 1-2: Getting Beyond the Palin Distraction

Conventional Wisdom

"Conventional Wisdom" brings you perspectives from both sides of the political aisle during this convention season. Author and Columbia University professor Farah Jasmine Griffin is monitoring the ongoings at the Republican National Convention and offers her thoughts on America's "temporary fascination with this attractive mystery woman," Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Farah Griffin

I am at a disadvantage in writing about the Republican National Convention for a number of reasons. First, I am not in Minnesota. Second, I support Barack Obama for President. Third, I have to rely on television coverage for my access to the events of this convention.

It is easier to feel the excitement and the drama of an event when you are present and participating in it. However, I don't have to be there to sense the excitement generated by Senator McCain's pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for his running mate. The Republican base is excited, the press is burning with curiosity and much of the American public has a temporary fascination with this attractive mystery woman. After watching the first night of the convention — the lack of diversity amongst its delegates and the somewhat boring presentations of the evening's speakers (including Joe Lieberman, who in spite of statements to the contrary, is NOT a Democrat) — I, too, am looking forward to hearing from Gov. Palin.

Palin is fascinating: a former beauty queen and a member of the NRA who hunts moose, and has given birth to five children while running for and winning public office. She is pro-life, doesn't believe in sex education in public schools and advocates abstinence as a form of birth control for teenagers. However, I cannot help but agree with New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, that much about the Palin selection and its subsequent coverage by the media serve to distract us from important issues such as the economy and the war.

She also serves the useful purpose of separating Senator McCain from President Bush. The Democrats had persuasively connected the failed Bush administration with Senator McCain's presidential aspirations. Last night, both Bush and Palin were absent from the convention hall. In her absence, Palin was more of a presence than Bush. Although the President did address the convention, he did so from Washington, D.C. Are we really to believe he stayed away from the Twin Cities because of the demands of monitoring Hurricane Gustav?

But back to Palin. There are ways to talk about her that do not distract us from the issues. Clearly she was chosen to appeal to the right-wing base of the Republican Party. Clearly, she was also selected to appeal to disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters. Suppose there are some Hillary Clinton supporters who will support the McCain/Palin ticket. (I don't know any, but that says more about my social circle than it does about the diversity of women who were excited by Hillary.) Yet, the two politicians couldn't differ more. How could anyone who was happy with President Hillary Clinton find Governor Palin an attractive alternative? Perhaps those voters who sided with Hillary after Pennsylvania, after she drank shots and spoke nostalgically of hunting with her grandfather, perhaps those are the voters who are thrilled at the prospect of Sarah Palin.

In many ways, McCain's pick of Sarah Palin is very cynical but also very Republican (think Clarence Thomas) and, unfortunately, very American. We, the American people, often are willing to settle for symbols over political heft. However, Sarah Palin is not an empty symbol of emerging womanhood. She is an extremely conservative woman whose rise to power signifies the victory of Phyllis Schafly, who has emerged again in recent days. Remember Phyllis Schafly? She helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment. She was against arms control. She's back.

When I say that current coverage on Sarah Palin is a distraction it isn't because I want to hear less about her; it's because I want to know more. This I know: she is against a woman's right to choose. She is pro-gun. She believes the Iraq War is part of God's plan. She is a creationist. She is against sex education in public schools. I would love more details on the following: Her stance on the current state of our economy? On global warming? On foreign policy? On health care? That's why I am really looking forward to those October debates between she and Senator Biden. That's also why I would love to see one between she and Senator Clinton as well!