Herd-Wave Feminism?

In all the discussions I’ve heard and read about Sarah Palin’s selection as McCain’s heir apparent, the best word I’ve come across to characterize that choice is “cynical.” Cynical, not because Palin herself isn’t a remarkable politician—clearly, she is—but cynical because Palin’s presence on the GOP ticket suggests the McCain campaign’s calculation that Americans care more about personal charisma than they do about governmental experience. Cynical, because her presence on that ticket suggests Team McCain’s estimation that those much-discussed Disaffected Hillary Voters will vote against the pro-women policies their erstwhile leader espoused—a pro-choice stance on abortion, the support of equal pay for women, etc.—simply to get a woman, any woman, in office. Cynical, because it suggests that those women’s votes can be bought at the low, low price of Putting a Lady on the Ticket.

In the current issue of The New Republic, Michelle Cottle provides an examination of that cynicism that is as thorough as it is biting. “The Palin pick is disheartening on so many levels,” Cottle writes.

For starters, even what little we know about the Alaska governor’s policy views is enough to make a traditional feminist weep. The staunchly conservative Palin not only opposes abortion rights (even in cases of rape or incest), she also supports abstinence-only sex education and takes a strict free-market approach toward health care.

Though Palin, by virtue of her inexperience, “makes Dan Quayle circa 1988 look like an elder statesman,” Cottle continues, in Team McCain’s estimation,

female candidates are pretty much interchangeable and women voters too addlepated to know the difference. We don’t care about issues or experience; we just want someone with the same reproductive parts as ours.

Cottle’s conclusion? Palin’s selection is a blow to the feminist movement. She makes a strong case for it, too. While I’m not fully sold—my own sense is that it’s simply too early to judge The Impact of Palin’s Candidacy on Feminism—Cottle’s verdict in this regard is thoughtful and compelling and, in the end, well worth a read.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.