Dancing Around Lipstick Politics

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Instead of pointing out Gov. Palin’s mistake, Sen. Biden focused on undermining the candidate at the top of the ticket, Sen. John McCain. Joe Biden did not wish to risk the displeasure of women and white voters by attacking the first female Republican vice presidential candidate.

[Election  2008]


                                
For over a year and a half, I’ve stayed up on what’s been happening in the world of American politics. In an election year with far too many memorable moments, good and bad, one in particular stands out.  

Along with many of my fellow citizens, I watched the Democratic Convention and witnessed American democracy in one of its finest hours.

We also watched Sen. Hillary Clinton make history as the first woman to win primaries in 20 states. Women were inspired by the tenacity and determination demonstrated by the former first lady. Few questioned her intellect, ability or readiness to lead the country.  

Sen. Clinton’s historic campaign was fueled by the hopes and dreams of 18 million men and women. Aside from well-founded charges of sexism, many believe her vote to invade Iraq and the baggage of former president Bill Clinton were Sen. Clinton’s primary drawbacks. When the senator finally conceded her bid for the White House, the fallout, over gender inequality, threatened to split the Democratic Party.

At the Democratic Convention, intelligent, accomplished women were front and center.  Introducing Sen. Ted Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy opened the Convention with a warmly received speech that evoked memories of her father, President John F. Kennedy. We also heard well-delivered, heart-felt speeches by Michelle Obama and Sen. Clinton, and we were introduced to Jill Biden, an accomplished woman in her own right.  The spirit of unity at the Convention however, didn’t reach all Clinton supporters. Many felt cheated by Sen. Clinton’s narrow loss to Sen. Obama and vowed to vote Republican.

Gov. Sarah Palin stepped onto the stage at the 2008 Republican Convention in high-heeled pumps and a black suit to fill, many believe, the void left by Sen. Clinton’s absence on the Democratic ticket. Women across the nation saw the pretty governor from Alaska and wanted to know more about her. Viewers soon learned that the Republican governor is the mother of five, including an infant, a young soldier and a pregnant teenaged daughter—a typical American family.

McCain’s advisors tried to steer Gov. Palin away from the media, but she had to conduct interviews or risk alienating the all-powerful, corporate media machine. Networks threatened to boycott Republican events if the media was not allowed access to Gov. Palin. Voters soon learned more about the state of Alaska and Gov. Palin. We learned more about the bridge to nowhere. Pictures surfaced of Gov. Palin kneeling over a dead moose with a rifle perched on her shoulder. We also learned that Gov. Palin is under investigation for ethics violation. The alleged ethics violation stems from Gov. Palin’s dismissal of a commissioner in a matter involving a relative.  

After initially refusing interviews, the McCain campaign agreed to talk with ABC’s Charlie Gibson and CBS’s Katie Couric. To the dismay of many and the glee of a few, Gov. Palin seemed unable to make a clear, concise statement on any topic other than Alaska and energy.  Gov. Palin gained pop culture status when she was spoofed on the comedy show Saturday Night Live, three weeks in a row, by Tina Fey.      

In the days leading up to the debate between the vice presidential candidates, cable news networks ran non-stop coverage, footage and discussion of Gov. Palin’s worst interview moments. The networks did everything possible to lower expectations for the upcoming debate. One female commentator attributed Gov. Palin’s incoherence in interviews on her “circular style” of speaking. With the bar set so low, Gov. Palin was in the perfect position to prove everyone wrong.  
 
During the vice presidential debate, it was clear that Sen. Joe Biden, known for his verbosity, was holding back. When Gov. Palin got the name of the general in Iraq incorrect, one could see that Sen. Biden considered correcting her; but he decided to let the slip pass.

Instead of pointing out Gov. Palin’s mistake, Sen. Biden focused on undermining the candidate at the top of the ticket, Sen. John McCain. Joe Biden did not wish to risk the displeasure of women and white voters by attacking the first female Republican vice presidential candidate.

Gwen Ifill, PBS commentator and author, had to be extra careful with Gov. Palin because she did not wish to have her impartiality called into question. In fact, prior to the debate, there were calls for Ifill to step down as moderator because of her soon to be released book about race and politics.     

This unique set of circumstances provided Gov.  Palin an opportunity to shift the game rules in her favor; and it soon became clear that she knew how to play the game.  In a Time magazine commentary, Mike Murphy, talked about the “pivot technique” which can be employed by candidates to avoid answering the questions asked by the debate moderator.

In the October 6, 2008 issue of Time, Murphy gave the following advice: “Never make the rookie’s mistake of actually trying to answer the question you are asked. Candidates are told instead to ‘pivot’ into their central campaign message whenever possible.”

Murphy went on to give the following example:

Moderator Question: Governor, why is your hair on fire?

Candidate Answer: Nobody understands fire better than America’s brave firefighters, which is why I’m proud to say that the Association of Fire Fighters support my five-point plan for comprehensive health care reform for hardworking, middle-class Americans.

When Gov. Palin didn’t answer the first three questions, neither Gwen Ifill nor Sen. Biden challenged her.  She cheerfully and skillfully avoided answering debate questions by “pivoting” to her central campaign message. At one point, Gov. Palin was asked a question and she told the audience that she was not going to answer the questions in a way that her opponent or the moderator wanted her to; instead she said that she would talk straight to the American people. She then smiled into the camera and switched to a topic she felt more comfortable discussing.

One has to wonder how the political pundits and analyst failed to recognize this tried and true debate technique.  Did political analysts fail to recognize Gov. Palin’s shrewd manipulation of media because she’s a woman? Did political pundits underestimate Palin’s intelligence and abilities because she happens to be an attractive young woman?  

There were no real reasons for anyone to doubt Gov. Palin’s intelligence or abilities. After all, she is a former councilwoman and mayor and the current governor of Alaska. She’s experienced numerous political debates.  Gov. Palin has completed her hardest task as Republican vice presidential candidate. All she has to do now is spin her message and bide her time. How her legacy plays out in American history, and if she changed the game of politics, is not yet known.  

The McCain campaign’s strategy was to attract women and independent voters by placing a woman on the Republican ticket.  Senior campaign advisors decided on a female politician who may not protect reproductive rights for American women.  Reproductive rights not only include abortion, they also include the right to chose how many children you have.

Reproductive rights provide women with safe birth control methods available by pre scri ption or over-the-counter. Reproductive rights give a woman the choice whether to have a hysterectomy.  These fundamental rights include, but are not limited to, the choice to breast feed or bottle feed and the decision not to have children.

Gov. Palin does not support the very reproductive rights that guarantee a 17 year old female, like her daughter Bristol, the right to receive private contraceptive counseling so that she can make informed decisions about her body and avoid a premature pregnancy.  

In the near future, when men no longer dominate national politics, there will remain a place in our political landscape for attractive female politicians like Gov. Sarah Palin who distract voters from their real message with saucy winks, camera ready, mega-watt smiles and purposely inane talk of lipstick politics. 




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