Marie Wilson On Palin, Women's Progress In Politics As our coverage of the Republican National Convention continues, we take a closer look at the impression left by Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and the greater significance of her rise in politics. Farai Chideya speaks with Marie Wilson.
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Marie Wilson On Palin, Women's Progress In Politics

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Marie Wilson On Palin, Women's Progress In Politics

Marie Wilson On Palin, Women's Progress In Politics

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TONY COX, host:

Well Farai, you know, you've been telling us about the impression that Governor Sarah Palin made last night and the pride that the Republicans feel about having a female on their historic ticket. I understand, though, that you have a very special guest that you want to continue this conversation with, so take it away.

FARAI CHIDEYA: Well thanks, Tony. We have Marie Wilson, she ran the Ms. Foundation, was one of the founders of Take Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day, and now she's the president and founder of the White House Project, that's a non-partisan group working to get women into leadership. Hey, Marie.

Ms. MARIE WILSON (President and Founder, The White House Project): Hi.

CHIDEYA: So let's break down the political scene.

(Soundbite of laughter.)

CHIDEYA: Senator Clinton picked up nearly 18 million votes, but she still didn't get the Democratic nomination. That really made a few of her voters angry. Now for the first time the Republicans have put a woman on their presidential ticket. Women couldn't even vote until 1920, so is the Republican choice of the veep candidate, Sarah Palin, a sign of how far we've come with gender?

Ms. WILSON: Well, it's a sign of - it's a sign of the times that the Republican Party felt that they needed a woman on the ticket, and so that is a good thing, because the Republican Party has been behind, actually, the Democratic Party with regard to electing women. Now they've put him women - Bush put women around on his cabinet, but they're very far behind in terms of electing women, so it's a positive thing. And on the other hand, what was interesting about last night, although she certainly did the job she needed to do, what they have to hide from the general public is that, you know, she was put on for the conservative base around conservative issues that are not helpful to women. So it's a good/bad, if you will.

CHIDEYA: Break it down for me. What do you find - it sounds like you find some things disturbing about her views or her record. Just give me a couple of examples.

Ms. WILSON: Well, part of what's disturbing, of course, is that in - that she has been able to mobilize the conservative base of the party and may - on choice, and of course, reproductive choice, which she does not favor under any circumstances, rape or incest, etc., is a major issue. When it comes to violence against women, we're talking about, unfortunately, neither violence against women nor the economic issues were mentioned last night. And the issues of the economy are the major issues for the women of this country.

So in a way, they found a woman who did a beautiful job of speaking, by the way, a wonderful job of attacking, but who is - and standing up for McCain, standing up for the man she's running with, but not standing for women. And that was the issue. The interesting thing about her, too, of course, is that she has five children, and one with special needs, which I also have. I admire her for that, and I know she can do the job with that. But I also feel like she's a woman who is kind of man enough for the job. You know, she knows how to shoot wolves from an airplane, which is amazing, but she's been feminized by the virtue that she is a mother, but not standing on those issues that I think are so important to women.

CHIDEYA: All right. You're coming from a particular perspective, a feminist perspective. Put on another hat. Imagine that you were a conservative woman, a Democrat, but a social conservative who did not support abortion rights.

Ms. WILSON: No. Not support issues of importance to women, across the board.

CHIDEYA: Well, that's your point of view, but what would you - what would you think of her then?

Ms. WILSON: I would think she's a woman who has been put in a very awkward position. I would be proud of who she is. I would see her as an emerging leader, and someone - I beg your pardon?

CHIDEYA: We're still with you.

Ms. WILSON: OK, an emerging leader, someone who had possibilities in the future. But I would also see her as someone who came on the ticket very much like Dan Quayle did years ago, with a particular mission, but not the full range of experience that's needed for the vice presidency.

CHIDEYA: Is this a win no matter what, in a sense that - this election, I mean, when you have Senator Clinton and Governor Palin, does this really shake up in the long term this whole idea that your project, the White House Project, has forwarded, that women can be leaders in all fields?

Ms. WILSON: Yes, it does. It shakes up the idea that women can be leaders in all fields. But it also - you have to - you have to understand, having worked at this for 10 years, the level that people expect of women when they are leaders is twice as much as a man. And so if it works, then it will really shake it up. But if it doesn't, it could set you back. You just have to be really careful about how you analyze this, you know, in the short and the long run.

CHIDEYA: Well, I want to give you a little bit of a sense of how some of the people felt last night. Here's Christie Jackson (ph) of Cotesville, Pennsylvania, an attendee of the RNC Convention.

Ms. CHRISTIE JACKSON (Attendee, 2008 Republican National Convention): I think a decision like that is very individual and specific, unique to every family. I'm sure that's something that they all sat down and had a discussion about whether that was right for them, and I'm sure that she wouldn't be taking on this challenge if she didn't feel like her family could, you know, be taken care of and stick together through all of this.

So I definitely think, you know, I'm sure she gave a great consideration and I'm sure that will be the right choice for them, and I'm confident that whatever situation she left her family in is the best one for them.

CHIDEYA: What about this? You're a mother and someone who works.

Ms. WILSON: Well, I have no...

CHIDEYA: What do you think about...

Ms. WILSON: Concerns about how she'll take care of her family at all.


Ms. WILSON: Absolutely not. I mean, again, I've had five children under six and a child with special needs. I know that that is the hardest thing I have ever done, bar none. So this is not anything that concerns me, nor do I think we should even be talking about it.

CHIDEYA: So when you think about her, it sounds like your issues are much more along the lines of ideology and policy. Do you think that Independent voters or swing voters, something that Senator Lieberman when he spoke said, that this is about, you know, reaching out to Democrats, reaching out to Independents? How much do you think Sarah Palin's speech is going to appeal to women who are swing voters?

Ms. WILSON: You know, I actually don't know that that will - I know it won't work for the women - I know it won't work for the women who were supporting Hillary Clinton, because again, those will be ideological voters so to speak. So I don't think it will work for them. I - it could work for some - you know, it could work for some swing voters and not for other swing voters.

A lot of the polling that has been done, you know, by EMILY's List - you've probably seen the polling that they've done - said that her narrative is, you know, for her for people when pitted against Joe Biden that the narrative that she's bringing there. And of course the ideological choices will be hard for the women on the Democratic side. I think what she was brought on to do, and I - and this, you know, this is what your party has to decide what to do - was to really appeal to the base that McCain was lacking, and that is conservative voters. But what I think she did last night that was very powerful could appeal to some swing voters absolutely.

CHIDEYA: All right. Well, Marie, we're really glad to have you on. We'll all be watching, thank you.

Ms. WILSON: Can I just say one more thing?

CHIDEYA: We're real tight on time. Only if it's micro.

Ms. WILSON: OK. I just want to make sure that I don't think that she has been treated badly by the media though. And since that was such a thing with Clinton, I don't feel like she's getting poor treatment, I think she's pretty tough and can handle it. Thank you so much.

CHIDEYA: All right, thanks, Marie.

COX: That was NPR's Farai Chideya in St. Paul, Minnesota, speaking with Marie Wilson, president and founder of the White House Project.

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