September 13, 2008 in Opinion

Palin distracts from candidates

Karen Heller
 

During this September of our dissonance, the nation feasts on all things Sarah. News sources, Web sites, and the cacophony of cable chatter, on both sides of the chasm, are peddling Palin.

E-mail missives, many nasty, unfounded and unpublishable, most sent by women, engorge the Internet. More than a hundred landed in my mailbox during the weekend. Some women write daily. Tuesday brought “Women against Sarah Palin/Please sign petition.”

Like that will alter the outcome.

Is anyone talking about John McCain or Barack Obama? Aren’t we supposed to direct our attention toward the candidates’ serious differences on education, health care, fiscal recovery and foreign policy?

Apparently not.

Many women, and the men vying for women’s attention, are too busy assailing or defending the Republican vice-presidential nominee.

Like the alpha girls of junior high, women are dwelling on Palin’s looks, her children, her voice. Her story has become the hit drama of the new fall season.

We’ve regressed to the locker room of life, where women engage in combat daily, catfights in kitten heels, as in Clare Boothe Luce’s “The Women.” In the pallid remake opening Friday, the women – the right ones, educated and established – fight back at a “spritzer girl,” the upstart perfume saleswoman.

As in the movie, the political pig-in-lipstick imbroglio also concerns class, reviving one of the greatest hits of the culture war.

After their speed date, John McCain selected Sarah Palin not due to experience or compatibility, but because she’s the woman who completes him.

Whereas he is 72, irreligious, average-looking, rich and physically limited, the Alaska governor is young, religious, photogenic, middle-class and active, with a moose of a narrative.

I hoped we had moved beyond the dumb emphasis on narrative to the issues and solutions.

How girl of me.

Palin also bestows on McCain the embittered evangelical far right, the electoral gluttons who almost sat out this cycle but whose needs apparently must be served in every general election before those of everyone else.

McCain cynically chose her in the belief that women vote with their ovaries.

How small to think we would bond with a candidate we barely know when our only shared traits are motherhood, glasses, and the ability to produce estrogen.

The battle this engenders among women underscores, despite hollow bromides to the contrary, how few have reached the upper echelon of politics. To attack Palin, McCain’s camp argues, is to attack all women, rather than, say, these Republicans.

Know what I think? This is a monumental distraction. Women are attacking women.

Does this make us look good? No, it does not.

It’s girl-on-girl crime, though plenty of men are in the fight, too.

Should women be so mad at Sarah Palin, an ambitious politician offered the chance of a lifetime? Wouldn’t they be better served directing their enmity toward the man who chose her?

The Republican’s latest salvo is playing the victim card, trumpeting Palin’s girliness. “As Obama drops in the polls,” the announcer says in McCain’s latest ad, after showing wolves on the hunt, “he’ll try to destroy her.”

Oh, John, please save Sarah!

McCain’s selection of Palin initially seemed foolish, given how she upstages him. Increasingly, it seems like a masterstroke of diversionary tactics.

He’s ahead in the polls. Obama’s fading in the debate. And Palin is America’s cover girl, tabloid fodder, the lightning rod. She’s the flavor of the month.

Unfortunately, with only so little time to go, it’s a distraction we can ill afford.

Karen Heller is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Her e-mail is kheller@phillynews.com.


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