Beyond gender

Thursday is the seventh anniversary of the unprecedented nightmare of Sept. 11, 2001. Yet the conversation remains the same as it did Wednesday: in these terrifying times, in our first open, non-incumbent election since Sept. 11, we are talking only of Sarah Palin.

Palin, not terrorism, will likely decide the 2008 election, because women will likely sway the margin of victory. And since Gov. Palin’s nomination, women are flocking to John McCain in droves. Many women will consider terrorism when choosing McCain and Palin, but so many won’t. There are two different kinds of women moving the numbers McCain’s way. Some are Republican women who didn’t believe McCain truly shared their principles yet now have changed their minds. Others are women who supported Hillary Clinton and are planning to support McCain simply because he chose Palin.

The surprise, eleventh-hour pick of Sarah Palin was aimed at both groups. For Republican women, who have doubted McCain, their cup suddenly overflows. Palin is strongly pro-gun, pro-life, and supports small government and energy production. This most popular governor in America, measured by her approval rating at home, is a hunter from a union family who has beaten the male establishment at their game — with five children. Palin is an American success story, a manna from heaven for a nearly broken GOP.

Then there is the second group. Last week, just 36 hours after Sarah Palin electrified the United States of America with her debut onstage at the Republican National Convention, I spoke with a woman I have known for 10 years. She was gushing about Sarah, and how much she loves her. She said she was still mad Hillary Clinton wasn’t nominated and will vote for McCain. She admitted that for her, Hillary and Sarah are interchangeable. “It’s a woman’s time; that’s all I care about,” she said.

To these women, Palin is the ultimate working-mother success story, and she is fearless, feisty and charming. Their decision has nothing to do with policy. This group of voters is striving only for broken glass, even if it bloodies the path for women in the future. They are playing identity politics, and reinforcing female stereotypes — that we are impressionable, emotional people who decide with our hearts instead of our heads. These women are the reason, as NBC reported this week, that McCain is buying network ads to air during morning shows, game shows and soap operas, hoping to target older white women in particular.

Women everywhere are privately fuming about this second group because Hillary and Palin share only three things in common: motherhood, womanhood and public office. Likely the most qualified Republican woman for the job of vice president, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may be one of them. When questioned about Palin’s readiness for the job, Rice could hardly hide her disapproval, saying only that she had given “a terrific speech” and is “governor of a state here in the United States.” When pressed again on Palin’s experience, Rice said, “These are decisions John McCain has made. I have great confidence in him.”

The women’s liberation movement was before my time, but I can’t help wondering what our female forebears would think of this moment. I can’t help wondering how Hillary will feel if many of her supporters end up voting for McCain simply because of Palin.

Ladies, please — vote for Palin (and McCain) because you like her record as well as her plans. If you don’t agree with them, think twice. Choosing Palin for her People magazine profile instead of her policy profile is no way to honor Clinton’s achievements, or Rice’s or any other woman’s. It is certainly no way to honor those of Sarah Palin.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.